Category Archives: Musings & personal opinions

What’s all this fuss about natural hair?

Human hair naturally comes in different textures:

Afro-haired woman from Nossi-bé, Madagascar

Curly, also called coiled, spiralled or type 3. Though some like to think so, I don’t really think of afro hair (also called kinky, nappy, type 4 and less commonly crisped, woolly, fleecy, frizzy or crinkly) as separate from curly. To me it’s just the extreme end of curly so I refer to it as such, although it too can be divided into further gradations

Wavy, also called type 2. 

Straight, also called wiry, lank or type 1. 

This is partially because the follicles they grow from come in different shapes; curly & wavy hair grows from oval follicles, straight from circular ones. However, at least for some, hair naturally changes texture because the hair follicles change shape (though why this happens is unknown). It’s also partially because of the proteins in the hair strands themselves, which  are joined together by disulphide bonds. The more of these bonds, the curlier the strand.

Though type 4 hair is most common in indigenous Africans and their diasporic descendants, it is not exclusive to us nor is it the only texture we possess. As for type 1, it is most common in Easians but not exclusive to them nor is it their sole texture. Types 2 & 3 are pretty much the norm everywhere else.

Chinese girl exemplifying type 1 hair

 Hair also comes in different colours; black, brown (aka. brunette), orange (aka. ginger), yellow (aka. blond/e) and overlaps. This is because of different amounts of a group of pigments collectively called melanin, of which there are 3 types – black eumelanin (technically isn’t black but very dark brown), brown eumelanin (more obviously brown, like reddish/ chocolate) and phaeomelanin (yellowish-orange). Globally black is the most common hair colour, followed by brown, blond/e and ginger. White and grey hair can result either from old age (during which the hair typically produces less melanin of any kind) or from congenital lessened or aborted melanin production, such as the more extreme forms of albinism. 

 

So what’s all the fuss about? All people naturally have hair, right? Why should a post be made about it?

 

Well, here’s the deal. For ‘black’ people (especially women nowadays) it is often a self-esteem issue. Our story starts from the trans-Atlantic slave trade (TAST). When ‘white’ people captured Africans one of the first things they did was shave their hair. This may be no big deal to us but in some African belief systems the hair is on the head, and because the head is the highest part of the body it is therefore closest to God. This effectively meant that head hair was a symbol of connection to God. Therefore for the hair to be cut off and discarded like filth was, in a word, traumatising. 

However it gets worse. Soon after the slave trade started both ‘white’ and ‘black’ people were being worked like nobody’s business. However, while the elites started passing laws to stop them uniting and rising up they tried to find ways, no matter how trivial or fantastical, to justify the laws. They thus declared Africans to be naturally inferior and fit for eternal service, and one of the MANY ways they ‘evinced’ this was to pass judgments on the differences between Africans and Europeans. Nose shape, skin colour, language differences, lack of Christianity* and the like were all used (and this is also when the negative stereotypes started being invented), but for the purposes of this post we’ll focus on hair texture. The respected scientific minds of the time espoused that our natural hair texture was more bestial (beast-like), suited for jungle & wilderness and overall hideous and revolting. The church authorities agreed, claiming that our hair was part of the curse of Ham – even though the Bible doesn’t mention the nature of this curse.

* This was ignoring the newly converted slaves, and that Christianity came to Africa about 500 years before Europe.

As such, many ‘black’ people were convinced that their natural afro hair was cursed and ugly. They could have tried styling their hair, but as slaves they barely ever had the time and usually just covered it in a headwrap. The only way for them to have hair closer to ‘white’ people’s (what became known as “good hair”, a very common phrase in USA & the Caribbean) was to have children with a ‘white’ person. This meant that either:

1 – ‘Black’ men would have to have children with ‘white’ women (which as far as I know never happened back then. It would’ve been absolutely forbidden and the man could be killed/ mutilated for it), or,

2 – ‘Black’ women would have to have children with ‘white’ men (this was very common, and pretty much always happened without the women’s consent – in other words ‘white’ men raped ‘black’ women and their mulatta children, especially in the southern states of USA. And were never punished because raping ‘black’ women wasn’t considered a crime).

Almost ironically, the ones who worked indoors (who were usually the products of rape anyway and thus had “good hair”) were the ones who had the time to style.

Al Sharpton, ‘black’ man with straightened hair. Yes, even at that age

Even after the TAST was abolished and the Civil War had ended, the psychological damage therefrom was ignored. This damage has been passed down to near enough every member of the African diaspora since. The desire for straight hair gained strength and prominence in mainstream media since the 1900s, when it was considered a sign of prestige and changing from “country” life to city life.

 

Note: the desire for straightened hair infected the men’s and women’s minds.

This explains why so many subscribe to the belief in euro & mixed hair as good & afro as bad. Obviously not all of us believe it but we all are familiar with it, and most of us know why. The Black Pride movement of the 50s and 60s worked well to counter this damage – for the time being. However it didn’t last and the ‘white’ media pushed the image of straight hair as beautiful with a vengeance. This is why the vast majority of ‘black’ women now either straighten their hair* or wear weaves/ pieces. Funnily enough, ‘black’ men no longer do it (except Al Sharpton) but most of us have been brainwashed into preferring our women with long silky straight hair.

