Politics is about the will of the people. It’s about power, status and governance. While black hair can be described as many things, one of the key fundamentals about black hair is that it has a will of her own. When I want it to lie down, it stands up – when you need to stand on this side, it decides to relax. Complicated and stubborn would be a way to describe the mind of the black hair. I said mind, you didn’t read wrongly! It not only has a mind because of the location of the hair but ask any girl with natural authentic black hair –black hair does what she feels like. So maybe it has a heart more than a mind, but for today let’s just agree that ‘she has her own mind “. If that is not a proven fact, let’s at least accept that black hair is bi-polar. Whether kinky, short cut, long straightened, curly, braided, weaved, nappy, shaggy or in whatever state and style, regardless of its length, the discourse on hair has been interrogated vastly today. The influence of the European lifestyle has defined good hair to be that which is straight and smooth like that of a white skinned girl. This phenomenon has politicized the hair, and in particular, black hair that is seen inferior to the other of ‘colour.’
Contrary to the above, the black hair industry is a multimillion dollar industry, creating thousands of jobs in Asia and that has attracted thousands in both maintenance and anything in the lines of beauty. It is believed that a woman’s hair is her crown but black women have outsourced the management of her crown to others. This outsourcing requires cash and time. Black women in particular invest not only money but have to set aside hours to ‘fix their hair.’ And while many may forfeit the time invested on crafting the right look of hair, it is more than just that to the masses. The primary understanding that not all hair is the same and thus not everyone’s hair needs the same attention is substantial enough to open the discourse. In the extreme cases, the misplaced humor about black hair touches soft spots that can bring out the worst in the victim.
“I love my hair because it’s a reflection of my soul. It’s dense, it’s kinky, it’s soft, it’s textured, it’s difficult, it’s easy and it’s fun. My hair is the exact reflection on my personality. I make it up the exact way I feel that day. With me, it’s just not hair,” said young Bertha Shilunga. Having a bad hair day? This is one of many comments women get when society deems their hair look not to be close to acceptable. Hair expands the definition of beauty and as such, the way it is treated qualifies for the smoothest or yet sharpest of compliments. Black hair has become so sensitive coz it is one of those free space where one is able to express themselves and yet a vulnerable space. Maintaining black hair can be very expensive because there are just so many products to choose from that claim they can help you with your hair. Whether it is to have stronger or longer hair, better edges, all these products offer to fix something and if you follow every fad or new product you are going to end up breaking the bank and your hair.
Don’t cross the line
While the owners of black hair may have an assortment of style choices, on the other side of the spectrum are numerous challenges. Just last week, Hildegard Titus launched the ‘The Politics on Black hair’ exhibition aimed at addressing the issues faced by black people just because of what’s on their head. “The language used to describe black hair in the beauty industry is unruly, messy and wild. Even the fact that there are black hair products called ‘ relaxer’, perpetuates the narrative that black hair is automatically wrong and needs to be tamed. I thus wanted to create a dialogue about some of the issues that black people face, be it workplace discrimination, beauty industries that degrade black hair, made up concepts like good hair and bad hair, and also the history of how our hairstyles have changed over time,” said Hildegard. Besides the criticism already, coming up with the ‘accepted’ look is one full-time exercise that upsets many when the complements carry no humor. To start with, it takes up to 8 hours to braid hair – take away the cost. Those who choose to put in extensions are judged not to be grateful of their natural hair. And if you did not know- not all women are wearing weaves, and no, it is not polite to ask. In addition, those who braid are labeled as extremely lazy because they do not have time to style their hair. The same is said about those who cut their hair. The underlying warning is – do not touch without permission.
As if this is not enough, water is the enemy to a woman with straight black hair style. Want to qualify this fact – go to the pool. Dread, locks or rather dreadlocks carry even a much heavier tag.
Bertha speaks her mind – “There is nothing dreadful about dreadlocks, they are not a sign of dirt or someone who smoke marijuana. They are locks and not dreads. And women who try to straighten their hair does not mean they want to be white. The best way to understand women is by judging them for what’s in her head and not by what’s on it.”
Love it, celebrate it
On the flip side of the line of negative attributes to the hair lies the versatility in look, style, shape, texture, curl patterns and everything one can do with black hair – a component ought to be celebrated. “I think people with black hair can do almost anything with their hair. I can decide to go all curly today and straight tomorrow and still look beautiful.” The women relationship with hair is one that no man can break. But still with this variety of choices, many feel their pigment in their hair make them not good enough. The discourse around black hair aims to promote and identify the value and worth in it. It aims to have clear love of the black hair devoid of any criticism. “I am a black woman- so naturally loving the skin I am in, I love black hair. It comes with self-acceptance as a start and understanding that a lot of beauty industries thrive of us being insecure in our skin. Another thing is you need to understand the media and who makes it. If you watch a majority of western television, film etc. you are unlikely to find people who accurately represent you or view blackness as beautiful. There was a children’s cartoon called the Winx Club where a black character was brought to tears because her hair was no longer straight but instead an Afro and thus unattractive,” advised Hildegard. Bertha believes that it is time society accepts people with their differences. She believes it should not be a tool used to judge at all. “We can achieve this by combing out the differences, straightening them and if need be, braiding them. We do not need to hate one another because of how we wear our hair at all. Every man and women needs to be proud of your hair and wear it the way you want.”