A friend spotted the book my nine-year old daughter was reading, she pointed at it and had a giggle. It was a book for teaching children steps to do simple braids such as French braid and ribbon twists for colourful clip ons.
She shared a story of her Indian friend who was married to a Jamaican guy. Like many mixed race children, the girl’s hair was banged in the middle, neither here nor there – it takes getting used to for the mother and finding what works best to keep the hair healthy and the wearer happy.
Her friend says dealing with the girl’s hair was the most challenging part of raising her daughter, now said daughter is grown and away from home – no longer Mama’s problem.
Finding balance in dealing with black girl’s hair is as important as instilling self esteem, I think.
At the Southbank Centre the other month, there was a stall asking people to share their hair stories; black hair stories. Many people wanted to share their hair stories, most importantly about how to move from blaming society for their definition of good hair to the place where one can wear whatever ‘do’ it is that they liked and be happy with it.
While at the stall, a few of us were sharing stories, a lady who coincidently is from Nigeria blamed her years of dealing with relaxed/ hair extensions on her mother as the mother started her on the ‘path’ before she could make any decision of her own.
Five years ago she started braiding her natural hair as it makes no sense to spend so much time and limited resources on hair extensions, and the worse of it was the handiwork of relaxer ‘that thing is the most dangerous of all, strips her hair off too many times to count.”
About a year ago, my daughter talks about relaxing her hair to make it easier to manage. I looked on listening to how she would only have to do it once a year and how being mixed race makes it easier as her hair is not as coarse as mine.
This I later learnt she heard from her gymnastics teacher, who had children about Yeye’s age. The lady is very nice so I saved my breath and said “Everyone has rules in their house. In our house, I am sorry Yeye, we have different priorities, our hair is not one of it as it is just perfect. And when you grow up, you can make all that decision by yourself, for now, we are not going to relax your hair.”
That was the end of that. That was easy.
So I thought.
December last year, Yeye and her friends decided to do a group talent show. It was four girls, one black and three Oyinbos. She was excited about the show, then 2 days before the show, she said her friends asked that she get her hair braided so as to look the part.
‘We can do single braids like we have done several times, but we are not going to put hair extension in your hair like the girl in the video. No, can’t take that hair to school, it is silly.’
Yeye broke down and it became a big deal, she left the group and show cancelled.
“Am I the bad cop here?“
Living outside of Nigeria, it is a lot easier to put things in perspective and understand the importance of adjusting to the environment that one lives in to benefit fully from opportunities around. A child that swims, cycles and skis – how on earth would you fit in bulky hair extensions under helmet and secure it in place?
Alternative action is to not wear activity cap/helmet the right way and gets upset when adult in charge makes comment about the fact that you may not be able to participate if they are not comfortable the headgear is securely fitted.
My girl’s hair at 32cm long is much longer than my hair had ever been. Why would primary school girls want to relax their hair? Peer pressure? Perhaps.
But what could be one good reason for doing so if not that their hair is not good enough? I had to explain to Yeye that she will thank me and her dad later, not now, but later when she is grown old enough and started reading all about black hair politics.