When I was in school we had a rule as part of our dress code – that hair must be no more than five centimeters above the head. So no top-knots, no beehives, and definitely no afros. A black girl having her hair out was seen as ‘messy’ and ‘against school uniform’.
She cannot help the way it falls, and especially if your hair was too long to have out but too short to tie up, then what was there for one to do but get extensions or a relaxer? If I were to go to work with my hair out I would get comments on it all day. How it’s so ‘retro’ and ‘bohemian’ and ‘rebellious’. People whom I’ve never met before would ask to touch it, tell me how interesting it feels, and the fact of the matter is– I just didn’t bother to wrap it today. So I wrap it to avoid the inquisitive comments. What else can I do? I have to hide my hair, tame it, or make it straight in my everyday life in order to be left alone because my own hair is such an “issue”, and yet straight hair is conformity, or the status quo (even though it isn’t) and it is “beautiful”.
What sparked this post was a blog by the name of BeforeAndAfro, where a white woman has decided to wear an Afro as a means of discovering herself and boosting her confidence. As you can imagine, it has offended quite a few people. My opinion on that is not the issue however, but that on the sort of ‘guest book’ page a woman has written that she used to do the same (wear a fake afro), but after seeing the backlash the blogger received from members of the black community decided to stop, to the outrage of some of her white friends (I stress, SOME of). They made the argument that, and I’m paraphrasing, no one shames black girls out of wearing non-black hair, so why should a white woman wearing an afro be any different? Now you maybe understand why I’m frustrated. I am not going to rant about this or argue all of the reasons why they are wrong, there is no need and that is not what I am here for. I am simply here to address the idea of black girls wearing straight hair being equivalent to these white women wearing fake afros. Because it is not equivalent, and to argue so is to ignore the glaring, sunlight bright, shining difference:
Black girls wearing straight hair are not wearing a costume, they are not putting on a cute little wig to seem kooky and interesting when they go out– they wear straight hair because straight hair is culturally acceptable as ‘beautiful’, especially if you live in the west. People may say it’s easier, more manageable to wear fake hair or relax your hair, but when you factor in the money, maintenance, wrapping, itching, and getting things put in and taken out I would have to disagree.
The more convincing reasoning is that it is an integral aspect of the binary image of beauty that we are taught from a young age to aspire to – the teaching is subliminal, but it still exists – and as with any feature, when part of you does not fit into this binary you have a knee-jerk reaction to change that. This is not to say that weaves and wigs = self-hate, but that those of us that wear weaves and wigs just want to feel fucking beautiful and to feel like we fit in to what the majority thinks is beautiful and attractive. The idea that black girls wearing straight hair is them directly emulating white people is a dangerous and also arrogant and racist opinion to have, primarily because it’s not just white people that have straight hair. It is concerning that this woman’s friends think that when black girls wear weave they are trying to be more like white girls, and links a desire for straight hair to self-hate and a desire to no longer be black. It is also rubbish. It is more that we are conditioned to desire hair that is not our own naturally. The majority of shops that stock hair care products cater to straight hair and things specifically for afro hair are ‘specialist’ or in a small corner of the shop (bearing in mind I am speaking from the perspective of a black girl in London, England).
Being someone who took sociology for about four years when I was in school and I am a huge nerd for analysing the ways in which messages and ideas prevalent in society are subliminally propagated. In cartoons, adverts, films, television, music videos, everywhere black women tend to be depicted with straight hair, and beauty in general is also linked to long, straight hair. It’s like a safety blanket for a lot of women, it is for me in fact, and although I don’t wear straight hair exactly anymore I still wear extensions because I prefer it to my natural hair as bad as that sounds. You feel naked without your extensions or when your hair is overdue and in need of relaxer because we are conditioned to believe that the hair we are born with is wrong and needs fixing, which is problematic. The solution is clear: dissolving that idea that straight is great, and replacing it with the idea that whatever hair you have is yours and you should love it. Actually doing that is more difficult. But I’m not dissing fake hair (although I’m kind of against relaxers).
I LIVE for my fake hair! I am fighting against the idea that it is the only way you or I can be beautiful as a black woman. Understand that afro hair is just as fabulous as straight hair, and then do whatever the hell you want with your hair so long as your reasoning is respectful to yourself, and not linked to a desire to be someone else.
Jaxx is a lover of words, lover of music, and lover of tabletop games. She is an English grad looking for a job, and in the meantime spreading her opinion all over the internet. She blogs, tweets, and writes about music for a site by the name of Crumbs For Men, and on a whole she is rather opinionated, rather British, and rather friendly (she hopes!).
Creative Writing: http://theinkblotrocks.blogspot.com