All tied up

All tied up

I’ve worn head ties all my life, experimenting with shapes and colours and not just on bad hair days, haha!
In my teen years I was often laughed at for my head ties (the laughers were always as black as me) another manifestation of my outsiderness. The sting of derisive laughter has worn off but I remember it and I know the fear that those who laughed were harbouring.
In Nigeria I submit myself to the superior head wrapping skills of women who are artists of the cloth. Actually there’s a kind of effortless sense of style and awareness of the body that I admired in women both in Naija and Ghana.
But the body confidence exists alongside a paradoxical loathing of dark skin and natural hair. It weirds me out that this self-schism exists and I’ve been thinking of the ways that this affects me as a black woman living in the west.
It’s complicated and part of the uncomfortable conversation we need to keep having. When you see your reflection, are you seeing you or an amalgamation of your racial, historical and social complications?
Style is both personal and political and the negotiations black women constantly have to make are not always what you want to confront when you wake up to get dressed in the morning.


Got My Hair Un-did


It took three weeks, a pack of broken combs, some tears, a fair amount of cursing.
But I did it. I combed out all 169 locks on my head and am now the proud owner of a little awesome Afro.
It’s been a few years in the making, the desire to start again. But I couldn’t just cut off 17 years of living and loving and travel and jouvay, you know?
I’m actually really happy I chose to unlock it. It gave me a chance to say goodbye to my locks. To let go of all that I had been through and experienced for all those years.
Hair is emotional.
I talked about it for a couple weeks with my sisters (who gave me the look specially reserved for my frequent mad ideas). On Christmas Eve I started at the centre of my head. My arms hurt. I cried. A few days in I lost all zeal to continue. Somehow I kept going (I started to run out of headties).
As my hair started to emerge in all its mad curly glory I became overwhelmed by a sense of how completely we have been made to hate ourselves.
A thing as fundamental to your sense of being as your hair gets undermined from the time you are born. This was not the case in my house and thank the goddess I had two older sisters to comb my hair for me.
I realized last year that I missed those times with my sisters when they would comb my hair. I think the loss of those rituals between women of different generations is part of the further destruction of community and a sense of (haha) rootedness.
The more of my hair I saw, the more I became excited that I would have those moments again. When someone would show care in my appearance and give me a bad ass hair style that didn’t come out of a bottle or a heating appliance.
When I was in India last year I got questioned about my hair a lot, given that the only people there who wear their hair in locks are Saddhus and the warrior ascetics known as Nagas.
I tried to explain that locks were a totally acceptable way of women wearing their hair, to which the response was ‘and men find this attractive?!’
In truth, locks for me have been a kind of anti-beauty. A deliberate subversion of an idea of what hair should look like for a black woman. Some men find the idea of that attractive. That you are determined not to fit into what society says is beautiful.
But my time with my locks taught me that what is most important is to be comfortable enough in your skin, in your sense of who you are, in your sense of where you are going and where you have come from. I was never a ‘Revlon Rasta’. I wasn’t one of those compulsive groomers. My hair was wild (and still is) and occasionally depending on my mood I tried to tame it into what may have been loosely construed as a hairstyle.
But I feel like I’m into another phase now. One that gives me the room to play with my image. I’m really enjoying my afro, like getting to know a new friend. My hair is so fricking awesome!! I’ve been spending a lot of time just playing with it. Loving it. Anointing my scalp with coconut oil. The variety of textures, the need for care.
Your hair can teach you a lot about your own complexities. I’m loving getting to know myself in a totally different way.

It’s just hair

Guiltiness rest on their conscience, oh yeah
These are the big fish
Who always try to eat down the small fish
They would do anything to materialise
Their every wish
Woe to the downpressors
They eat the bread of sorrow
Woe to the downpressors
They eat the bread of sad tomorrow

—Guiltiness, Bob Marley

It’s just hair. Tell yourself that so you can make sense of this story in the newspapers. The one where the soldiers rob a man of his locks. Well it’s not a robbery. It’s more of a rape, come to think of it. A deliberately dehumanising, socially acceptable form of torture. It’s just hair. Tell yourself that so you can make it through to the end of the story without throwing up. Without wanting to go out and mash up things. Because your hair is still on your head and you can feel the locks tingling to their very ends. With absolute, uncontrollable rage. It’s just hair. This shouldn’t be the story that gets you the most vexed out of the whole state of emergency farce where the politicians finally get the chance to play the role of badjohn and they put their all into it.

It’s just hair. You should be more upset that people are saying that we should bring back the PNM, as if they ever had any interest in improving the fortunes of anybody other than their cronies. It’s just hair. Take a deep breath and consider that soldiers are just doing their jobs, stamping out troublemakers of all kinds. It’s just hair. That is why Samson was destroyed when Delilah cut his. It’s just hair. That’s why soldiers think they have a right to cut it. It’s just freedom. That’s why somebody else has a right to say who can be free and who can’t. It’s just hair. That’s why you can’t escape the irony of a Christian neo-colonial notion of decency being endorsed by a Hindu who must have grown up in a house with a picture of Lord Shiva, watching the Ganges spring from his jata wrapped like a crown around his head.

It’s just hair. And Selassie wasn’t a Rastaman. But Lord Shiva was. And so too, perhaps, was their Christ with his lambs wool hair. And so too the Shaivite saddhus who introduced their sacred ganja and ascetic life to the rural Jamaicans who gave the world Rastafari. It’s just hair. There is no power there that strikes terror into the hearts of Babylon, and the worst kind of Babylon is the one who looks like you, and talks like you but hates you as much as he hates his own blackness. Black like sin. Black like the devil. Black like power that he will never have except to take away your hair and make you feel less than human.

It’s not a thing of beauty. It is a thing of defiance. To wear your hair long. To refuse to deny your hair its right to grow. To reject their notions of beauty and manhood and decency. It’s just hair. And the State has a right to your body. Because the State is a corporation and you are its asset. But your dutty stinking Rasta head is a liability. Cut it out. Your offensive hair that flies in the face of authority. That says you will not be who they want you to be. Cut it out. And straighten it up so that you can look like a decent member of society. Because you can’t possibly be a good person with hair like that. Oh no. You have to be doing something illegal. You have to be a weed-smoking or selling pariah.

So if you have white skin and you grow your ganja hydroponically in your daddy’s nice Westmoorings backyard, that’s okay. If you have a few letters after your name and you’re a successful academic you can do a few lines of cocaine with your friends. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for those of you for whom your hair is your crown, a soldier could come and take it away. Who are you to think yourself royal anyway? It’s just hair, dread. It’s just hair. It could grow back.  It could grow back like the murder rate. It could grow back like the feeling of unsafety.

It could grow back like your contempt for people in authority. It could grow back like your disgust for citizens who are willing to accept that a lack of freedom is okay, once they’re not the ones who have to be disturbed. Certain things for me may never grow back. Like the cojones of certain people who have remained suspiciously silent during this state of emergency. Like your faith that any politician currently serving in the Parliament of this be-loved nation has any interest in building a functional state, a progressive nation. It’s just hair. And in Trinidad, in 2011, it is a symbol of all that is bad and dangerous. Because hair could unseat the power of those who want to turn us all into slaves of capitalism. Again.