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You are not “ugly” for looking natural

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You are not “ugly” for looking natural

Black people are in a very dangerous place. They have gone from a history where black women fought for civil rights and proudly wore their Afros as they sang out loud “I’m black and I’m proud”, to a time in which black women call each other “ugly African monkey” for looking natural.

Another month. And another reflection. I would have loved for it to be something completely new. But alas, sometimes when you are passionate about something, you talk about it endlessly. Other times, you talk about something because it needs to be addressed over and over again. So please bear with me as I go back to a topic that’s very close to my heart.

But before I even do that, let me share this quote from Gandhi: “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for being correct, for being you. Never apologise for being correct, or for being ahead of your time. If you are right and know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind even if you are in a minority. The truth is still the truth.”

Towards the end of 2014, a black woman called me “an ugly African monkey.” According to the woman I’m an “ugly African monkey” not because of my views but because I have dark skin and wear natural hair. When this woman looks in the mirror and sees the reflection of soft, silky Brazilian hair flowing down her shoulders, when she sees the long fake eyelashes made in Taiwan and she admires her fake nails from China, she actually believes she is looking at a thing of real beauty.

Then she sees me. Dark skin. Natural hair in dreadlocks. Short eyelashes. Short natural nails. According to this woman, I’m not only an “ugly African monkey” but I also look unintelligent.
In her eyes and sadly in the eyes of many, how can any black woman who wears natural hair, no make-up, has short natural nails and doesn’t add any extra bits to her eyelashes be intelligent and attractive? After all, isn’t it common knowledge that only the Europeans and Chinese are intelligent? We all know beauty means Brazilian, Peruvian or Indian hair, Chinese nails and Korean eyelashes.

I find it disgusting that an AFRICAN woman can call another AFRICAN woman an “ugly African monkey”, simply because she wears her natural God-given African hair and has dark skin. I’m not hurt by all this on a personal level. My hurt comes from its significance. It’s very deep that black people to this day, still look down on their own, just because they chose to wear the hair God gave them and they have dark skin.

 Is it any wonder the less confident and secure amongst us bleach their skin and wear weaves? From the woman on the street to the corporate world, those of us who wear natural hair still face some levels of discrimination and stereotyping. For example, the assumption that everyone who has natural locks “smokes weed”, or they are “radicals”, “controversial” and “rebels”and the one I dislike the most, “Afrocentric”!

How are you being “Afrocentric” for looking natural? You are just being yourself! All black people should be “Afrocentric”. Knowledge of our history, cultures, achievements, developments, important scholars and much more, should be the norm and help in understanding ourselves. When people call others “Afrocentric” it can sometimes come out in an off-handed and derogatory manner. As if love and knowledge of everything African is the greatest sin of all.

How to make people understand that wearing natural hair does not mean someone is crazy, rebellious, has always been my challenge. In as much as much as fake hair has become the accepted norm, so too should natural hair be. In fact, natural hair should be more accepted. It’s the hair that black people are born with. Our hair comes in various types. Some have tight coarse hair, others have soft, easily manageable hair. Some black women can grow very long natural, others can never manage that no matter how hard they try. And it’s okay. What matters is that it is the hair we were genetically, naturally, biologically created with. That is the truth.

Therefore, to say that the wearing of natural hair makes a black woman less intelligent and less attractive is an indictment of our race.

Wearing natural hair will not make you incapable. I will use the actress Viola Davies as an example. When she finally ditched weaves in real life and started wearing her hair natural, did her acting skills disappear? No. Did she look less beautiful? Definitely not. In fact, the consensus was that she looked more beautiful with her Afro! Yet if she had tried to enter the industry with natural hair, she would not have been given the same opportunities as she received with her weave. Does this even make sense?

Whenever I talk about this issue, black women who wear weaves are quick to shout “It’s my choice”. I personally don’t think it is. They may think it’s their choice, but my question is: why are they making that choice? Have black women been truthful enough with themselves as to why they see the beauty in buying and sewing or gluing Brazilian hair over their God-given natural hair? What would make somebody who claims to be intelligent, put their own natural hair in beautiful cornrow, only to sew or glue on it, hair from unknown persons?

