Tuesday, 15 November 2016


‘’Your hair feels like dry grass.” That was one of the first insults that someone hurled at my hair. She would touch my hair and repeat this sentence to all present.  I was furious and thus I started my journey into hair damaging at its best by constantly covering it with wigs and weaves and frying it with cream relaxers.

This is one of the first dilemmas that black people face: do I let people touch my hair and under what circumstances? The question, “can I touch it?” becomes one of the most awkward social moments and can break relationships before they even start.

This fascination with the texture of black hair is not new. During slave trade, white women would often hack off the hair of their enslaved female servants because it supposedly “confused white men”. On the other hand, white men themselves hacked it off to spite those they think were too big for their shoes.

Today, black women with nappy hair – that is, natural and chemical-free – are desirable despite the popular discourse to the contrary. It’s not just fashion or trends: throughout history, black women’s hair has fascinated artists and photographers and has been closely linked to radical political movements such as the Black Panthers.

A history of black hair myths

There are two main misconceptions that are worth understanding.

The first misconception is that natural hair is “dirty”. The second is that natural hair does/doesn’t grow (hence the obsession with hair length, hair extensions and braids).

Many black women and men who wear weaves and relax their hair will explain their choice by either saying that their natural hair is “unmanageable” or that natural hair is “dirty”. This is one of the most enduring stereotypes about black hair. Historically, the myth comes from images of the pejoratively named “fuzzy-wuzzy” that  British soldiers who were fighting Sudanese insurgents in the Mahdist War sent home. This war, from 1881-1899, popularised the image of the wild Afros that people now imagine when they think of black hair.

These images are misleading for the simple reason that they suggest these Sudanese soldiers did not “dress” their hair or wash it, since in the images it often looks unkempt. Nothing could be further from the truth. Across the African continent, techniques for dressing hair were as varied as the hairstyles that they produced.

The “Afro” therefore is not some kind of standard African hairstyle. It is just one of several hundred ways of growing and maintaining curly hair. So, when a black person decides to “dread” or lock their hair, they neither need nor keep “dirt” in it to make it lock. Our hair (as does all hair) locks naturally when it is left uncombed or unbrushed.

The association of locks with dirt partly comes from the Caribbean where Rastafarianism emerged as a subculture. However, even in this instance, the misconception is that dreadlocks equal Rastafarianism.

Policing black hair

The myths about how long black hair can or should be are as legion as the myths that natural hair is “dirty”. The misconception partly comes out of the concept of measurement. Natural African hair is curly and so to measure it, one would have to stretch out the coils. How would you know – without uncoiling it – how long a black person’s hair is? One black person’s coiffure will look very short because of “shrinkage” and another black person’s locks will look very long because of a loose coil.

The notion that long black hair is or should be cut or trimmed to an “acceptable” length is just ignorance masquerading as “neatness”. No two black people’s hair “grows out” the same.

Conservative institutions – schools, militaries, corporations and so on – have the right to prescribe a dress code. However, these should not be based on partial knowledge where these institutions simply don’t do any research into what some of their prohibitions actually mean and instead rely on “common sense especially on black hair”. Caucasians do dye their hair whenever they wish in so why it should be a problem for black brothers and sisters if they wish to have braids, afro or locs?

Unfortunately, when it comes to black hair, “common sense” is the least reliable tool for decision-making, since even black people are constantly changing their minds about what they want to do with their hair. As an expression of our culture, black hair is as malleable and plastic as our ideas about it. To attempt to fix such expressions in rules and regulations is to deny black people what the Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop called our “Promethean consciousness”. As black people, our hair is an expression of the infinite possibilities that emanate from this creative and daring consciousness.

You will be pleased to know I am done frying my hair with chemicals and started on a dreadlock journey. Needless to add my locs are neat, clean and very professional. Embrace whatever style you want but be true to yourself. Let’s learn to accept people as they are.

 

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Female Genital Mutilation and the new school year!


Female Genital Mutilation and New School Year

 

As school opens campaigners are as ever faced with the fear that some of the girls coming back from their summer holidays might have been victims of female genital mutilation. While this is a possibility, it is all our responsibility to look around us and if suspicious contact the right agencies. We all have a duty to play.  Having said that, because a family that one knows has been abroad for the summer holiday, doesn’t necessarily mean they took their kids for genital mutilation.  Recently a Muslim family genuinely going on holiday was accused of going to Syria to join Isis, so lets not throw unfound accusations!

Working with families from FGM practising communities since 2010, I have since realised that the practice is different from country to country and even within the same country people do things differently where this practise is concerned. For example, some people in the diaspora that I have been working with claim to only be as protective of what they call ‘culture from the homeland’ only in name but don’t actually perform these practices and rituals. Some are second generation and don’t feel close to either the African culture or the culture they have embraced abroad. Clearly this brings a dilemma to anti FGM campaigners.  This therefore means we need to exercise caution when dealing with people.

