Being African: What does hair have to do with it? – The BBC

July 24, 2015

Africa, Society/Living

Discourse on African women’s hair, rightly so, is always coming up in the news; it has on this blog.  While those who really know this blogger see her in afro, wigs and, in the distant past of the 1980s in “stressed tress” – to quote a regular contributor to this blog, I think the discussion must always be on. 

While I subscribe greatly to “To thyself be true”, I also believe a continuous airing of hair angst of the African woman is felt more by the White race than by those really “concerned” but it is also true that African women and those of African descent everywhere have succumbed too much to the dominant culture of the White race.

The cultural domination has been so total that even what Africans consider beautiful in our women like “some” flesh is now looked upon as “not good looking”!

Whenever I tell some  anecdotes by an older relation about some  things SHE does not like about White women as they make her wonder how her son could live with the White woman he’s married to, my audience – mostly White female friends in the world headquarters of hair angst, USA – always look incredulous!

Here are some of Mama’s reasons for not liking XXX’s choice of a wife, translated to English:

1.  “I wonder how XXX feels when he looks at those cat-like eyes of XXX at night!”

2. “I don’t like XXX’s behind; too wide and too flat!”

3. I don’t like the skin’s death-like look!

Ah, Mama, those very wide hips and “cat-like” eyes are supposed to be things of beauty, and as for the color, Indians, Mexicans, Nigerians, perhaps in that order – and others – pay tons of money to obliterate their brownish or darker hues!

Me? I’ve never experienced any hair angst, really.  I’ve worn and still wear afro, and wigs while the days of “stressed tress” with hot combs and/or relaxers are decades in my past, I think whatever makes one comfortable is okay although I end my liberalism at skin bleaching for and by Africans.  Even if it’s not as dangerous to the health as it definitely is, I think it is too far to travel to look “pretty” because there really is nothing more beautiful than the skin you are born with.

Below are some hair looks from past and present, present and past!

Picture 1: Afro day 2013 on a hot August day.  Wigs are always my most convenient hair ACCESSORY but I also wear my own hair whenever I feel like.

Picture 2: “Stressed Stress” era, 1986.  Permed hair cut into page boy style by he who helps decide which styles look best on me, my Significant Other!

Picture 3:  Bewigged! Xmas 2011

Picture 4:  A blast from the past, The Hair Look that earned me a descriptive name by one of my bosses at The World Bank during my Go-fer days, “the tiny African girl with the big Afro!”

My Afro can no longer be big but it is as great as when another person – a reader of my old magazine, a “Sista Ugo” chatted with another blogger that I eavesdropped on during my essayist days with Nigeria’s The Nation on Sunday – “…  Of course, it should come as no surprise to you that I read Tola Adenle. I have known her for years … probably in the late 70s to early 80s, she used to publish a women’s magazine known as Emotan … she spots the meanest afro …

THAT “meanest afro period is the last picture here; it’s also been used on this blog. 

I think our goal should be to imbue our kids, when young, with the confidence to believe in themselves and not allow others to define who they are.  My girls have travelled the definitely tortuous hair routes but happily, all four have settled down for years to what they love: one wears dreds; another has worn her afro styled as she likes for a very long time while two have “stressed tress” cut low almost to their scalps!

“To thyself, be true”.


IYALODEsRonkeSisterTola at Ds 40th March 1982 Ibd Polo ClubFINAL

Christmas 2011 DandT



D and his Canon AE1 AND T Late 1970s

Now, the BBC essay:

“Black hair has been treated with disdain for years because black people have been made to be a problem, fighting to get out of enslavement and oppression, fighting to get into mainstream society, fighting for equal rights. Black hair, which is what makes us black, has been fighting for those same rights.

“Our hair is great because it is adaptable and we have been embellishing and adding length to it and styling it in myriad ways for thousands of years, weaves didn’t come with white people.

“But we have to create safe, non-judgemental, non-divisive spaces for us to talk to each other.

“I think the best approach is to reinvest natural black hair with positive qualities so that people don’t feel the need to change their hair in order to be associated with things like beauty, sexiness, success, ambition and professionalism.

“All we can do as black people who accept our features and love them, is symbolically invest them with the good qualities that racism has taken away.”



FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2015.

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4 Comments on “Being African: What does hair have to do with it? – The BBC”

  1. glasgowmango Says:

    Reblogged this on glasgowmango and commented:
    Great post about the authors hair journey! During my visit to Nigeria last year I went to a mega church one Sunday. There were a lot of things that really stood out for me including the building design (Photos? Sadly lost with my 2 month old camera!) Coming out of the service and waiting for my sister, my other sister and I were able to people-watch and observe an exciting range of hairstyles on display which made me smile.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Thanks Glasgowmango for the re-blog as well as for your comments!

      Yeah, in Nigeria, Sunday services, as well as other gatherings, are always veritable grounds to see various hair styles – Nigerian, Natural, Western – and, of course gele (head ties) which, I hope, you also took in!


      Liked by 1 person


  2. Timothy Otunla Says:

    All the TRESSTRESS ….imagine for once an ANAGOPHONE world civilisation !! UR anecdotal IYA, s VALUES AND SOCIAL REALITY will rule and stress the Caucasian woman, idi fule fule, paleness of skin etc will be abhorrent,untouchable. Abi?

    Some day, not soon, the first people will be first again! For now the African woman must be educated into higher and deeper self-esteem and lesser and lesser mimcry which only strengthen the supposed superiority of today,s dominant values. The African must not, and physically cannot, like the Asiatic, disappear into the shrimp pink/white world. The Aftican can however recover the African personality from the dungeon and negatives,the colour black it is associated with even in African societies.

    I refuse to be colour coded BLACK. I AM AFRICAN. The weakness and strength of skin color coding are explained by ASSOCIATION PSYCHOLOGY … most human beings instinctively,intuitively as entrenched in most societal values, sacrosanctify things white, demonise and inferiorise, to the point of wiping of,animate and inanimate things BLACK …

    The ease with which African-Americans are WASTED in the USA!!!!

    What’s the African hair got to do with this? EVERYTHING … as the African woman struggles day and night TO PASS FOR WHITE. I feel the pain of empathy!!!


    Sent from my iPhone




    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Mr. Tao,

      I could almost feel your physical pain!

      Things can, and should eventually improve even if not completely changed. One, if Africa’s ruling class would change from its evil and wicked ways of looting its various countries; two, if an under-achieving country like Nigeria can take he opportunity it has right now and the resources of a very rich country are properly harnessed, it would be an example to the world and a beacon of hope to our less-endowed brothers and sisters everywhere that they too can work towards greatness even with less natural resources …

      RESULT? Africa’s people everywhere would start getting RESPECT which would breed self confidence in our peoples. Asians were once derided in prone-to-prejudice USA but not anymore. Once you are good – even if not as good – at a game whose standard of success is determined by a group, you get respect.

      And, of course, positive reinforcements from early age is a must in the brew that would add up to freeing the minds of our people. May be we need people like “Mama” who, by the way, someone who knew those anecdotes called to correct one of last night: “what mama compared her daughter-in-law’s behind to was ‘a wide and flat …”. I did not want to go that far and merely used my prerogative as editor to smoothen the description.

      For instance in the 1960s and 1970s to which era I belong as a foreign student abroad, Nigerians could hardly wait to collect their diplomas before rushing to catch flights back home. It’s all changed now. There are PhD holders who dump everything in Nigeria to migrate to the ?States and, perhaps other countries to do jobs that high school certificate holders are meant to do.

      Here is a link to those who may be new here on my feelings about the tragedy that Nigeria’s situation represents to all Africans.

      Sincere regards,



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