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Experience: Hair Discrimination (2)

For as long as I can remember, my hair has been such a significant part of my identity. This sentiment is shared by many people in the Black community. From as young as 5 years old, I remember being so invested in which hairstyle my Mum might plait and twist my hair into. It became an accessory to my school uniform as well as my Sunday service best.

As I approached adolescence, I slowly became aware of more than just my perception of my hair. What I saw as a vessel for expression and creativity wasn’t allowed to be just that. Unfortunately, my own ideas about hair had not yet taken into account how others might perceive my hair. How my delight in having shoulder length cornrows one week and hip length braids the next, might be met with looks of sheer disbelief. Or insinuations that I might have extracted my hair from a horse’s mane.

When your own hair isn’t seen as the ‘cultural norm’, it doesn’t take long before you become aware of the many ways in which it’s policed and governed into becoming that. The many rules and regulations that force you to conform to a standard that your hair has been excluded from. So what do you do? Well, I fell in line. Fell in line with the idea that straighter is better. Fell in line with the idea that the way my own hair naturally grew out of my own scalp wasn’t ‘professional’ enough. Fell in line with the idea that the closer my hair resembled European hair then the better I would do at a job interview. How did I go from loving my Black hair to hiding it at every opportunity?

Thankfully, after a few years of going back and forth, I made the commitment to embrace my hair in all its Black glory. For me that meant styling my hair in what ever and which ever way I wanted to. Regardless of whether my Afro might be perceived as ‘political’ or my straight 24 inch extensions might be seen as ‘conformist’. I think the most important question to ask yourself about your own hair is, why? Why am I styling my hair in this way? If the answer is ever “because I have to”, ask yourself why again? The hair on your head or on anyone else’s for that matter should not be policed by anyone.

Ms Onwuzulike

Teacher of English

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