* To do this they can use hot combs, but the much more common – and more damaging – way is chemical straighteners. Some ‘black’ Americans call it creamy crack, because its use is compulsive despite the health problems often brought with it. See Chris Rock’s Good Hair for elucidation, as well as its psychological & financial effects on ‘black’ women. And ‘black’ men, even though most of us don’t use it.

Because of colonialism and globalisation, even many women on the African continent itself (especially in the industrialised areas where Western media flourishes) hide their natural hair texture under blatantly fake weaves. Luckily, natural afro hair is making a comeback throughout the African diaspora, through the sporting of African/ afro-hair-friendly hairstyles or not styling at all. Most ‘black’ women are somewhat scared to do this because they think afro hair doesn’t grow and therefore looks manly. Afro hair can grow to awesome lengths, you just have to know how to look after it.

Even short afro hair looks good and feminine

 

LONG natural hair

 However, there’s another phenomenon taking place. It’s highly counterproductive and I don’t know how prevalent it is so I’m not going to call it a trend, but there are cases of women with naturally non-afro hair (including ‘black’ women) getting it chemically treated to resemble afro hair! What the hell?

But anyway, long story short (tee-hee!), everyone should love their natural hair texture, ‘black’ women especially.

Some notes on how I use common terms

As I often write about race-related issues, many of these terms will be about the so-called races. Sometimes I use the commonly understood meaning of certain terms (common to people living in England). Note that my research has led me to form my own judgements about certain terms, explained below.

race: technically there’s only one – human. Scientifically speaking race = species. What we often describe as races are probably better described as meta- or panethnicities, or in some cases just ethnicities or phenotypes.

‘black’: a person of mainly (>50%) or exclusively (100%) indigenous African ancestry and possesses phenotypic features typical of such people (especially brown skin). This includes their diasporic descendants, e.g. Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Latinos, African-Americans, ‘black’ Britons and Siddis.

Note that I also include Negritos, Aborigines, Dravidians, Melanesians and similar looking peoples even though they have no recent African background. In their origin countries they are seen as ‘black’ too.

(However, if it weren’t for the confusion it would cause I’d only define as ‘black’ those people with the darkest possible skin colour regardless of ethnicity. See darkest-skinned below)

A beautiful ‘black’ woman of diasporic African descent -and with her natural hair to boot!
A group of ‘black’ children from the Solomon islands (nearest to Australia not Africa),and yes their hair is naturally blond

‘white’: a person of mainly (>50%) or exclusively (100%) European ancestry and possesses phenotypic features typical of such people (especially peach/ pink skin). This includes their diasporic descendants, e.g. most Americans, most Australians, most Latinos, Sephardic & Ashkenazic Jews, and Africanised Europeans (e.g. Afrikaners & Boers). I also include Aryans, by which I mean the Persians who went to India thousands of years ago, not modern-day Europeans who scream “‘white’ power” or “‘white’ pride”.

(However, if it weren’t for the confusion it would cause I’d only define as ‘white’ those people with the lightest possible skin colour regardless of ethnicity. See palest-skinned below)

Yvonne Ridley, an English journalist who was capturedby the Taliban and became a Muslim (of her own free will)
Ali G – let’s move on
Young Kalash girl, looks like a typical European but is actually Pakistani!

(I put black & white in quote marks because they’re inaccurate. No-one on this planet has literally black skin, and maybe apart from some albinos no-one has literally white skin. Also note how geography, ancestry and culture have no impact on the above definitions. Contrary to common thought these terms don’t refer to ethnicity or nationality. Sociologically they’re just colour metaphors for race, as are ‘red’, brown and ‘yellow’ though these are more accurate insofar as they refer to literal skin tone)

Asian: a person of mainly (>50%) or exclusively (100%) Asian ancestry with cultural ties to living Asian people. However, phenotype is almost useless to define them by, not to mention it means different things in different places. In USA it usually means East Asians (Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Koreans, etc.) but in UK it usually means South Asians (Pakistanis, Indians, Srilankans, Bangladeshis, etc.). Thus I say Easians for the former, Sasians for the latter.

For Asians from Indochina, I find it most logical to call them Indochinese as they’re geographically, genetically & culturally between India & China.

A man of East Asian background (Korean, not Chinese)
Helen Doreena, a gorgeous Indian actress living in…you guessed it,  Malaysia

mixed race: personally I don’t like it because it’s too generic. In UK it most often means a half-‘white’ half-‘black’ person but this ignores the fact that many ‘white’ & ‘black’ people have some degree of admixture regardless of appearance. I use more specific terms like mulatto (half-‘white’ half-‘black’ – or ‘grey‘ since we’re using racial colour metaphors), dougla (half-‘black’ half Indian), pardo (someone who is visibly between ‘white’ and ‘black’), melungeon (mixed ‘black’, ‘white’ and native American), Garifuna (mixed Afro- & native Caribbean), etc. However, I never use half-caste as it’s offensive and meaningless.

