The One With The Afro (TOWTA)
An updated version of this article was published in ODD magazine. You can read it here https://www.oddmag.co/2019/12/09/the-one-with-the-afro-towta/?fbclid=IwAR1bNKd0UrsSM5NTQPSvtGdxyAbg5oaD6P8C_2s-ns-DmcbUFFFyQLCEaKQ
It’s the year 2019. I am an African woman, born in Oshakati State Hospital in the Oshana region, Namibia, Southern Africa. I am as African as they come. My skin is dark, my hair is coarse, my lips are full and my nose is wide.
I am African. My parents are African. My entire lineage is African. I grew up in Africa, I was educated in Africa and I live in Africa. And in as much as I travel the world, I have no interest in leaving Africa because this is my home. I’ll stay here. I’ll work here. I’ll fix here… So that it is better for the ones that follow me.
And even with all that said, in Africa, I am referred to as “the one with the afro” or “the one with the natural hair”. Because here in Africa, not having treated (relaxed) hair or a weave, is out of the ordinary. So much so, that we can identify individuals by the lack thereof.
In January 2014, I cut all my hair off. Even though I have never subscribed to the notion of weaves being superior to African hair, my hair had been relaxed regularly since I was a young child. Since I cut it all off (what is commonly referred to as the big chop), I have had a long journey of trying to figure out what to do with it.
I’ve learned to style it myself because even relaxed, it was course and it was thick. Salon visits have always been a nightmare because the hairdressers would call each other to feel my hair like they were petting a zoo animal.
They would all exclaim as to how hard my hair was and they ask me what I would put in it to make it so hard/course. I was in primary school when I decided I had had enough and I started braiding my own hair. To date, I braid it myself, wash it, style it, etc.
However, for the 20 years between the time I first had my hair relaxed until the day I cut it all off and started over, I too had been convinced that I couldn’t “handle” my hair if it hadn’t been chemically treated (relaxed).
Now, however, I’m the one with the afro/natural hair.
I often have to answer questions like why I “decided to go natural?” And trust me, responding by saying “One doesn’t go natural, I was just born this way.” It doesn’t garner any understanding. It actually puzzles people further or makes them feel like you’re deliberately being difficult. Sometimes, I just don’t have the energy to have that conversation.
When I say there was no significant life event to lead me to stop relaxing my hair, no one believes me. Questions about my hair are usually linked to conversations about my religious beliefs (yes, have I decided that I no longer believe in God?), whether or not I smoke marijuana, if I take regular showers, can’t afford weaves and the occasional (“Are you lesbian now?” – I know, I don’t understand either.)
I think it’s absolutely insane that I, an African, in Africa, have to constantly justify why I do not have hair from an individual of European or Asian descent sewn into my head. Read that again.
Personally, I have absolutely nothing against women who choose to wear weaves. I don’t believe in the policing of women’s or anyone’s bodies. It’s not my business really, what people decide to wear. I don’t think it makes a difference to anyone.
My only concern is that in 2019, the European standard of beauty is still considered, not only superior but the norm, in African society and anyone who does not adopt it, is required to justify that choice. Read that again.
There are so many conversations we need to have. They will be uncomfortable. But we’ll be better for it. We need to start talking to one another. I want to talk about colourism and too but I’ll leave that for another day.
With love, I’m the one with the afro.