Attempted prophecies: Hair v. Motown


Nuanced Life, Nuanced National Issues

You know what, if not for the fact that I intend to set up a fake church should the unfortunate event happen that I become bankrupt, I would have named this column ‘The Nuances of Life’ or something to that effect, instead of ‘Attempted Prophecies’. Because what this column tries to attain, is to present to you, the best way possible, each week, proof of the ongoing nuances of life. Issues should never (and can never) be effectively addressed when looked at from the position of ‘there shall be winners and losers.’ When a people, a nation, wage such a war of winners and losers on one another on pertinent national and global issues, we will soon find ourselves running on treadmills—sweating but not running even a mile.

So kindly stay with me through this and all subsequent short articles. Who knows, you may find things you agree and disagree with in the very same article, and might end up, hopefully, getting the indication that like you, we each have the best interest of the country and continent at heart.

On Wearing Hair / Borrowing Struggles / Envy

As we all know, centuries ago millions of Black folks were siphoned from their homes to slave away in another’s. This resulted in the involuntary dispersal of the Black race across the globe—Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, Asia, etc. Migration is a good thing—a natural human phenomenon—but this migration of the Black race was far from good. It was involuntary, inhuman, demonic. The Black race still bears the brunt of this trade, in myriads of ways, many centuries later—and even now as we sit in the pandemic-ridden 2020s.

Oppression became the story of the Black life. Because after the overthrow of this demonic regime of slavery, what ensued was a ‘creeping back’. Black people were soon reduced back into another regime of oppression—colonialism. And then, colonialism faced death too. We were declared free, independent; our nations deemed republics. But even now free is not really ‘free’. There is another wave of oppression we are facing presently—neocolonialism. Black people have faced centuries-old chipping away of their sense of self-worth with these various forms of oppression. So much so that even to our own self, our sense of self-worth is blurred.

If care is not taken this article might run four pages—even before the main issue is reached. So, we are going to limit our examples to a particular country, and a particular topic. The country: USA. The topic: Black hair.

This is Vanity / Nonsense, Isn’t It?

I will resist the temptation to cite numerous examples regarding this topic—for the examples are countless. In 2020, when the world was still at the mercy of COVID-19, an African American actress, showing YouTube viewers her ‘beauty routine’, burst into tears when praising a certain hair conditioner—I am talking ‘lost a loved one’ kind of tears. (Most of you male readers do not even know what a hair conditioner actually does, do you? And the women, most of you do not even own one, do you?) But here there was, this Black lady, shedding real tears over something as mundane as Cantu leave-in conditioner.

Here is the thing, for African Americans, hair is not just hair. (Our attention is still on the USA). Hair has been one of the many ways through which they have been marginalised, dehumanised, made to feel like God’s inferior creations—like God’s Nokia 3310. Can you imagine that? Hair—that thing that grows on the human head; that part of the human body, disembodied, that when cut off causes no real pain to its host. Yet, in the USA, hair has been the reason why that Black woman, man, child has been denied peace of mind, and a sense of self-worth.

Yet, now, as we sit in this first quarter of the 21st century, watching on as the White person fills their God-made flat derrieres with silicone, so that their buttocks may mimic that of the Black woman’s; as they inject their lips with fat, so that they may attain the Black person’s full lips; as they lie flat in the scorching sun, so that their skin may take a tone down from the ‘whiteness’; as White cartoon figures designed by the White person bears button-noses more resemblant of ours than theirs; as the White person attempts to lock their straight, silky hairs into dreads; as the White American mimics the mannerisms of their Black counterparts; mimic their music, their arts, we can safely say that all events preceding this period—when the White person ostracised and degraded the Black person, using our God-given features against us—were nothing but borne out of jealousy. Sheer envy of our Blackness.

Same Script, Different Meaning

On the other hand of the Black spectrum, there is us—Africans, the people that were allowed to remain in our own home. How are we faring in this self-worth scale? We make jokes about how we would rather we were born in the West—in USA, UK, etc. But you should know that our Black counterparts in these countries have battled and are still battling such crashing, self-reproachful inferiority complex. Something you and I, in our most supposed ‘inferior’ depths can never reach.