Vin Diesel: part Italian part ‘black’ American
Family of melungeons, once tried to pass themselves off as “dark-skinned Portuguese”!

African: a person of indigenous African background with cultural ties to such people. I include ones whose Africanness is sometimes doubted, e.g. Somalis, ancient Egypians (Kemetics), Nubians, original North Africans (Moors, Berbers & Kabyles) and Khoikhoi & San. All of these groups I also regard as ‘black’ (except Kabyles). Note: I usually don’t count members of the African diaspora as Africans – most of us had our original cultures, names & languages beaten out of us (literally) and replaced with those of ‘white’ people. Plus it makes it easier to distinguish in conversation.

Somali girl
San (I think) woman and baby. That baby is so cute!

However, there’s one group I’m confused about – Amazighs. Some say they’re native Africans, some say they’re Africanised Europeans (Greeks). I’m not sure so I’ll include them as Africans for now, but regardless they’re still ‘white’.

Arab: this is a confusing word, because the definition is very changeable. Contrary to what most think, Arabs are not a unified ethnicity. Arabs used to just be anyone who spoke Arabic (at least as a first language) regardless of ancestry and phenotype, now it refers to anyone with cultural/ linguistic ties to Arabised people even if they don’t live in the Arabian peninsula. Some argue that Arabs used to be a distinct ethnic group or groups primordially of East African background but became more fractured as they mixed with others. The USA classifies Arabs as ‘white’, despite the fact that most Arabs have medium to dark brown skin. Me, I’m not sure so I’ll keep my mouth shut for now.

Note that Arab is not synonymous with Muslim, and Arabs (however defined) existed thousands of years before Islam came to Arabia. Many Arabs were and still are Christians & Jews.

Mahri Arab man
Group of Jordanian Christians


native American: a person of predominantly (>50%) or exclusively (100%) pre-Columbian American ancestry. By this I mean North Americans like Ojibwe, Algonquians, Cherokees & Sioux – but I also include  Canadians, Caribbeans and South Americans like the Inuktitut, Taínos, Aztecs, Tapirapé, Arawaks, Wayúu & Caribs.

I do not call these people Indian. That was Columbus’s screw-up and the fact that it still hasn’t fallen into total disuse shows how bad ideas can live on for ages. Like racism. Amerindian/ Amerind is even worse, a fusion of a correct & incorrect label.

Indigenous Brazilian man
Nowadluk, a native from Alaska

darkest skinned: self-explanatory – people with the darkest possible skin colour (almost literally black), with no regard for ethnic/ geographical origin.

Darkest skinned Tamils

dark skinned/ chocolate skinned:

RIPPED Tamil man!!!

medium skinned/ tawny skinned:

Jill Scott
Will Smith

light skinned/ barely brown/ fair skinned:

Alicia Keys
Mariah Carey

(from what I understand ‘black’ Americans may also call them high yellow, which I think sounds stupid so I don’t use it)

pale skinned/ fair skinned:

Baby pouting lips

(yes I know I also called Mariah Carey & Alicia Keys fair skinned. That’s because their tint is pretty similar to that of ‘white’ people even though the hue is more yellow-brown. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tints_and_shades and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hue for what I mean by tint and hue.)

palest skinned: self-explanatory – people with the lightest possible skin colour (almost literally white), with no regard for ethnic/ geographical origin.

Guess which one demonstrates palest skinned

(Of course all of these have gradations and distinctions in between, and I admit these are oversimplifications. However, I think they are useful and I stick with them. For now)


nigger: a particular subgroup of ‘black’ people (fortunately the minority, unfortunately a very vocal & overly noticed minority). Their distinction is not in ancestry or bodily traits, but in mental & behavioural traits like perceptions, speech patterns and beliefs. They’re the type of ‘black’ people who habitually live up to the negative stereotypes ‘white’ people have of us, i.e. wantonly violent, nymphos, lazy, averse to education, etc. The problem with niggers is not ignorance per se. It’s willful ignorance; they make the stereotypes part of their identity. They’re even stupid enough to equate all ‘black’ people with themselves and see nigger as a term of endearment! Usually men are called niggers but the term can apply to women.

Synonyms include nigga, niggah, nigguh, nig, nucca, nyukka & niggar.

Lil Wayne. I am nauseated just looking at him.
The Boondocks‘s Riley Freeman, a nigger-in-training saying dumb s*** a nigger would say

whigger: a particular subgroup of ‘white’ people who act like niggers. It’s bad enough when they’re just copying what they see on the media and make it part of their identity (trying to be “gangsta”), but it’s far worse when they claim such behaviour makes them ‘black’. See Ali G for a perfect example. As with nigger, whigger is most often used to refer to men but can be used on women too.

Synonyms include wigger, wigga & whigga.

An Italian-American whigger (aka. guido)

I’m sure there are native American & Asian versions of niggers & whiggers but I have no idea what to call them. I’ll add more terms in later posts.