The people who feel so strongly about their ‘original roots’ hold on to these archaic practices because they feel they don’t belong in the diaspora. There are many reasons for this -from lack of an education to not integrating when arriving in foreign countries.  I have been working with a few women from Somalia and they told me they feel all alone, so to them holding on to those practices from back home seem to keep them close to each other and give a sense of belonging somewhere. To them therefore anything that is still being done or practised in their home country is worth keeping.

Integration is as important as ever and working with these communities can be one of the many ways of making sure the message gets across of how dangerous this practice is. The other thing I noticed was some of the Somali women could not even speak English and feels even more isolated and therefore hold on to what they know best- themselves and their beliefs. Lets be welcoming and help others understand what's right and wrong without being judgemental! Understanding different communities and what makes them tick can be a starting point.

I hope the recent racist attacks since Brexit are not going to isolate communities and push them further ‘little communities within communities!’

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Skin Lightening- Would you do it?


In a world where beauty often only goes skin deep and light skin is perceived by many as more desirable, dark-skinned women find it more and more difficult to love and be comfortable in their own skin.

Skin bleaching or whitening has unfortunately become a common phenomenon in many countries. These products are used by women around the world in order to obtain blemish-free, lighter and brighter skin tones. Yet, many ignore the health warnings associated with using these often dangerous skin bleaching products.

Nigeria tops the list of countries where women use these products most. According to the World Health Organisation, 77% of Nigerians use skin bleaching products on a daily basis – and this is not just confined to female users. Other countries where skin bleaching is popular includes Kenya, USA, Thailand and South Africa. In many African countries light-skinned women are considered more beautiful and believed to be more successful and more likely to get married. This ignited backstreet skin whitening markets with vendors selling their own skin bleaching products and injections promising to remove melanin. Women who use these products aren't trying to be white; it's more about fitting in and feeling more accepted by their society. Society should accept people the way they are to avoid damage to the skin. Skin bleaching techniques could have serious side effects and complications like inflammation (swelling and redness), skin irritation, or burning and itchy skin. Many skin bleaching products contain ingredients that have been banned in most African countries due to the dangerous effects they have on one’s health. But, there are safe, natural home remedies that can be applied to the skin such as lemon, honey, Aloe Vera, oranges and yoghurt which can help take away black spots. Why would we want to change our skin colour because of other people’s definition of beauty?

I do not think that one just wakes up one day and decide “I want to be a light skinned girl”. It is something a person would put a lot of thought into and to do it because one is not happy with the skin that they are in, to me that is a reflection of self-hatred and other self-esteem issues.

With that being said, people have different reasons for bleaching their skin - some to cover up dark spots and some to even up their skin tone, so let's not judge until we have walked in someone else's shoes.

Whatever your reason may be - if you have decided to bleach your skin, make sure you are ready and doing it for all the right reasons.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Shaming the Rape Culture

A friend of mine a long time ago was sexually assaulted at University and has never told anybody until recently when she told me on the verge of breakdown despite the fact that it happened a very long time ago. She has not recovered from it and is still struggling to be normal. I asked myself why rape is the only crime where victims are blamed. When she was sexually assaulted, people still asked her what she was wearing and whether she was drunk or not! That is actually not the point- the point is we teach men not to rape not how women should dress. Sexual assault and rape existed even before mini skirts and even in cultures where drinking alcohol is not common in women, they still get raped.

Below are some of the reasons why some women don’t report.

·         Feeling young and powerless  

·         Shame                                           

·         Self –blame                                  

·         Desire to move on                     

·         Belief that reporting will not do any good

·         Not wanting to turn a family member in 

·         Effect on future relationships                  

·         Afraid of further damage from attacker 

·         Afraid of legal process

·         Knew the person and didn’t want to destroy their life

According to UN, 30 percent of women worldwide have their first sexual experience as forced. This should not be happening. No more ‘boys will be boys’. There is no excuse for sexual assault and rape.

Please remember:

·         Being in a relationship is not consent to having sex

·         We have had sex before is not a consent

·         If they are not sober they can’t consent

·         The absent of ‘NO’ is not a consent

·         Flirting is not a consent

·         If you have to convince them it’s not a consent

·         If they don’t feel to say ‘NO’ it’s not a consent

Only an informed, sober, freely given ongoing enthusiastic ‘YES’ is consent.

 

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Lets talk about black hair


Hair in the black community is a complicated, volatile topic. Considering the amount of money spent in this industry, I am sure by now with that money I would have bought houses. Growing up I remember my mum shaving my hair so that I would not struggle every morning getting ready for school. In those days, the only thing we used on our hair was water and soap. So in my teens seeing the African American women celebrities with hair that looked like it was more manageable than mine, I wanted what they had and when cream relaxers hit the market in Zimbabwe, I jumped on the opportunity.