In October 2014, the BBC did a report in which they discovered that some Chinese manufacturers add goat hair – yes goat, as in the animal – to the human hair they produce. I’m sure black women who wear weaves have heard about this. Has this put them off? Nope. They are still buying weaves in droves, enriching the Asian markets, while looking down not only on their sisters who choose to wear their natural hair, but also questioning (perhaps even insulting) the God who created them.

I don’t buy any of the excuses I’ve heard from black women as to why they weave because I’m a black woman who has worn my hair natural most of my life. So I know from personal experience that the excuses such as time, cost, the weather etc are just that – excuses. The lamest excuse of all is “but white women weave too”. Yes they do. They weave hair that looks like theirs. They don’t completely change the look of their genetic hair. When white women weave, they don’t do so because their hair is unmanageable, or it makes them ugly, unintelligent white monkeys.

They are in fact saying the opposite: that their hair is so nice, they need more of it. And black women are quick to agree.

It is disgraceful that worldwide, and especially in Africa, black women only accept black beauty if the West validates it. Currently this is happening with Lupita Nyong’o. She is the “black beauty” darling of the world. And because the West has said so, black people have also embraced her beauty. Don’t get me wrong. I think Lupita is beautiful and classically elegant. She is  graceful and seems mature and wise beyond her years. Talent-wise, she is up there with the best of them. So this is nothing against Lupita herself or any dark-skinned, natural-haired woman who has “made it”.

However, the truth is if the West didn’t accept and validate Lupita, believe me, neither would Africans. Before Lupita we were told black beauty meant Alek Wek. And before Alex we were given Grace Jones. Having dark-skinned, natural-haired celebrities should be so normal, and they need not be singled out! Counting weave-wearing celebrities should rather be the difficult task instead.

But today, the daily image the black woman has of herself is that of a woman with long silky hair. I have said this before and I challenge anyone to put it to the test. Ask any young black child to draw a picture of a black woman and I bet 99% of the time, the drawing will be of a woman with long silky hair. How can this be the case? If black women were weaving as fancy dress or as something they did occasionally, then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. But we have a situation where the weave has become the “ideal” standard of beauty.

Rather than get upset or be put off, being called an “ugly African monkey” has spurred me to keep speaking the truth. It’s time black people accepted God created us with kinky/nappy hair as well as different shades of black/brown skin. Until black people believe natural hair and dark skin don’t make you an “ugly African monkey”, how can we demand other people stop believing that? There was a time when Europeans believed Africans were savages with untamed hair and dark skin. Today, it’s black women who are telling the world that.

All because we have fallen for the myth that beauty, intelligence and success can only be achieved with the Euro/Asia look. There has to be a change in the way black women have accepted fake hair as the norm and natural hair as unacceptable.

Black people have to stop believing only straight silk hair and white/light skin means right. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.

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Written by Akua Djanie

Akua Djanie, better known to her fans in Ghana as Blakofe, a TV, radio and events Presenter. At IC Publications, Akua has been sharing her 'Reflections of an Ordinary Woman' for the past three years in New African magazine.

  • Queen Mennon

    this article fails to mention the queen of the runway, Ms.Naomi Campbell. there is no question of who is the “fairest of them all.”, weave and all. I agree with you tho, they are only now making weaves and wigs with our hair texture. that is going to be big. women will not stop wearing wigs and weaves. We have been doing it since ancient Egypt times, but you make a good point that it should be in our hair texture not the texture of others.

  • Japhet Mwaya

    On the eve of Tanzania’s independence December 09, 1961, the late Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania said: ” The worst sin which colonialists have committed is to make Africans despise themselves.” The current struggles of African women to look like their former colonial masters prove Nyerere very right. African women today need mental liberation. Why should we measure beauty in European standards. Why should Europe dictate African standards of beauty? I think the problem is that we are not yet free. We still need to free ourselves from all sorts of European fetters.

