“I didn’t wake up like this…” It seems Black women are the only ones who have to get their done?

When I was younger (let’s say my preteen years and early teenage years) there were certain songs I would listen to for the purpose of boosting my self-esteem. Beyonce’s “Flawless” was one of them. I had also recently been introduced to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fiction so hearing her speech on feminism furthered the influence the song had on me. One line in the chorus that particularly stood out to me was “I woke up like this.” At first this line used to hype me up but it changed once I heard male rappers brag about the racially ambiguous women who “woke up like this”. A lot of the time they were referring to the hair they woke up with. It was the same as the hair they’d have when they went out. A song I listened to around the same time was “Ayo” by Chris Brown and Tyga. In the chorus (so heavily repeated) Chris brags “All my b*tches got real hair.” Though he is not using the exact wording of them waking up with such hair, it creates the same effect. The annotations of this line on Genius lyrics page confirms this below:

It is an example of the rampant texturism (working alongside colourism) that is rife within popular culture, especially hip hop and rap music. Admittedly, despite its misogyny, violence and other controversies, it is a genre that I have consumed throughout my life. While I try not to internalise the lyrics, there’s no denying that the texturism and colourism that exists has definitely had an effect on my self-image. When I have braids or any sort of extension style (twists, long cornrows, locs)  it isn’t usually too bad. While my hair might not be “real” it is constantly styled in a way that I deem attractive and would happily step outside in. As I’ve gotten older though, and couldn’t always afford to get my hair done, or had started to wear wigs, not waking up how I would step outside of my house started to affect me. With Black women, I feel like there is a wide consensus that our hair has to be “done” in order to be appropriate. And our definition of our hair being “done” takes a lot more time and effort than I would say other races. This is definitely not all Black women, but I feel like a lot of us feel the pressure to style our hair in  particular ways. Now I know that other races may wash their hair everyday and at least blow dry and comb their hair regularly, but I’m not convinced that the amount of time and effort put in is this same. Who else has a whole day dedicated to washing their hair? Who else sits down for 5-12 hours while extensions are braided into their hair?

Extensions, weaves and wigs are deemed “protective styling”. A means to allow our hair to stay healthy and grow because of how delicate it is. Recently I’ve been questioning this. Is our hair supposed to be long? Should we be going through so much effort to manipulate it in such ways that we need a carefully tailored wash routine to make sure our hair can withstand all of the processes being done to it?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting my hair done to a certain extent. But more recently the time and financial burden it takes has made me question why we are the only ones that go through this and whether it is justified. I view expenses towards my hair in the same way I view things like cars and houses. I aspire to have enough money to style my hair in any way I want, in the same way I aspire to be able to afford a car or a mortgage one day. I’ve seen high quality wigs be labelled an investment, affirming certain hairstyles as being some sort of luxury. Part of me doesn’t mind this and gives into it but another part of me feels uncomfortable at times.

While I was researching what other women tended to feel about this phenomenon, I read part of Emma Dabiri’s book, “Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture”. Some of the points she made answered a few of the above queries I had. What I have found is that it is true that Afro-hair has different requirements and so generally will take a longer amount of time to do. Despite this, the additional effect of colonialism and its productions of racism, colourism and texturism has meant that we are encouraged to do certain styles which also take a significant amount of time.

When only speaking on the time it takes to care for our hair, Dabiri does not deny that it is a significant amount of time. What she does instead, is explain how this has only been problematised in a capitalistic, western world as a result of colonialism. She states that “The deeply ingrained “truth” that Black hair is too time consuming, does not make sense in an indigenous context. For the Yoruba, time was understood in relation to the task that had to be done. Until European forms of capitalism took root, time for most people was your own.” (Dabiri,2019:73).

This was very eye-opening for me. It made me start to think that investing time and care into my hair might be more of a cultural thing than anything else. I had begun to think that the time I put into my hair was a product of colonialism when really it is more complicated than that. Though colonialism does have an effect on the type of hairstyles deemed “appropriate”, African women have always dedicated a certain amount of time to their hair care. It is capitalism and the taking away of one’s own time that has problematised this. In terms of my questioning of protective styles, Dabiri also gave indigenous Yoruba examples that answered my thoughts. She explained how our hair traditionally had been weaved into intricate styles and not commonly worn out in an Afro.

Something I found specifically insightful was her point on how the “Afro” isn’t necessarily inherently African like most people may assume. She references Kobena Mercer who details this irony stating “in West African Contexts hair is rarely left unmoulded or unbraided. The Afro is a symbol of diasporic resistance, a rejection of an imposed value system that denigrated us. Sporting an Afro is a defiant up-yours to such a system, but that fact alone does not make it inherently “African”. (Dabiri,2029:34)

I find this all really useful because it is starting to change the way I think about caring for my hair. When viewing the time invested into it as an indigenous practice it feels almost liberating and less like a burden. It also makes me feel better about not always “waking up like this.” In order to take better care of my hair, it may look different while I’m asleep to when I leave my house. The styles we choose or feel pressured to “mould” our hair into however speaks to a wider discussion around texturism and beauty standards which I will explore in more depth in the next blog post.

During my dissertation, I look forward to sharing the knowledge I’ve learnt from Dabiri’s text and seeing what other Black women in my community think, especially those who are not from a West African context. It would be interesting to see if they are aware of any other indigenous hair practices that either agree with or contradict Dabiri’s findings.

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