A few weeks ago while doing my usual rounds on the net I came upon this article by The Guardian about Nigerian women and their struggles with their natural hair. This article really hit home because although this article only talks about Nigerian women this is a reality in almost all parts of Africa. Even though I’m from Mali, I could totally relate and it made me think about our struggles as black women with our natural hair that transcends continents far outside of the West.
“In a world of dramatically contrasting poverty and wealth, it’s a rare common denominator: the one social status symbol of choice that cuts across Nigeria’s vast class and culture groups is hair extensions. And the longer and straighter, the better.
They are so popular that few women in the buzzing commercial cities of Africa’s most populous nation openly wear their hair in its natural, curly state. “We’re never taught to look after our natural hair, and it’s something you’re supposed to learn as a child, the way you learn to tie your shoelaces,” said Yemi Akinrinade, 28, who struggled to persuade her own hairstylist not to straighten her curls on her wedding day.” – Guardian UK
This article really hits home for me. When I finished reading I felt like the writer was saying everything I already knew. I remember when I was young and what it was like when my mother used to do my hair. I remember it just like yesterday. It will hurt so much that I would ask her to stop. After having a tantrum twice in the row during one of my hair styling sessions she decided to send me to the nearest barbershop?to cut my hair short. Though I tried to recall, I can not tell you I got my first relaxer but?I do know it started early and it never ended until I decided to go natural a few years ago, after I myself had become a mother.
“Some Nigerians have reported that they have been warned to ‘do something’ about their hair at work. Black women in the US and South Africa have pursued successful workplace harassment cases in similar incidents, saying it amounts to discrimination. In Nigeria, that puzzles many. “South Africans like natural hair because they’re not fashion-conscious,” said a Lagos salon owner, Abogo Ugwokeghbe. “But Nigerian women like the latest fashion,” he added. Scores of them visit his popular DSalon Downtown chains to straighten their hair. Sodium hydroxide, the key ingredient used in the bi-monthly process, irons out even the toughest afro curls but burns the scalp if left on too long. It’s considered a worthwhile risk, with some perceiving it as a necessity in a hyper class-conscious society.”
When I was growing up, I was like most kids my age. Though it was mean at times, I made fun of other kids. I distinctly remember some friends and I used to make fun of a girl who had natural hair. She proudly wore her hair and did not care about what anyone had to say about her look. When I look back now I feel so foolish. Even today, if you take an average household in Mali you will notice that only the maids have natural hair because they are supposed to be “poor, and uncivilized” so of course they would have “natural hair” because it signifies that it goes with their lifestyle/that they can’t do any better.?
Outside of service jobs, women more often than not have either permed hair or have a weave. It is difficult to go or stay natural in some parts of Africa. I don’t want to say all of Africa because after all it’s a large continent and therefore?things are a bit different in different places, but this is very common in West Africa.
Two of my sisters and I are all natural and many of my family members unapologetically give us the side eye. One of my aunts?had the nerve to tell my sister and I that we don’t look beautiful we our hair in its natural state. I told her “My husband loves me just the way I am.”?
There are many reasons that African women don’t like their natural hair but I think that?a few reason why natural hair is not as popular in Africa or at least in Mali is because:
\Many of us thought or still think that relaxing our hair is a must.
\Relaxing is seen as the next step in “hair care” because many women are not aware of any other alternatives.
\Many of us often lack the knowledge on how?to treat our natural hair.
\The idea that permed hair equals a civilized person is a very prevalent thought and no one wants to be seen as a “poor, village and uncivilized” person.
As Africans, we are basically going through the same struggles as Black women in the western world. However, as the article points out, “Black American women can wear their hair natural in Nigeria. They’ll be forgiven for it because they’re seen as exotic creatures.”
As for my hair, watching YouTube channels and reading sites like K is for Kinky (Simone Digital) helped me to begin and continue to move through my natural hair journey. Now that we as Blacks are?becoming more educated about our hair, its up to?someone like myself?and others like me who have learned to accept and take care of their hair to educate our sisters about the beauty of our hair. I am taking a trip home to Mali soon and I am really eager to see how people would react to my natural hair. I feel positive that things will change for the better I just don’t know when.