Historically, straight hair and curly/wavy hair has been seen as more socially acceptable. Curly/wavy hair is more acceptable than kinky hair because it's seen as closer to white. When growing up, a lot of black girls are fed a steady diet of media where the "good girls," the princesses, the protagonists, are blond and have streaming, manageable hair past their shoulders. It is only natural to want to emulate the hairstyles you grew up idolizing: but we need to make sure that girls of ALL physical types have access to media that tells them their hair is also beautiful, that they don't have to deny a portion of themselves as "unnatural" or innately ugly and irredeemable

Then I discovered weaves and wigs! Like many teenage girls at the time of growing up, one wants to look good. I wasn’t in for weaves to only look good but I had a theory that if I protect my hair from harsh weather elements and manipulation for 1-2 months, then definitely I was giving it a chance to grow long and longer hair is a dream for most young women. Another reason for weaves and other types of extensions is easy maintenance rather than emulating Caucasian women. We all lead busy lifestyles!

However, not every black woman with straight and/or blonde hair is wearing fake hair. There is such a thing as hair color, and relaxers or heating tools applied to natural hair will straighten it.

So, it's still their hair. And using a relaxer or a hot tool isn't any different from what many nonblack women do to take the curl out of THEIR hair. White women use flat irons to straighten their hair as well, relaxers for nonblack coarse hair do exist, and they color their hair all the time, but nobody accuses them of hating their hair.

I don't know a race of women that does not wear wigs, perm, color, and weave aka "add extensions" to their hair. 

Somebody said to me once, ‘Is that your hair or it’s fake?’ I told them it was of course my hair and not ‘FAKE’, but she could not believe it and kept on banging about how black women fake hair length by using extensions.

I wasn’t happy  because, I was actually rocking my hair and even if I wasn’t ,it was my business wasn’t it?

I personally know many women non-black, who wear extensions for special styles, or to add length or fullness, or to cover up a bad haircut, or dye job...whatever the reason. All cultures do it. Women of all races have done things to their hair for ages.

We are women just doing what women do ...anything and everything to be beautiful and sexy however that translates to the individual.

My hope is that every black woman will give their natural hair a shot; I've never felt as beautiful as I do wearing my natural hair.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Causes of Migraine headaches – No one size fits all

As June is migraine awareness month, I thought to do my final bit this month on some of the common triggers. Some times when one person knows a migraine sufferer, they think all migraine headaches are the same. On the contrary we all have different triggers and also what works for one person doesn’t always work for the rest of migraneurs. So please don’t generalise.

Triggers vary by person, but knowing which ones affect you can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks and improve quality of life.

9 common triggers

·         Changes in temperature, humidity or barometric pressure can bring a migraine.

·         Hormonal fluctuations due to menstruation, pregnancy and menopause can trigger migraines.

·         Diet- everyone is different but some foods and beverages can trigger migraines

·         Eating habits- skipping meals, not eating on a regular schedule can bring on a migraine.

·         Scents- perfumes, cleaning products and other odours can trigger migraines if encountered in an enclosed space

·         Lighting- Bright or flickering lights such as fluorescent light or computer monitor can trigger a migraine.

·         Sleep- too much sleep, too little sleep, poor sleep, irregular sleep pattern can trigger a migraine

·         Physical activity- exercise, sports, and other activities can be triggers

·         Heat-hot rooms, hot weather and overheating can lead to migraines

Here is one migraine suffers sums it up,

I am either

-          In pain

-          Medicated

-          Recovering
or

-In fear

Of the next attack

 
And I am trying to appear normal

 
What’s your excuse?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Female Genital Mutilation and that time of year Again - Summer

EVERY year around July and August, thousands of girls disappear from homes and schools for extended holidays never to return the same again. We should all be vigilant and it’s every man and woman’s responsibility to ensure our future generation’s safety from this barbaric practice. It was established a long time ago that this practice had no value in girls and women’s life and rather does damage to the both body and psyche.

Summer generally is what is called ‘the cutting season’ by FGM practicing communities which also means that people have often taken girls abroad in the summer holidays to have this done. Let’s remember school holidays are a part of the annual “cutting season” where girls younger than 15 are sent to visit relatives only to have their genitalia mutilated using knives, scissors or pieces of glass and sometimes sewn up using thorns.

To make it worse due to the awareness that has been taking place now, people now use all sorts of channels to take girls to Africa to be cut. People are now doing all sorts, some even inviting parents and grandparents from FGM practising communities to visit the UK to do the cutting, so family members –let’s remember what is wrong is wrong and FGM is a crime against women.

If you notice any changes in your neighbour, friends and relatives kids please contact the officials. This is a barbaric practice and no one should be going through this in the 21st Century.  It has been proved beyond doubt how dangerous this is to girls and women. Aiding and abetting is a crime too. Let’s all stand together against FGM.

 Let’s show female genital mutilation the red card this summer!