An opinion piece by Venita Januarie – Stellenbosch, South Africa
The Afrocentric paradigm is a revolutionary shift in thinking, based on the question: “What would African people do if there were no white people?” In other words, what natural responses would occur in the relationships, attitudes toward the environment, kinship patterns, preferences for colours, type of religion, and historical referent points for African people if there had not been any intervention of colonialism or enslavement? In this way, Afrocentricity becomes a revolutionary idea because it studies ideas, concepts, events, personalities, and political and economic processes from a standpoint of black people as subjects and not as objects, basing all knowledge on the authentic interrogation of location.
This topic is a precarious one in a world where humans are more critical and outspoken about oppression. This is evident in the social justice movements #metoo #blacklivesmattter and #Zimbabweanlivesmatter. Even more inspiring are stories such as that of Zulaikha Patel, who at 13 was one of the young ladies leading the protest against discriminatory hair policies at Pretoria Girls High School.
This article looks at how young Africans have reclaimed their natural hair as a way of expression and identity-formation inside of a world historically dominated by Eurocentrism. Under colonialism, suffered socio-political domination, slavery and economic exploitation, racial and cultural devastation. The cultural destruction of colonisation destroyed the philosophical and religious base of Africa and foisted the European system as an alternative. The colonial experience left two broad “legacies” on Africa: denial of African identity and the foisting of western thought and cultural realities and perspectives on Africans. However, more and more young people are choosing to reclaim their African identities by reclaiming their natural hair.
The natural hair movement is not new. The first wave of the natural hair movement emerged during the tumultuous 1960s. The “Black Is Beautiful” movement assured black women and men that their skin, facial features, and natural hair were admirable—as is. The activist Marcus Garvey encouraged black women to embrace their natural kinks, arguing that copying white Eurocentric standards of beauty denigrated the beauty of black women, and comedian Chris Rock released a documentary on the challenges associated with wearing natural hair in the American entertainment industry.
There are countless blogs online of naturals who share their journeys with others who are hesitant and/or scared about societal rejection. Instagram has long offered people the power to connect with, learn from and grow within a variety of different beauty communities – and as the definition of beauty evolves, people are using Instagram to champion individuality and creativity rather than feel the need to conform to a single ideal of what ‘beautiful’ looks or good ‘hair’ like.
We like to use this platform to share our stories and to appreciate Africa, and below are some naturalistas who love sharing their experiences. Check out their social media tags if you would like to learn more from them.
Chínwé Jûliét @igbocurls is a Nigerian YouTuber who shows us her gorgeous, long Afro and natural hair inches and her easy tutorials for beautiful everyday looks.
Laila-Jean is an entrepreneurial natural and founder of Wild Seed Botanicals, an all-natural, vegan skincare range with self-care at its core. Her Instagram page is a celebration of natural hair. She uses highlights to invite her followers into her haircare routine – sharing videos of her hair washes, product reviews and to share honest messages about her experience with Alopecia Areata.
Laila-Jean has over 15 years of experience with natural and transitioning hair, Lalia is a great resource for anyone looking to start their journey. Plus, she’s got the lowdown on how to grow natural hair!
@Pamelayoungmorakinyo (8.3K followers) is the perfect destination for healthy hair care tips for 4C hair (the kinkiest type of hair texture). She shares product reviews, best practice wash tips and guidance on how to treat specific hair needs! With a highlights section dedicated to all things wash day and a feed feature a mixture of protective styles. She also shares the best all-natural formulas to support 4C hair growth.
Almost two decades ago American R&B star India Arie sang in I Am Not My Hair: “Good hair means curls and waves/ Bad hair means you look like a slave … It’s time for us to redefine who we be.” Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has touched on some of the restrictions it brings. "Relaxing your hair is like being in prison," she wrote. "You're caged in. Your hair rules you". We do not "go natural", we RETURN, because natural is where it began.
For many African women, such as myself, natural hair is not merely a way of styling my hair. It is a part of what makes me who I am, it is part of how my genetic material is packaged. With it being intertwined in history, identity, and culture, the natural hair movement is a powerful stepping example of Afrocentrism in the modern world and a meaningful way for African youth to express themselves.
I look forward to sharing more stories and ideas like these with you!