  • Noel Amoit

    Nice piece but not very objective. So insecurity is what makes us wear weaves…really? There are plenty of women who alternate between a weave and their natural nappy hair for the simple reason that they want to look different and there is nothing wrong with that. It is sad that SOME African women have taken the European standards of beauty as the only standard but that does mean wearing a weave means you despise yourself………and I think the unmanageability of our African hair is a perfect reason to wear a weave, c’mon.

    • Lotan Ronald

      Not to discredit you, but I would like to know: how many white women do you know, alternate between straight and nappy hair, from time to time?
      I think the fact that many Africans would still disagree with Akua is symptomatic of how whitened we have become.

      • Lekia Lée

        Well said Lotan, besides, our hair is not unmanageable. We have been managing our hair long before the Europeans enforced their ideals on us, the only time our hair became ‘unmanageable’ is when we started desiring it to look and behave like straight hair. Wanting to always be weaved-up doesn’t mean you despise yourself (the author never said that) but it does mean you do not like a part of you – an important part for that matter. Many people still function normally while hating a part of their body and for many black women it is their hair. I still don’t understand why we are in denial of the thinking behind desiring straight hair. I eagerly await the day we eschew changing our hair texture the way we do skin bleaching – they are all from the same ‘place’.

  • exa

    Wearing weave means emulating the standards of beauty as defined by the features of people those weaves represent. There is no amount of Egyptian, Babylonian or Aztec ancient practices that can go around the fact that it is one people aping the standards of body features of another people. How many weave mimicking natural African hair out there?
    What did ancient Egyptians get from denying their own identity and embracing other races cultures? The result was: Asians (Assyrians, Babylonians, Jews, Arabs), Europeans (Greeks, Romans) replacing culturally and physically the native people. Africans seem to envy the ancient Egyptians fate. The fact that ancient Egyptian elite incited their entire people to worship the body features of other people doesn’t make it right. No wonder their culture and language become extinct. That didn’t happen to Chinese, Indian, Greek and Romans.

  • Lotan Ronald

    Thanks Akua for being one of the very few pointing out these ills. I wonder if we men are spared from the white complex. I have not come across many black African men who would prefer to perm their hair straight or wear blonde hair. Does that mean we men have been more resilient to the whitening effect? What part of our history could explain this? What does it say about our responsibility, as black African men, for restoring black African pride?

    • Lekia Lée

      Unfortunately men have not been resilient to the whitening effect as you put it. Many African men see light-skinned women as more beautiful. Even those that like dark-skin will still find it hard not to see a light-skinned black woman as desirable. The reason why men don’t bleach their skin as much or change their hair because dark is the Euro-centric ideal of masculinity. Many European women will describe their ideal man as tall, dark and handsome. Dark represents at best strength and at worse brutality. That’s why in the days of slavery when white women accuse black men of raping them they were always described as big and black. In the sport of muscle building contestants spray their skin to look darker, it makes them look stronger. So if dark = strength and men are supposed to be strong, why change that if you are a man?

  • AtlPERSONAMag

    I applaud you! I wrote a similar article a few years ago that also brought the same realizations into the light… Great article! Thank you! http://www.seancrobinson.com/2014/11/you-didnt-know-weve-always-been.html

  • Gregg Rodriguez

    Sounds like a major uphill battle trying to fight ignorance in the African American community. There’s a lot of self hatred among black people. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the baby doll experiment (search Kenneth and Mamie Clark) , where very young children are presented a black and white baby doll and are asked questions like “Which doll is the good/bad doll” or “Which doll do you prefer”. Young little black kids that are far too young to even understand the subtleties of racism overwhelmingly say the black doll is the bad doll and that they prefer the white doll. It starts at a very early age. Something is causing black kids to grow up with low self esteem and to associate themselves with negative traits.

    Anyway, thanks for the good article and I hope you don’t get discouraged and you continue to remind black people to love themselves

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