Arguably, the little Ghanaian girl grew up with her hair relaxed, not because her parent knew she would face challenges, rejection, reproach if she was to step out with her natural hair. The Ghanaian woman can soon visit the barber shop and have her relaxed hair shaved off, let her natural hair grow out, without blinking an eye. The African American, on the other hand, would have to set aside such a day as a day of mourning, should the revolutionary spirit of revisiting her roots (growing out her natural hair) visit her.

And it is crucial that we have this knowledge. Because in this social media age we find ourselves, we see globalisation reigning even stronger. More than ever, ideologies have become fluid—moving from one national border to another. And this trend of movement—like all experiences of the African, since slavery, through to colonialism—has been this: Africa is always at the receiving ends of such ideologies. The white man is always the teacher; we, the student. And with the crossing over of ideologies, this situation has unfolded: the African is now borrowing struggles.

On Borrowing Struggles

Say, should you find yourself chanting something like ‘Black Lives Matter’; should you find yourself using such specialised terms as hashtags in your local context, you should be doing so informed of the history behind those words or phrases. Our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora have had series upon series of gruesome experiences accurately eliciting such outcries. Should you find Ghana police subjecting a fellow Ghanaian to brutal treatments, ‘Black Lives Matter’ should not be your outcry. What would that even mean? Aren’t we all Black? ‘All Lives Matter’—a rather scathing retort in the American context—becomes in our particular context, perhaps the appropriate outcry.

When you find yourself seeking admission into a senior high school for your child—be they male or female, and find as part of the school’s stipulations, that your ward trim their hair—be it natural, relaxed, or dreadlocks. Your outcry perhaps—perhaps!—ought not first be “discrimination!”

In this age of social media, I repeat, ideologies are crossing borders. In this social media era, I repeat, more than ever, Africa is constantly borrowing struggles. Without understanding the peculiar histories and sociological conditions prevailing in these foreign geographical spaces, the African, with all her troubles—troubles of endemic poverty, endemic diseases, illiteracy, etc. all very typical of developing nations—is on the road borrowing more struggles from here and there, much more specifically there—the United States of America.

What at all is Hair?

For our kinsfolk in the Diaspora especially, hair is not just hair. Hair is a reclaiming of a sense of self-worth—hair is a reclamation of self. Hair is sanity.

For as long as the African American can remember, ‘professional’, ‘educated’, ‘cultured’ has meant ‘White’, and Black features, deemed ‘unprofessional’, ‘unkempt’, ‘uncouth’, ‘untamed’. So, before that Black person could be gainfully employed, he/she had to shed their Black features. That lady’s natural hair, braids, cornrows had to go; that man’s dreadlocks had to go. The African American has been overtly and covertly barred from wearing their natural hair or all forms of Black hairstyles to school, work, etc. Donning these styles, the Black person suffers losing the little respect left that society is ready to give them. They risk being marginalised, judged as crazy, eccentric, ‘too Black’. Ridiculous, isn’t it?—that ‘too Black’ is intended an insult. Recent examples of these are as horrid as historic ones. And it is these examples that if care is not taken, the Ghanaian, unknowingly borrowing struggles, might claim as being done against them.

Should Michelle Obama have—prior to her husband’s election—been found traipsing about with such and such Black hairstyle or natural hair, chances were that that whole ‘first Black President’ thing would not have happened. 

The nuances of life reduced to hashtags

Perhaps, we ought to take a much more careful look at ourselves. In this very necessary bid to fight for our rights as individuals, we ought to take a much deeper look into ourselves. Because I do not know which is worse: a person walking about knowing themselves to be ailing yet, failing to visit the hospital to find the cause of and cure for their ailments, or the other knowing themselves ill, yet wrongly diagnosing themselves with another disease, and seeking medication for said disease. That is the scenario we seem to be presenting ourselves of late. Wrong diagnosis does not solve the disease, it leaves it unremedied—and more often than not, even ends up worsening the situation.

Be on guard, watch on, read in between the lines of the hashtags you are replicating. If we take our time to understand our own realities, our narratives, our peculiar injustices and biases as a society, we will find our society more complex—not merely a photocopy of America. We will find that our particular issues cannot all be viewed from the positions of black and white—quite literally, Black and White as it mostly is for the United States.

