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Dear Editor: Revisiting the good hair, bad hair debate and its dangerous prejudices

“[…] What the video creator is clearly signalling is that a prerequisite for good hair is solely based on texture and length… These disruptive and prejudiced attitudes and mindsets must be confronted because they inform other discriminatory practices. 

“[…] There are real life consequences to these dangerous prejudices…”

The following Letter to the Editor by Onika Nkrumah-Lakhan responds to a video that advises women of African descent to seek out mixed or straight-haired men as potential child fathers:

Photo: A woman combs her curly hair.

A viral video is making its rounds across the social media. In this problematic and, frankly, very disturbing video, a woman’s voice is heard dispensing some ‘advice’ to black women. 

In the video, only the woman’s voice is heard and the back of a child’s head being combed is seen. However, in a subsequent apology video, we see that it is an African-presenting woman—meaning she looks mostly African, even if she may be slightly mixed.

“I does always say when yuh looking for a man, if you know that yuh is plain Negro, look for ah man who mix up at least, for yuh child to come out with proper hair. Because allyuh see dem late for school ting, to be putting chemical or braids in allyuh kids hair nope.

“Take allyuh time if allyuh know allyuh is plain Negro, look for ah mix up man ok,  a lil dougla, ah lil Indian, something awright.”

Photo: A bi-racial girl shows off her braided hair.

Wait, what?! Imagine this is the level of idiocy and ignorance we as an African community are saddled with in 2022. This is the scorn that having or wearing our natural hair as it emerges from our scalp evokes for still too many, not just in our wider society but in our very own community. 

What is good hair? Good hair should be hair that is resistant to breakage, thick, healthy and moisturised. By those standards, clearly even straight or curly hair types can be described as ‘bad’ or weak if its thin or prone to breakage etc.

However, because of historical, cultural norms informed by colonial and European beauty standards, ‘good, soft or proper’ hair, according to the Perception Institute, is considered to be: “hair that is wavy or straight in texture, has the ability to grow long, and requires minimal intervention by way of treatments or products…” 

What the video creator is clearly signalling is that a prerequisite for good hair is solely based on texture and length.

Photo: A woman of African ethnicity sports her natural hair.

African hair is very dense and porous as the strands are tightly coiled making it more difficult to retain its moisture. Because our hair type is coiled, it looks shorter than it really is—its true length is seen when it is plaited, stretched or straightened. 

African hair types range from 3A to 4C, which are classifications used to help us better understand our hair texture and to assist with hair maintenance, grooming and treatment. 

It is not true that African hair types cannot grow long, although it is genetically predisposed to be of a shorter length.

While everyone is entitled to their preference and opinion, having neither of these things makes it acceptable for a person to make statements, especially in the public arena, that could cause others to be ridiculed. These disruptive and prejudiced attitudes and mindsets must be confronted because they inform other discriminatory practices. 

Photo: St Stephen’s College Student Kalika Morton was allegedly disciplined in school for her Bantu knots hairstyle.
(via newsday.com)

This is not a case of a village idiot that can be ignored and swept under the carpet. Just as loudly and boldly as it was said, it must be just as boisterously confronted and rejected. 

There are real life consequences to these dangerous prejudices. African women, and men, who choose to wear their natural hair, among other things, have faced denial of employment and educational opportunities. 

Years ago, when I worked at a telecoms company, a female African supervisor looked at my budding dreadlocks and had the audacity to ask me: “you sure you wukking here.” 

I escalated the situation to my manager, who was not African, and she was made to apologise to me. Backward prejudices like this is why in a country where roughly half of the population are Africans and another good percentage are mixed with African, this stubborn stigma surrounding African hair still survives. 

Photo: Colfire issued Maurice Ramirez a warning letter that described his hair as “unprofessional” and a violation of company policy which read: “Hair should be kept clean, neat and well-groomed.”

It is why it is necessary that the Traditional African women’s group is advocating for natural hair acceptance in schools and elsewhere. It is why a mother had to sue a college on behalf of her daughter’s right to wear her hair naturally. It is why a Colfire employee, alleged that he faced discrimination based on his choice of hairstyle some years ago.  

Featurism and colorism are both the bastards of racism and probably even more divisive because we practice it within the black community. The remarks of the woman in the video are intolerable—she doesn’t get a pass because she is black.

Imagine if an Indian, Chinese or European person had made those remarks, we would have been calling for them to be cancelled or their business to be boycotted. As a woman and a mother, I am not going to make any such calls but I do call on this woman and others like her to do a bit of introspection and to educate themselves. She has almost twenty thousand followers on TikTok—probably many are young, impressionable girls—so at least choose your words wisely. 

Photo: A quote from late former South Africa freedom fighter, Steve Bantu Biko.

However, social media appears to be doing its job. The woman has since made her TikTok account private, ostensibly because she has been inundated with ‘fan’ mail. She has since removed the video and issued an apology. 

Why do people think that they can say vile, ridiculous things and expect a mere apology to make it better? Why apologise, when this is the way you clearly think?

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Sorry can’t buy curry. Lady, keep your apology and work on your heart!

When the Prime Minister said to choose your men wisely, apparently Sis thought he meant race and hair texture—not character, morals and values. In her apology video, she spends more time addressing a commenter who made a personal jibe, saying: “I am not going to stay with a man because I have a child with him… I am not the first to have two children with two separate child fathers!”

Photo: African women and their hair over the centuries.

Ma’am, dare I say that your priorities were sadly mixed up also, pun intended. So, it was clearly more important for her to have children by men who could give her ‘soft’ hair children—so they wouldn’t be ‘late for school’—than it was to examine their compatibility, character, and suitability for fatherhood. 

Once is a mistake, twice is a habit. Maybe if she had chosen a man based on the content of his character rather than his pedigree as if he were a dog, she would have better luck in the love department. 

In her own words she admits “you cannot force a man if he does not want to be a part of his child’s life…” 

Sis, if you pick a man as you would a canine, don’t be surprised if he behaves like one. So, two children fathers have abandoned you, yet you have the nerve to be online dispensing advice on choosing men!  

Photo: A depiction of an hairstyle in ancient Egypt.

Potentially, encouraging other silly, superficial, gullible girls to pick men using the yardstick of ethnicity and hair texture—no thoughts on whether he is a good provider, a kind soul, God-fearing or husband material but solely on whether he mixed and could give your children ‘proper’ hair. Oh dear, what a scare.

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2 comments

  1. Sad sad sad lack of self-love, but also conditioning from our past, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers who still parrot things they really need to unlearn.

  2. She really went in on Sis in the second half of the article🤣
    She deserved it !!

    It’s shocking that some people still have that mentality in big 2022