THE STIGMA OF AFRO HAIR
AN OBJECTION BY YASMINE AKIM
Shaving the heads of slaves before setting sail was one of the steps towards dismantling their African identities. Slave masters demeaned the slaves’ hair, referring to it as ‘wool’. In order to not ‘offend’ their white masters, house slaves were encouraged to straighten their hair. To this day, hair straightening is common within the black community, and is often seen as a way of broadening one’s horizons in terms of employment and respectability.
From a young age, girls with Afro hair are led to believe that their hair isn’t worthy due to societies’ standards of beauty. There are hardly any black women in the media without a weave or relaxed hair, perpetuating this ridiculous delusion that Afro hair isn’t admirable. Why is it that we can’t embrace what we were born with, rather than replicating a ‘European’ look? Women from all ethnicities like to experiment and change the texture of their hair, but no other ethnicity goes to such an extent that black women do.
I started to relax my hair when I was about seventeen. I thought that it would be much easier to manage – which was a huge misconception. Within a year, it would have been necessary to wear a weave to cover up the damage done. I feel empowered now that I have gone ‘natural’, since striving towards this impossible goal of straight hair resulted in an identity crisis. It made me feel inferior in terms of appearance; I wanted to look white subconsciously.
I believe that this desire to change the texture of Afro hair is a sociological, political and cultural survival mechanism passed on through generations. In order to regain cultural pride – It is up to the new generations of mothers to abolish the stigma of Afro hair!
Artwork © ‘Invoked’ by performance artist Ama Josephine Budge and photographer Jessie Lawson