Is It Really About Hair?

Living in post-apartheid South Africa, segregation is still rife. It is not instituted by the government, but institutionalised in our mind, we make judgements on how we treat each other based on skin colour and socioeconomic standing. We move when we get uncomfortable:  the shacks are getting closer and the schools are getting darker. Our melanin or lack thereof recoils at the change that diversity brings.

model-1439909_960_720This is the society we are living in. Never accepting change, never understanding where we fit in, and never knowing why we needed to be with those that looked like us in order to be ourselves. We are constantly bombarded with westernised and materialistic ideals and never our own. We are constantly questioning our identity in this “unified” world.They said that South Africa has changed and we are one. They said we got over “that thing” that separated us. They said we love each other, we embrace each other like the colours in a rainbow. They said that we are beautiful because we are different. They said everything is okay and going to be better.

“I saw that similar people were too different to be the same.”

The social constructs of the mind that were dictated to me in my youth are but a dream. Every time I analyse the world, I see the foundation of this dream crack. I saw people that looked like me suffering. I saw people who look like each other oppressing each other. I saw that similar people were too different to be the same. I saw people who mocked one another for not sounding the same, dressing the same, or living the same.

So much confusion! We believed that we had forgotten our outward appearances, forgave the past and got on with our lives, but little did we know that we never did.

I grew up where I saw girls that looked similar to me with long, luscious hair. They would wave it around, tie it up and loosen it to lay however they liked. My aspirations changed from good grades to fitting in. In order to be their friend, we needed to have something in common and it came down to hair. I changed, made it look like theirs, stopped cutting it, waved it around, tied it up and let it do whatever it liked. I was then accepted into this hair flipping clan. I belonged!

“Never had I seen a woman embrace, love, and accept herself like she did.”

I found my hair guilty and sentenced it to a slow death penalty. Every third month I went to the chair, to burn my scalp and oppress my hair to its straightest “form”. Never once did the question:  “Why won’t they accept me as I am?” come to my mind. I had to do what was necessary to fit in and be accepted.

After years of damaging hair flipping. I saw a woman who looked like me on the internet. Her hair was longer than I have ever seen on a woman of my colour. She played with it, tossed it, tied it and waved it around however she liked. It was thick, healthy, and beautiful.  I sat in shock and amazement. Never had I seen a woman embrace, love, and accept herself like she did.

Was it the idea/conception that was constructed in my mind that made me believe it was not possible? That what I was seeing was not true, or she was just plain lucky? Was it my upbringing that made me ask Google if she was of a mixed race heritage? Was it the country I was brought up in that made me believe that it is impossible for people like me to have hair like that without having to purchase it in a store? Or was it the idea of black women succeeding on their own an incapable thought?

To others she is protesting. She is going against the norm. In her work place, they don’t accept that it’s not straight and tied up neatly. They say she looks barbaric and unkempt. They forget that when she was blessed with the richness of melanin in her skin, it determined the tightness of the coil in her hair. The unruly crown that was bestowed on her head is not accepted.

That takes me back to what the world is selling to us as consumers of lies. They said that things were different. They said we are one, they said that we were beautiful because we are different. Then, I do not understand why I should apologise for cutting my hair and going natural. I do not understand why I could not re-open the case against my hair and release it. I do not understand why I cannot embrace what is given to me.

Somethingwoman-1197149_960_720 as simple as hair had the whole country in an uproar recently. I saw people that looked like me suffering: black women covering their crowns with the hair of another race so
that they do not have to deal with their own. I saw people who look like each other oppressing each other: I saw black parents saying that their children’s God-given hair was unruly and they should stop embracing their true identity. I saw that people who shared similarities were too different to be the same. I saw females who were unable to empathise with females of a different race. I saw people who mocked one another for not sounding the same, dressing the same or living the same. I saw people who made it look as if their hair changed their social class and socio-economic status.

I left the hair flipping clan because I wanted to, because I saw an example. I saw that it is possible. I am not protesting. I am simply wearing my crown that was made for me, just the way I like it, just like any other women of any other race can.

-Thembilsile Mkahabela


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s