01 December, 2011

African vs. African- American Hair Practices

I've been thinking of developing this story for a while now. It is the story of how girls were/are made to wear their hair shaved from grade to high school both in Ghana and in Nigeria.

A little back story, I was born Nigerian and grew up in Nigeria until I was 10 years old when we moved to start a new life in Ghana. Since I spent most of my formative years in Ghana, that became more home to me than Nigeria was. There are many similarities between the two countries and one is the rule to have young girls wear a TWA until they graduate from high school.I think the reasoning behind it is the same as there is for wearing uniforms. It ensures homogeneity,also, the girls who could not afford to get their hair braided did not have the pressure to spend the money and thirdly, everyone looked "neat" and "presentable". Now, that is not to say it was right or wrong, just giving the possible reasons.

 As far as I can tell, this practice was mostly the case in public schools. I noticed that many (not all) private schools permitted their female students to wear their hair at whatever length they wanted as long as it was braided up neatly.  The only girls who were exempt from this rule (public and private school) were those who were biracial. There weren't many girls who were biracial, but those who were, got to wear their hair long. Again, as a little girl, you don't think anything of it. You just knew that their hair was "prettier" and more "manageable" than yours and it wasn't a big deal. You didn't read meaning into it (at least not consciously), you just accepted it.

I remember our final year of high school, many girls (me included) will grow their hair out but will tie it down with a scarf overnight to encourage the maximum shrinkage to avoid being punished (spanked) by a teacher. We did this because we knew that once school was out, we were going to get our first relaxers...good times :)

That's me with the bandanna and our senior year of HS :)

This practice did not seen like such a big deal to me when I was growing up, but as I get older and upon going natural, I've been thinking about how it affected my love or lack thereof of my natural hair. You see, most of my Friends are Nigerian or Ghanaian and most of them - if not all - sport relaxers and will not let go for anything (although I've convinced 7 including my mama to BC yay! #teamnatural). But why is this the case though? Why is it that after growing up without relaxers we hold on to it so strongly. Many of the experiences I read on blogs pertaining to natural hair are those of African-American women. They relate how they got their first perm at 4,5,6, or thereabouts. The stories go on to say that since relaxers was the norm for them, they just kept getting them until their decision to either BC or transition.

My question is this, why after having two very different and distinct experiences do African -American and African woman have this reluctance to let go of the relaxer?

27 comments:

  1. Awww i read the article and i fell in love with it! not only do we share the same experiences but also you are a fellow APPSAN...we should be prouud of our hair as africans! FYI i'm transitioninf i plann on having my BC in march i seriously can't wait:) i getting prepared every minute and i'm always counting down too!
    ----
    Naa in Beijing Also an APPSAN... we excel

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  2. I just LOVED your comment on Curly Nikki. This has been my dream is to get more understanding of the views of all women in the diaspora. I wish their were more global blogs by women of color expressing how hair and other things are viewed. I think women in the U.S particularly have such a damaged and skewed vision of beauty. Thank you so much for posting. I hope you can do interviews from different women throughout the world. Because in a sea of sameness(with blogs and videos) it is truly getting old just to hear only from mixed up Americans.

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  3. FANTASTIC POST! Thank you for telling one side of our African story. Blessings x

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  4. Anon 12:22 thanks for your comment. It wasn't meant as an African vs. African-American thing but rather to garner perspectives on something that has intrigued me for ages. But as someone who is African and a world traveler, I will certainly inject those into my posts. So, hopefully that will make my blog unique.

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  5. Thanks Kinkylockz, there are few things greater than our heritage.Thanks for stopping by :)

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  6. I can relate to your post on CurlyNikki. While you were forced to wear your hair short, I went to a high school where wearing your hair straight was the preference if it was longer than TWA length. I think rules such as these box young girls into a certain mindset and limit creativity. Girls whose hair was not particularly long often felt like there were missing something. I think some of these things are relics from our colonial past.Hopefully by recognising the thinking behind them we can begin to appreciate ourselves more and move forward.

    Sue

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  7. I actually just came by to read the responses.

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  8. Natural Nigerian, I actually follow your blog!

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  9. For real? Yay! I was "tatafo-ing" on your blog. I didn't even know about the Curly Nikki interview. I am following now.

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  10. Haha, Thanks for following. I loved seeing the meetup in Naija. Ndewo.

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  11. Hey. I need some help in understanding the initials. What is TWA and BC? I liked the story and the pictures. It is interesting to see how much meaning hair can have. I haven't ever thought about mine that much--the only time that was really weird was when I was bald from chemotherapy. But, losing the eyebrows and the eyelashes was the strangest part.

