I anxiously squirmed in my seat that cozy April night in the living room of my Brooklyn apartment, waiting for my King to finally press the clippers to my scalp and curve down the nape of my neck. Today was the day I had been contemplating for some months when I would finally shave off all of my hair and rid myself of the constant pulling, burning, hiding and stressing over just the handful of hair that had grown since the last pixie style I’d been rocking.
I had kept my hair short for 5 years; less hair to manage and the edgy look of short hair just worked for me. I loved it, but I hated the energy it exerted from me. It was a constant cloud over my head – Perm them roots as soon as they make an appearance, flat iron it stick straight, and then try to bump it with the perfect flick of the wrist to give it a little shape and breathe some life into it after frying and forcing it to limp strands hanging on for dear life. But that’s exactly what I wanted, thats what looks good, thats what makes me look good I always thought…
But now it was all gone. I had finally acknowledged the level of power and control I had allowed my hair to have over me, my state of mind, and my happiness. For years it had never occurred to me that my hair had taken on a life of its own. When I wasn’t satisfied with my hair I was unhappy with myself, making my life a reflection of this dissatisfaction. My hair, much like all things around me had to behave exactly as I wanted or you’d have a fire breathing ‘you know what’ on your hands. It wasn’t about “natural hair” at all, it was about NO HAIR! Some can’t even imagine it.
I had no idea that less than 2 months later my King and I would be on a oneway flight to The Motherland to spend the unforeseen future on the islands of Cabo Verde, 350 miles off the west coast of the magnificent continent of Africa. It took less than a month for me to realize that this experience would propel me into myself and shake all of my fundamental belief systems to the core – notably the beliefs I held about my “nappy” hair.
No distractions, and in total control of our time we began to study all the things we never had time to question before. It wasn’t difficult to find the truths just beneath the surface. In that time I began knowing about the systems, cells, molecules, down to the atoms that make up this micro universe that I call my body. I had learned these things in school, but my passion and focus is what allowed me to begin to actually comprehend the complexity of the human body.
My understanding of the universe around me and my knowledge of self continued to blossom. As I learned the dangers of the variety of toxic chemicals (many of which are known carcinogens) I was exposing myself to regularly in lotions, deodorants and even baby shampoo, I began adamantly replacing them with holistic solutions. I won’t even get into the terrifying neurotoxins I found out I had been perming my hair with for all those years! Ultimately I was gearing to shift to an organic lifestyle across the board. My favorite product to this day is the homemade Aloe Vera shampoo that I continue to make by extracting the gel directly from the Aloe leaf. Coconut oil and Shea butter are still my go-to base ingredients for hair and skincare.
Naturally, going back to perms wasn’t an option (pun intended). I thought it would be easy breezy to begin growing my hair back – after all its Africa! Considering the enraged reaction from my father when I showed up with a bald head, I figured my natural hair would receive a welcoming reception. I didn’t expect to deal with the constant scolding from my grandmother and other natives about my hair being dry and untamed, or badgering me about hair perms.
Why is it that I hated my hair texture? Why did these other African people hate it even more it seemed? The amount of time devoted to grooming what would have been my natural afro hair into the straight locks is even embarrassing to reflect on. As a child the media and cultural blueprint I was exposed to made me aware that the easier it was for your hair to conform and the lighter your skin tone, the more beautiful you were considered. Thus the road of subconscious self hate was paved by way of an obsession with straightening my hair.
It was difficult at a time to even conceive the degree of psychological conditioning that took place as I spent my entire life under the impression that my hair was too “nappy” to be beautiful. I had been so deeply programed within my subconscious that I would have defended my decision to go through such lengths so my hair looked European. The constant negative imagery of “nappy” hair is still as synonymous with slavery as charity is with Africa. I spent my most developmental years in the American education system that practically taught me to hate myself, learning everyones history but when it came to my history it pretty much started with slavery and stopped at the civil rights movement.
Why would I want this “nappy” dry hair when everything around me suggested its inferiority and favored Eurocentric beauty standards? How would it ever cross my mind to embrace my natural state when even my closest loved ones were indoctrinated to this routine illusion? To be honest nothing has changed. I still have to deal with my oldest sister calling my hair “nigga naps” for crying out loud. I spent months in deep depression in my battle to overcome and change the behavior that plagued my self-perception as a result of the painful lies of white supremacy.
Something many people don’t acknowledge, especially my fellow Cape Verdeans, is the colonial conditioning that to this day has a tight grip on Africa and the African diaspora worldwide. Most Cape Verdean people do not even dear to consider themselves African. Its no surprise that the modern Cape Verdean prefers to associate with the Portuguese to the point that the original African inhabitants of the islands are not even acknowledged by academia.
I quickly realized that there was a grim, maybe even sinister reality to this biologically and psychologically toxic minefield. It’s not just my experience, its the experience of all of humanity subjected to this beauty myth imposed on us by global systems and institutions founded on its principles. I had to, and we all must acknowledge that these standards are not our own. Left to our own devices would we not appreciate and accept the beauty of all things in their most natural state?
Those of us with afro hair bear the mark of our African heritage in the most fundamental way. To love afro hair is to love Africa. It was a challenge for me and still is a challenge for my family because ignorantly we are all perpetually conditioned to hate Africa and associate the entire continent with poverty, disease, corruption and war. Phrases like “third world” and “under developed” are staples geopolitically. The people are “uncivilized” and “ugly”. No wonder the love is obsolete! With my afro I am able to see who I am and what I am meant to look like. Knowing this, I stand in conviction paying homage to my ancestors who were belittled, devastated, dehumanized and convinced that what was once revered for thousands of years in antiquity is somehow inferior.
This is an ode to the suppressed history of African kingdoms, the beauty and riches of the land, and the kinship of Africans despite the treachery that exists to this day in the face of neocolonialism in Africa and mental enslavement around the globe. For those who couldn’t, and those who won’t, I am unapologetically African beyond these nappy roots. It’s not just my hair – its my soul!