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December 11, 2009

HAIR OR NOT



BY STARAPPLE

It's is something that generates conversation no matter what. What I am talking about is hair. if you don't believe me, go changing your hairstyle and see what happens. Believe me you won't be invisible. You will generate comments.

Despite Independence, the somewhat liberation of women and societal enlightenment, we still have a somewhat narrow view of hair.

While the situation isn’t particular to Jamaica mind you, we can apply it to the Jamaican context. There was a time when braids, afro, kinky hair, natural hair or whatever you want to call it were not allowed in schools or in the workplace. In actuality though how far have we really come though?

When former Prime Minister Michael Manley announced he was engaged after making a trip to Hampton High, many persons had their curiosity at an all time high. Who was the lucky girl? Turns out it was a black woman with an Afro. Many utterances came forth especially along the lines of 'you need to relax your hair and stop embarrasing us'. Well that was more than 20+ years ago, but have we really relaxed our attitudes towards natural hair? Have we? When Joan Andrea Hutchinson came out full fledge with 'Dat Bumpy Head Gyal' she received alot of acrimonious comments from many in society. I wonder what would have happened if Michele Obama sported an afro.

Today it is evident that no matter the progression in society we still have deep seated issues with our identity. When Cindy Breakspeare won Miss Jamaica her hair was straightened by accident (her hair got wet and she had to blowdry it - that made it seem straight). Today even when most persons watch Ms Jamaica or Ms Universe if you were to do a bet to find out who would most likely win, the person most likely to be chosen as the winner would be the fairest and straightest hair person.

Where did this concept of 'good hair' and 'bad hair' come from? Many Jamaican women seem to feel more beautiful only if they are sporting a weave that is close to 'coolie' or 'caucasian'' or have endured some processing. The hair has to be relaxed preferably. It seems the kink would indicate that we are too wound up, too tight.

There are many institutions in Jamaica that do allow for hair that is a bit too natural. Only recently did BNS change it worker code. They had transferred a dreadlocked female (she came in with processed hair originally) from the New Kingston Branch to the Hagley Park Branch. Perhaps after the lawsuit brought against them, it forced them to rethink and then change the worker code. There was also a time when you would not see a natural hair person on the soon to no longer be National airline, but things have obviously been relaxed a bit.

Many women endure scalp burning, pin jooking, sticky glue, poisonous chemicals, skin searing and scalding just to fit in, either because they are going to be stereotyped, blocked from promotion, finding a mate (because whether we accept it or not Jamaican men like straight haired women, despite their love for the 'black woman' or because it makes life just a little easier. You can see it reflected even in the dancehall, thousands are spent lining the pockets of the same white man that we cuss, because even if a lot of women can't eat them must have the hair sown cause they can't grow it, so they weave it to achieve it. I have even heard that the creme or false hair can get them a ring, house, car and a man. What happened to working for your own?

How do we overcome this perception that natural hair and kinky hair is not tantamount to lowly stature? Why does a Eurocentric look carry more appeal than an Afrocentric one, why are women chastised if they cut their hair and sport a natural look or branded a lesbian? Why do men glare at women with a mane and bypass those with a low cut? Why do women become almost invisible with natural hair? Obviously we have unresolved tensions in our black community and in our country that has a majority of black people. And we wonder why the Indians are so rich, HAIR is the # 1 export and the Chinese are the major distributors of HAIR while black people are the main consumers.

I suppose even 30 years down the road we will still be having this discussion

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