Usually when one thinks of people embracing their Afro hair on social medias a positive picture comes to mind. They usually only focus on how proud one must feel receiving praises for being so strong enough to embrace their African hair.That attention grabbing, gravity defying work of nature. Personally speaking only a few in ‘reality’ share such heart warning love.Lurking in the shadows is societal discrimination and even unemployment .
For myself,the hate comes from strangers and worst of all,family. Growing up in a country like South Africa, it was and still not a norn for black men to have hair.If they do it is usually about a finger bone long.I basically never gave the whole thing much thought because I was still young.Every once in a while one was expected to shave off their hair.Afro hair was,and still is seen as some sort of biological deformity we’re doomed to carry with us.Nothing positive about it was ever said.A born free like myself was too young to understand the historic baggage they dragged into the new free democratic South Africa.It is only now that I understand that years of colonial oppression had left this upon us.
Since I grew up in the villages I learned to appreciate what Africanness meant.Much of this happened as I grew into my teens. You see, most of what used to make up a ‘true ‘ village was effortlessly eroded by the new wave of middle class households.It isn’t any much more of a village than a growing township really. Media became the only source of African education,of which I was curious enough to learn. And only because I was patient enough to search such content which still today is rare to find in media.Again,this is in Africa.
The first thing you start to realise that isn’t quite right, is that there are very few people with Afro hair. But every other person of other ethnicities has theirs.Before long there were weaves.Which pretty much just replaced the already popular straightening methods popular among African girls.It was only during my third year in high school I started growing out my Afro hair long. This happened concurrently as I started using the Internet a lot more.Where I got to see other Afro proud people,from blog sites exactly like mine. Classmates would give censures every now and then at my hair. It wasn’t as bad considering the fade haircut had then came back in style.This spared my hair from being labelled abhorrent.
Family members on the other hand would constantly censure about it.Again,it was fairly understandable considering no other guys had hair that long.When you understand who you are,where you come from and going you start to not care what others think of you. Doing science I was constantly reminded how everything I see was in reality extremely small in such a vast universe.Any negativity from society suddenly seemed so insignificant and small.The universe is simply too vast for me to care about negative comments by people who don’t even make a fraction of the earth,which itself is like a fraction of tiny blue dot in the vast cosmic arena.To listen and be victimised by informed,negative opinions,seemed absolutely ridiculous.
A few other people were particularly very interested in my hair and would ‘throw’ in a compliment.And those are the people that really helped me cope.At home I’d constantly feel like an outsider.I remember having to always explain myself.I’d always say something like “listen. I’m African and this is what I was meant to be so I don’t get why you would have a problem with my hair “.The best way to make someone realise the fault in their thinking is by asking questions.Never thought I’d have to do that at high school level.
Now in university I still encounter similar discrimination,only they are more aggressive but not as hurtful. I sometimes wonder how it must be to even think that way.I mean,I know there is nothing wrong with myself and Afro hair…at all. some of the comments are offensive although I can tell they had no intention of causing affliction. It is sad that a lot of Africans actually see themselves in that way . I’m often asked “why do you have that on your head”,with clear intention to mock me. “You should cut that thing on top of your head” is also a common insult.Like I mentioned, I’ve learned to come up with ways of a challenging such views . I understand that they are the ones in need of self examination and not myself. I start by asking why they think in such a way, then ask why is it men of ALL of other ethnicities don’t cut their hair.Finally I give a little refreshment of the way black people are and have been treated and forced to live by European beaty standards. So far that is actually working.
One of the most painful things that comes with Afro hair pride is the socioeconomic baggage it drags.Black people are already disadvantaged economically.Then you get stats showing that,for instance South Africa, black people are about five times less likely to get employed. Black woman are even less likely to get employed more than black men.On top of that black women having to survive all kinds of oppression and constant censures from society itself. They have to survive a rape culture atmosphere, misogyny and different forms of abuse.
So where does Afro hair pride fit into all of this? As I mentioned before Afro hair isn’t as celebrated or even respected in the new colonised Africa. There are even international statistics revealing discrimination of Afro hair proud individuals at the workplace. It is called unprofessional no matter how much attention one puts in grooming it.When one goes for job interviews they get told to either straighten it or wear a wig/weave and for the men to cut it short/shave off .A lot of young black people have reported these kinds of treatments even here in Africa. Meaning there is no place where one would be spared the discrimination, having to be forced to be less of themselves …less African. I have received the same discrimination when I once had to get a bank stamp for a job I was applying for. The gentleman at the bank who was helping with this process kept commenting the usual comments which for me only reflected his state of mind. He was still trapped in the views of colonialists. What stood out for me was how when he said I won’t get that job because of my hair,despite my hair being neater than most days that afternoon. But it still wasn’t okay with him and definitely far from being okay at the workplace at some institutions. Worst part is that this is in South Africa…Africa .
