African vs African American Hair Practices

By Christabel of Chys Curlz

I’ve been thinking of developing this story for a while now. It is the story of how girls were/are made to wear their hair shaved from grade to high school both in Ghana and in Nigeria.

A little back story, I was born Nigerian and grew up in Nigeria until I was 10 years old when we moved to start a new life in Ghana. Since I spent most of my formative years in Ghana, that became more home to me than Nigeria was. There are many similarities between the two countries and one is the rule to have young girls wear a TWA until they graduate from high school.I think the reasoning behind it is the same as there is for wearing uniforms. It ensures homogeneity,also, the girls who could not afford to get their hair braided did not have the pressure to spend the money and thirdly, everyone looked “neat” and “presentable”. Now, that is not to say it was right or wrong, just giving the possible reasons.

As far as I can tell, this practice was mostly the case in public schools. I noticed that many (not all) private schools permitted their female students to wear their hair at whatever length they wanted as long as it was braided up neatly.  The only girls who were exempt from this rule (public and private school) were those who were biracial. There weren’t many girls who were biracial, but those who were, got to wear their hair long. Again, as a little girl, you don’t think anything of it. You just knew that their hair was “prettier” and more “manageable” than yours and it wasn’t a big deal. You didn’t read meaning into it (at least not consciously), you just accepted it.

I remember our final year of high school, many girls (me included) will grow their hair out but will tie it down with a scarf overnight to encourage the maximum shrinkage to avoid being punished (spanked) by a teacher. We did this because we knew that once school was out, we were going to get our first relaxers…good times :)

That’s me with the bandanna and our senior year of HS :)

This practice did not seen like such a big deal to me when I was growing up, but as I get older and upon going natural, I’ve been thinking about how it affected my love or lack thereof of my natural hair. You see, most of my Friends are Nigerian or Ghanaian and most of them – if not all – sport relaxers and will not let go for anything (although I’ve convinced 7 including my mama to BC yay! #teamnatural). But why is this the case though? Why is it that after growing up without relaxers we hold on to it so strongly. Many of the experiences I read on blogs pertaining to natural hair are those of African-American women. They relate how they got their first perm at 4,5,6, or thereabouts. The stories go on to say that since relaxers was the norm for them, they just kept getting them until their decision to either BC or transition.

My question is this, why after having two very different and distinct experiences do African -American and African woman have this reluctance to let go of the relaxer?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast.

26 thoughts on “African vs African American Hair Practices

  1. After living in South Africa for almost 6 years, in my personal opinion, most South African women or men for that matter, don’t know how to take care of their hair. This is not an attack, but a fact. My 3 year old son has 4C hair and no one understands why he has long, thick, healthy hair. I had to buy a detangler brush over the Internet in the UK, could not find one here that would not break his hair. In terms of products, same thing, so I had to end up mixing Shea butter and oils in my blender to moisturize his hair and scalp. When I get asked the question ” how is his hair so healthy ? ” believe me, I have been asked many, many times by both men and women, and when I try to explain his daily hair regimen, I can see that puzzled look on their faces thinking, ” what is she talking about !?!?! ” Shea Butter ?, silk head wrap to sleep ?, Co-wash ?, Hair steamer ?, etc, etc They don’t know any better because they just never were told how to take care of their hair, like their mothers and grandmothers didn’t, it’s a generational issue, the knowledge was never passed on to them by a parent. I’m not saying no one in this country knows how to treat their natural hair, but the amount of people that do know is very little. 99% of the women and girls you see have relaxed their hair.

  2. Subliminal messages is more extensive than you think. It’s basically everywhere. It’s true that there were 2 different experiences, but yet the message was the same. Afro textured hair is inferior, it’s ugly, and it somehow doesn’t measure up and have to remain hidden. Programming others from an early age is what this system is about. It can be passed on from adults who have been programmed to young ones who are now coming up, and it shapes their views about how they view themselves and what they have and even how they fit in. I remember someone saying years ago that many of us are walking around in a hypnotic state, and it’s true, when we are told things for a long time – even though it’s not true, after a while many people start to believe it although the evidence says otherwise. The mind is an organ that needs to protected, and it can be shaped and molded by others for good and also for bad.

  3. I would actually wager that the practice of having school girls wear their hair short is an outgrowth of the practice of forcing newly enslaved African women to cut their hair. It all comes from colonialism and white supremacy. It was a way to destroy the pride and confidence that the colonists viewed as our arrogance about our crowning glory. It sent a clear message that we were unacceptable and ugly as is, in order to get us in the mindset of changing to suit the oppressor’s taste. Only those who where already acceptable (meaning mixed) were/are exempt. It was NEVER about appearing neat, but we bought it, under the false guise of homogeneity, along with the wearing of uniforms and other European education accouterments.

    This is not some huge mystery. We have historical documentation of this in country after country. Why then do we ask if a girl spends all of her primary education years shaving her hair because its bad, why she would be resistant to growing it out later?

  4. I would also like to add that I think most AAs think that africa and Africans have preserved their culture and it is still pure. That is why they get shocked when they go there. I don’t blame them but what they need to understand is that african cutlure and our mentality has been highly contaminated we have our history of being colonized and even after colonialism we still battle with infusion of western mentality and culture as superior to our own. For instance where I come from in tanzania there are places which have tribes which are highly arabic and indian infused because they have been there for decades so obviously those areas cant have pure african culture or tradition. And later when capitalism was introduced to our country people accepted everything shown on the media from the west as valid only because people from the west seem richer and more educated than us so they must be right, kind of mentality. So we never questioned anything and just imitated everything. In this way we have lost most of our culture and traditions and the only traditions that remain are very few and far apart. Actually when I went to the US and met african americans I was very impressed with their sense of love for africa and african things because in my country especially the city I came from we do not value our way of dressing or any traditions and culture we think it is inferior and therefore bad. For instance I learned of kwanzaa the first time when I was in america. And in our history we are not taught anything about the african american history or their battles someone correct me if Im wrong but I dont think african americans really learn about the african history either. so we know nothing except from what we see shown on the tv which in our case MTV, BET etc and on the other side its CNN etc I guess what I am trying to say is the reason perhaps Africans and African Americans do not understand each other is because we both have different ideas in our head of what the other is all about which is not the reality or is actually false and so because of this realization we become disappointment about each other and actually carry some sort of resentment. While in actuality we both have our own demons we are fighting.

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