A Moment of Deep Introspection

However, sadly, Ghana is not really a Black utopia. It is not a land where the Black person has been rendered free from the side-effects of slavery and colonialism. It is not a land without neocolonialism. So, is it possible that in turning the Rastafarian student away, insisting that he trimmed his hair, the admission persons at Achimota did so, not just because school policy says so, but with personal disdain for the dreadlocks on the boy’s head? Of course, yes. Oh yes! Very, very possible. And even as you and I are chatting right now, perhaps you kraa

The Necessity of Hair Down

Slavery and colonialism saw an infiltration of foreign ideologies into our national and continental borders. And this infiltration did this: it convinced the Black person that everything they were doing, the lives they were living, their customs, and cultures, prior to this visit from the West were backward, wayward, without meaning. Sadly, this notion of what I like to call ‘Black is wack; White is right’ still persists with us today. In all aspects of our lives, we see this flawed, colonial thinking ringing true. Let me limit my example to the issue at hand…

Why at all do our senior high schools direct their students (males and females) to trim their hairs? Is it because we are just a stupid, backward, wayward people who do things without any real reasons behind them? That is the reason eh?

Or is it because the schedule of senior high schools (majority of which are boarding schools) are such a way that room cannot be given for the weekly washes, the monthly braiding and unbraiding (and some of you who have serious dandruffs problems I hear you cannot even handle wearing a hairstyle for a month), salon visits, etc.? Do you take exeats each week, month, or so, to visit the salon, come back to school, and in about a week, month, or so, find yourself back on the road? Boarding school—let’s not act like it is a foreign concept to us, as though we have never been there ourselves—does not give space for such upkeep schedule…a schedule so temporarily dispensable. About three or four years on, one is out of the institution, to pursue even higher education. I do not think that Ghana comes out of this rendered stupid for this SHS policy of hers.

Maybe this call on students to cut their hair in SHS is not borne out of a distaste for our own hair—natural, relaxed, or locked—but borne out of necessity.

So then a norm, a culture—having real basis—is formed. Any person seeking special treatments either owing to their religion, culture, or sect, etc. must do so knowing that they are insisting that they be made exception to the rule. You are not begging free from discrimination but rather, seeking special treatments due to certain reasons.

Open the Floodgate

Now, let us just say a person has been introspective enough to see themselves not discriminated against, but as candidates pleading special treatment. Remember, there are countless reasons against which persons may plead relief from an institution’s laid-down rules. The catch then becomes: to what extent does such an institution allow for its rules to be bent to accommodate these exceptions? These examples arise:

Oh! our Muslims—what about our Muslims whose Fridays are supposed to be their ‘sabbath’. Will our schools, will our senior high schools allow such students to remain in their dorm rooms, as the rest go for class on Fridays?

What about the Islamic young lady, believing herself to score extra points with her God with the full donning of Niqab, will she be allowed to wear this full apparel over her school uniform?

The traditionalist student whose religion deems such and such days as a sacred day for the gods, will our schools, our senior high schools allow these students to walk about on weekdays, as their colleagues stay camped in class?

You cannot just open one gate of exception—this would not solve any supposed ‘discrimination,’ but, interestingly, rather add to the glossary of ‘discrimination’. You cannot have one door opened, without intending to subsequently—and quickly—open the rest.

Are we to poke countless holes in our various institutions’ rules, codes, leaving these institutions almost ‘ruleless’ and codeless or are we to accept this indispensable legal phenomenon—sometimes for one law to work effectively, another has to give in?

Not everything is an intended affront. But then again, we can only truly say this if it is in fact true—if really, we did not intend even the tiniest iota of affront. After, we as a people, have undertaken thorough revisions of our inherited biases—borne out of slavery and colonialism; after we have completely shaken ourselves free from these pro-White and anti-Black indoctrinations… it will be only then that we can safely say, “I do not have a personal preference for dreadlocks” without drawing the argument of the centuries-long Black endemic of self-hate. It is only then that we can be able to have policies such as we have in our senior high schools without drawing the argument of self-reproach.

In the meantime, let us all take a minute to think through our borrowed ‘woke-ness’ and ‘hashtags’ before we spread them. Let us, as Ghanaians and Africans, have arguments that find their roots and basis in our truth—in our reality.

[Oh! This article is begging for a sequel.]

Author’s Info:

Yao Afra Yao

[email protected]

The writer is a writer. And this sentence is circular

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