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  12. Hey Lissa, thanks for stopping by. Yes, Hair is a hot button issue in the black community because for many years (decades even) our hair has been considered "bad hair" because it is coarse/curly/ coily and not straight. Hence, many of us grew up chemically straightening our hair. In recent years, there has been a trend in this community to rediscover our natural textures and many do tthis by doing a BC (big chop) where the relaxed portion of the hair is cut leaving a TWA (Teeny weeny afro) which is basically a short , tapered hair cut until the hair gains length.

    Would you be amenable to an interview by me regarding your experience when you underwent chemo. What did you mean when you said it was wierd and strange? And maybe your experience with hair through out your life?

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  13. I am a British born Ghanaian, and my friends who went to boarding school told me the exact story you did of the mixed race girls being able to keep their hair long and the black girls shaving it. They also did the growing and tying down in final year to get a relaxer. In response to your question the simple answer is that in West Africa (cos thats my experience) they see afro hair as undesirable and unmanageable. Hence the mixed race girls being able to keep their hair long as its 'manageable'. When i go to a hairdressers in Ghana they always want to put a relaxer in before braiding! - making comments like 'ah the hair is too hard'. Now my hair is very soft so its obvious they have been programmed to believe afro hair is hard unattractive an unmanageabe which is sad :(

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  14. I would do an interview, but I can never think of anything that interesting to say--just warning you!

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  15. Great post and thanks for sharing this to us, African American Hair is awesome

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  16. I love the green Africa shirt you're wearing in the bglh post. Where did you get it?

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  17. Hi, I know the shirt you mean but unfortunately, that wasn't my picture. Please let me know if u find out where it's from cuz I love it too

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  18. You are absolutely welcome Jennifer

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  19. Here's the wesite for the shirt. Just made my day :)

    bernos.com

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  20. I know my family refers to natural hair as "hard" too (and they're from the Caribbean) so I think it has less to do with the hair actually being and more to do with this being the word they use to describe the hair. Much like in America the choice is "nappy". Neither sounds nice by any means but I don't think they're just unable to see that your hair is soft. If you think about it, our hair texture tends to feel "hard" and I mean rough by nature because of the kinks in it as opposed to a silky feel that straight hair has. We just apply value judgements like "good" or "bad" to it.

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  21. From my experience and knowledge as an African American woman and self identified Ashanti woman, the standard of beauty is/was straighter hair and lighter skin. I'm not sure if this is the same for women in west African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, but I know that bleaching is prevalent in the West Indies, Africa and parts of the southern United States. With this cultural practice of changing skin color and hair texture, I have come to the conclusion that it is because our standard of beauty does not hold darker skin tones and kinkier hair textures as beautiful. I feel that today people of African descent do have a better appreciation of darker skin and kinky hair, and it is continuing to be incorporated into that old beauty standard to come up with a new standard that embraces natural hair and darker skin tones. Just the fact that we can sit down and blog about it or talk about it with our friends and other "races" is a huge accomplishment in changing that old beauty standard.

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  22. I think it's regional. The United States is a very large country with lots of different cultural pockets. I live in a small poor rural town in Virginia, and many black women here are every bit as reluctant to hold onto relaxers and weaves as some of their counterparts in Nigeria and Ghana. My mom would be among them. I know that in the more urban areas, people tend to be a lot more freer with their natural hair. I think the European standard of beauty touches the whole world.

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  23. I think it's regional. The United States is a very large country with lots of different cultural pockets. I live in a small poor rural town in Virginia, and many black women here are every bit as reluctant to let go of relaxers and weaves as some of their counterparts in Nigeria and Ghana. My mom would be among them. I know that in the more urban areas, people tend to be a lot more freer with their natural hair. I think the European standard of beauty touches the whole world.

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  24. because most were never taught how to manage what they were born with. obviously, it doesn't matter that many Africans get their first relaxer after high school because they still knew nothing about length retention (which can be the biggest indicator of good hair care practices).
    so, to answer the question, we don't let go out of fear. once you stop being afraid (or at least stop letting fear ride you) then you learn what your hair is truly capable of - a fear that I'm glad to have conquered years ago.
    great post.

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  25. I've been to Ghana and I noticed the same thing. I think a big issue is not being educated on how to take care of natural hair, and not having access to products that make having natural hair more manageable. I have been natural about 3 years, but I wore weaves for 2.5 years because I didn't know what to do with my hair. After I bc'd and in between weaves, my hair felt so different and new. I didn't know how to handle it. Thankfully I had friends to help me out. More women in Africa and in the States would probably wear natural if they knew how.

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