By Hwaa Irfan
Messing with a black person’s mind has been a long past time activity of racism, whether intentionally or unintentionally, which has left many African-Americans doing everything to make their hair look ‘white’ as the expression goes. For those African’s of the Diaspora who are proud of who they are, the hair stands as a symbol of that pride. So when a school, St Gregory’s Catholic Science College, U.K. refused an 11- year old boy a place because he his hair was in corn/canerow, it is a bit difficult to say they were not being racists.
From the point of view of the school multiculturalism is about reducing differences in appearance, but to do that there has to be a standard, and then the question is whose standard, and whether that standard is culturally biased.
For an African descendent of the Diaspora, living in the fast mainstream of life while respecting what one is means caring for one’s hair in a practical manner. Cornrow is practical because it takes care of the hair, when one does not have the time. Most urban areas dehydrate the hair, and black hair demands time. It is nothing to be ashamed of despite the insecurity of others, yet the incident at St Gregory’s Catholic Science College has called in the comment of Rob Berkley, director of the race equality think-tank the Runnymede Trust. Berkley commented to the BBC:
“This isn’t an outrageous hairstyle”
“It makes clear that non-religious cultural and family practices associated with a particular race fall within the protection of equalities legislation.”
But to be honest, from the time what women choose to wear (i.e. the hijab), the whole argument became ridiculous.
“Can African women or women of African descent ever be truly liberated if they never learn to love their hair as it grows out of their head?” – H. Nanjala Nyabola.
The ‘white ideal’ through the tool of mass media, has made many peoples of colour around the world, do everything possible to look white. When one sees beautiful Arab T.V. presenters bleach their hairs blonde, yet claim to represent their people, one knows that there is seriously something wrong. The type of internalized racism that makes a person of African descent feel ashamed of their hair, is symbolic of their relationship to the world. The extent to which racism has been socialized, and the extent to which black women, and some men will ‘whiten’ their hair to only goes against the Laws of Nature, which means it is rejection of what our Creator has given, but involved a consistent habitual practice that inputs made-made chemicals into the body via the scalp. To risk permanent damage to the scalp, and baldness to look the way nature did not intend is the nature of the dominant culture, and a betrayal of the self.
The first hair relaxer was discovered by a former slave, Garrett Augustus Morgan who happened to invent the automatic traffic signal, and the gas mask. How ironic, two symbols of acceptance or rejection at a time more than any other, when African Americans were born into a world that rejected them – the automatic traffic signal – a systemized method of to go or to stop, to be or not to be – the gas mask, a struggle to breathe to inhale and exhale without compromise; and to chemically relax the hair weakens the hair, but before that, one has become weakened enough to want to betray the self.
Though extensive studies have been done, only one unbiased study told the truth on the effects of sodium hydroxide, the key ingredient to chemical relaxers. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), reported cases of cancer of the esophagus 15 – 40 years after exposure to sodium hydroxide though the direct cause could not be ascertained. One of the means projected is through inhalation, Morgan never thought of that when he invented the gas mask.
Yet, regardless of all the tales, and the reports, far too many descendents of the African Diaspora will do anything to take the nature out of their hair. Admittedly natural black hair care does take time, and it is more convenient to not go natural, but that is the nature of the culture of the system that lacks appreciation of anything other than that which affirms it!
By nor being proud of who one is, attracts criticism, taunts, bullying, one falls prey to a culture of abuse, to a social tyranny that is ever so polite at erasing existence of the other. It unfolds as a form of censorship, saying that one can only belong to a club if one has a certain dress code, a certain discourse, and a certain perception of what constitutes as real for the club. By the time the St. Greogory school case was tried in High Court, the African-Caribbean boy was 13 years old when the incident took place when he was 11. In that time, enough bad feelings were allowed to accumulate within the boy. The school had not simply rejected his natural hairstyle, they had rejected him. To be rejected in a life changing situation, in this case one’s education can have a devastating effect.
This pressure to conform to something that demands negation of one’s self is advertised everyday on American sitcoms. It is great to find ‘actors’ with a wide range of ethnicities in a sitcom, but when they act in exactly the same manner, with the same body language, and the same intonations one knows that there is something seriously wrong, why everyone wants to behave the same, saying the same things, having the same interests – that is one boring song which belies the culture of silence that composed it. It wreaks vengeance on the soul, lulling it to sleep, to the extent that there is a splitting off of consciousness. When that culture of silence runs throughout one’s own people, the avenues to process life’s challenges becomes closed off, level of empathy dwindles, so does compassion, one either becomes subdued if the experience is internalized, or loud and aggressive if externalized, but either way the feeling of apathy is strong/sets out to prove one’s self in a manner that is not according to ones true nature. This is in fact truer today than 10 years ago for example to the extent that two black strangers on meeting each other in an alien environment will have many questions going on in their heads today, whereas once before there would no hesitation to greet each other.
The cultural oppressor views their position as an entitlement that gives them a right over everyone who is not them. They have held this position for so long, that they do not see what is so wrong about it. To ensure that position without seeming to offend particular features of another person’s culture are picked upon for a political agenda encapsulated and labelled as a threat of some type to social order. Once stigmatized, through a process of branding, the battle is won. With a sense of legitimacy St. Gregory school desires that all their pupils regard each other as equal, and not distinct groups, which questions their notion of equal. In the light of God, we are all the same, yet God created enough diversity in nature, that we do not see in life the harmony.
Cultural imperialism is a means of maintaining the upper hand in the face of insecurity, the kind of insecurity that needs to be affirmed continuously to the extent that no matter how trivial the situation, a challenge is like a threat. The threat is one of perception rather than real, but in the mind of the cultural imperialist it is a real threat that must be put down because they fear difference.
For a black person who has suffered generations from the fallout of being different it comes down to much more than messing with a black man’s hair, but it is the hair that stands as an every second reminder for their is a lot of heart and soul is in that hair.
“Cons of Chemical Relaxers for African-Americans.” http://www.ehow.com/list_6659204_cons-chemical-relaxers-african_americans.html
Singleton, J. “Chemical Relaxers: The Facts Might Not Be So Relaxing.” http://www.thedefendersonline.com/2009/12/18/chemical-relaxers-the-facts-might-not-be-so-relaxing/
“St Gregory’s College Cornrows Rule Discriminated.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-13803106