Earlier this year during university registration, I met about five women who were so delighted to see me.I ended up taking longer than other students registering.They kept touching my Afro to feel that unique spongy feel of 4c hair . It was both exhausting and fun.My hair being messed up a little which I didn’t mind at all in that situation. The same day I had to get optics taken for my new student card which one does at the end of registration. This ended up being the complete opposite of the earlier experience, and obviously it was about my hair. So I sat on a chair with my Afro hair still a little bit neat,waiting for the camera man and woman to do their take the picture . “ What is that on your head?… you should cut up all of it!” said the camera women. I was just sitting there aghast.Trying to pinpoint her face through the heavy lighting of the spot light the camera man was adjusting. I remember saying something along the lines …“I don’t see why I have to cut my hair, it was ment to grow as long as it can. This is the way it grows out my scalp so what’s your problem? ”.She knew I was right so to kept fueling her agenda and then said “you are a man and men should not have their hair this long, never! ”.This really almost made me laugh, but to ease the situation I had to be less intimidating in my responses to make her open up her mind. I proceeded to saying “well it’s funny that you say that whereas the white guy that came before me has lots of hair and probably longer than mine ”.The statement she choose to reply with was“No that one is okay, with him it is different ”.Again I was left aghast as I proceeded to the next station to collect the student card. With nothing more to say to her.
As I looked at my student card picture I saw a young black man proud of his African heritage. It was a feeling I needed after such an encounter. I thought why can’t I just cut up all the hair and be spared the hate from society that comes with it. It was even harder as I had just came back from home,back in the village which is slowly becoming a township everytime I re-visited. Every day felt depressing, almost each family member/relative would say something offensive about my hair.My own older brother even said it is disgusting. Mom supports me though ,she was the only reason I had came back and stayed. And now this encounter just put everything into one souring pain. In that moment I realised how pathetic it was that we as Africans see ourselves that way. I knew this wasn’t at all their fault, years of historical colonial oppression which was blamed on their physical appearance had left these wounds on their spirits. How many times have I heard a black person described people of other ethnicities as beautiful. I remember that I had to keep educating them,some will listen and others won’t. My sight strikes up conversations about Afro hair where ever I find myself. This is how people learn to love themselves through seeing people like myself. I’m seeding a thought and a feeling of acceptance within them unconsciously.
Each year young black girls and boys start school for the first time and they will experience discrimination which will continue until they leave this earth . The boy child like myself would probably find it easier only because we are constantly being told to invest in our education and less in our appearance.This is all good but compared to what the girls will be told about themselves it later on in life causes a power shift towards men.
You see, the girl child will be taught the usual, for them to care about appearances more if not just as much as their education. Now when you have a society that is constantly discriminating against African features like our nose,dark skin and Afro hair etc.,you get the perfect recipe to destroying a young black girl’s self esteem. By the time they reach high school they would have learned to hate their Africanness. Afro hair being the easiest part they can alter and hair on women being something media constantly fusses over on her image she will learn all sorts of ways to alter her natural appearance.
This is going be my niece one day, it is also going to be the same for my daughter in the future if I allow it . If a young black girl and boy can just only see me with my Afro pride it goes a long way in cementing a thought that it’s okay to be yourself and it isn’t hard. Still today these views live on. I’ll still walk proudly with my Afro, for I understand it isn’t just hair. It effortlessly disobeys gravity standing tall like the crown it is.
I’m grateful for the special moments when I feel stressed and I hold on to it. I’m reminded that this hair and it’s mocked texture is the same as every person that ever lived before me.They had the same cushioning feeling I have. Your hair right now is that of your ancestors, same texture. They had the same feelings of happiness as they groomed it like you do. There is no greater feeling of belonging and connection to our parents, grand &great grand parents, down to all those tribes that roamed the virgin earth as they built civilisations of which some of them still stand today. I ask you to think about that sometimes ,because for me it silenced every hateful comment that had made home in my heart.
So today I’ll continue to be proud of my crown. I’m aware of the change no matter how small I can make to young people. I carry all the few positive comments with me.For those that tried to put me down I understand they are mentally trapped and I’ll always try to make them see past the reality they’ve been falsely made accustomed to.
To sum up this blog I have the following words to say.African or not,be proud of who you are and the children are the most vulnerable to these false beauty standards so teach them to love themselves as they are. And behind those words there should be a person whose living truth to that.
“May the rain anchor the wild flowers of peace. ”~☔⚓🌻.Please like, share and subscribe if you enjoyed reading. It’s me in the picture by the way .Thank you!