Yesterday I had a lot of downtime as I was somehow experiencing a hangover after drinking two beers on Friday night (yes, you read that correctly) and miserably wallowing in the loss of my stolen iphone. Yep, that's right. My iphone (and 2 others) were stolen at a bar on Thursday night and oh, did I mention that ALL of my photos from the past five weeks were on that phone? Yeah, so that happened.
During yesterday's day of mourning I read this fabulous article about Nina Simone from the New Yorker. What a bold and brilliant woman and so ahead of her time. She challenged the mainstream (read: racist) standards of beauty that often incite a self-loathing among blacks, particularly black women. Her lyrics and reflections unapologetically called attention to this (and other) struggles so prevalent for black Americans:
I can’t be white and I’m the kind of colored girl who looks like everything white people despise or have been taught to despise
For many black women, hair continues to be an all-consuming, tangible and unavoidable manifestation of racism. Natural, kinky African hair has been deemed "unprofessional" at best and largely unaccepted by our culture. What does this narrow notion of beauty incite on an individual level? In her book Americanah, Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie's main character decides to go natural after a relaxer at the salon burns her scalp and causes parts of her hair to fall out. The struggle to find beauty and acceptance in her new look is real and uncomfortable. Which I think is the point.
We should be uncomfortable that women around the world are spending millions of dollars on products and weaves and relaxers and worried that wearing their natural, God-given hair on an interview may prevent them from getting the job. We should be uncomfortable that movies like Good Hair are being made and that black girls as young as 6 and 7 are wondering why their hair doesn't qualify as "good." Here's a good quote from the trailer to gnaw on: If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they're not happy
Here in Rwanda I would say that most women I've seen are rockin' their natural hair. Low 'fros, twists and braids abound.
And to bring it all back home, here is the diva Ms. Simone rockin it in 1969 at the Harlem Culture Festival: