When I decided to wear my natural hair, I did it simply because I wanted to. I did not know that so much controversy surrounded the issue of black women wearing their natural hair in America. As an African woman who grew up in Africa, some of the things I heard about women wearing their natural hair were definitely hair-raising. To gain a deeper perspective, I recently sat down with All Flo in a Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn and over a plate of fish pepper soup, she shared some of her experiences as a hair stylist with me. All Flo is a notable fashion designer, an artiste and a professional hair stylist who caters to a select clientele. She is from Lesotho but she grew up in Germany and England and now lives in America. On her personal style she says, “I keep my hair natural for a purpose. I am making a statement, I am creating a movement, I am like a servant and I have this vision and I don’t know where it is going to lead but I just follow it.” She stated, she also adds that, “I learnt a lot from making hair and I believe that from all what I learnt, I need to educate my black sisters and mothers not to put relaxers on their children’s hair.”
The issue of hair is a very touchy one among black women in America and as All Flo reflects on this she says, “Sometimes when I wear my natural hair people tell me ‘only you can get away with this’ and I am like, I am getting away with something?” I smile at the incredulous look on her face and she continues, “sometimes they also say, if only I could wear my natural hair, I would. That is sad, she said and after a brief pause she continues. “I have seen women wearing very bad weaves but they feel comfortable wearing them because the weave is straight.”
At this point, All Flo becomes philosophical and begins to reflect on the underlying reason why some black women cannot wear their natural hair. “As a hairstylist, I see a lot of black women walking around with low self-esteem and I say to myself this can’t be right, these girls really feel like nothing and they would literarily die if their man walked in and saw them in their natural hair because that natural hair to them signifies that they are worthless. A lot of African descendant in America and the Caribbean’s are actually mixed so they have what they call “great hair” and that is as good as it gets. It really astonishes me at the way they cover their natural hair and do not allow their partners to see them the way that they are and sometimes too when you are washing a clients hair they don’t want their make up to be washed off and I am like wow this is much deeper than I thought. The damage that has been done to our sisters and brothers by the white people is very deep.”
After reflecting for a while she expounds on this further by saying that; “For people to make themselves look better than you, they have to put you down first. White people created this white God and they said to us this is what you have to look like, not only to look pretty, but to go to heaven as well, you need to look like me because the person who owns that place looks like me. We bought it and we couldn’t see evil in them because they are connected with God. In the dictionary, dark is a bad place, black is evil. You find purity, it starts with white and it just keeps getting whiter. I am not against white people and I don’t hate white people, I have lived abroad all my life, hatred and revenge is not what we are about as Africans. We are a strong people. The Jewish people for instance despite their history walk around very proud and I think we as black people, need to get in touch with who we are, because that is the source of our power.” She concludes.
This discourse with All Flo was very enlightening to me. Slavery and colonialism caused tremendous damage to Africans and African culture. It not only robbed us of our self-esteem, it also robbed us of our identity. Africans everywhere must take up the challenge of educating our people about our rich cultural heritage and restoring the pride in being African. Like All Flo also said, the Jews came through the holocaust as a much stronger people. It’s time for us to adopt a new mentality also. Personally, I don’t care how black women choose to wear their hair. What is important to me is that they consciously choose to wear their hair in whatever way they want because they choose to do so and not because they are defining themselves by standards that are not theirs while denigrating and looking down on their own culture. Because as long as we allow other people to define us, we can never be truly free.