The introduction of hair straightening to African women through colonization have become a way of life currently backed by various personal defensive explanations from different perspectives from women who pride in it.
In Ghana, ‘Relaxing’ is the term used for the process of chemically altering the hair while the straightened hair is known as a ‘relaxed hair’. Hair relaxing is also known as ‘perming’ and hair relaxers are usually called ‘perming creams’.
According to Lester (2000), the origin of hair straightening has its root from slave women who admired the easier-to-comb nature of their slave master’s children’ hair due to its straight and silk nature as compared to their rich African hair whose strands were tightly coiled, hard and a bit tough to comb.
Beginning to see this as a difficulty, slave women began to view their hair as a disadvantage and a hair inferior to the hair of white women. They lost appreciation for what they once valued. Can-Tamakloe (2011) in research done on the similar subject explains that the yearning for straight hair became a cultural element in African American society pervading even their literature.
She states an excerpt from Lester’s (2000) poem that describes the intensity to which straight hair was sought after by African Americans after the process of hair straightening with lye emerged.
Oh give me a perm Where the waves all roam firm
And the style and the body will stay.
While seldom is heard
A bad, blasphemous word
As my scalp becomes toxic sauté
In this poem, it is clearly seen that although the women at the time knew straightening their hair meant using toxic and harsh chemicals, they cared less as long as it was going to give them the straight hair they desired to make them feel free and appreciated. To the point after generations, cases filed by black workers alleging discrimination against their natural hair in the workplace have filled courthouses for more than forty years without positive results (Griffin, 2019). So what began as a personal desire by African slave girls has defined who African women are, to the extend we cannot be who we really are.
Feeling Appreciated! This gets me thinking, wouldn’t the one who created us also want to feel appreciated? After all, He could have made us goats or dogs or maybe fowls to only exist for a pot of soup. In the book of Isaiah 45:9, the prophet warned:
“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but one clay pot amongst many. Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?”
It is like me writing a book and the book telling me the type of cover to give it. In fact, it has no say. There are many wonderful books I have read whilst growing up, sadly I found some of them in weak coverings in dirty store rooms.
Funny enough, many Christian women easily judge, gossip or act shocked with women who decide to pull flesh from the waist line or other places on their body to add an extra flesh to their hips or buttocks. What these Christian women forget is that, with a permed hair, both you and that woman are saying the same words to God, “We do not appreciate how you have made us!”
Another scripture that as African women we need to reflect on is Jeremiah 13:23, which states;
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?”
According to the businesswire.com, the haircare market in Africa is poised to grow by USD 936.32 million during 2020-2024, progressing at a CAGR of over 7% during the forecast period. Historically, hair relaxer was invented by Garret Augustus Morgan Snr. who found out that chemicals used to repair sewing machines are capable of relaxing the curls of kinky hair.
However, the first female millionaire who became popular selling hair relaxer to black women from door to door was Madam C.J Walker. At the end of the day, as we continue to despise ourselves by using the different brands of hair relaxing creams, we make the product producers rich and further cause them to despise us for not appreciating our uniqueness and the richness of our beauty.
Observe the beauty of African women who are recently shifting to the natural hair. Again, who does not appreciate the look of Asante queen mothers? Culturally, queen mothers of the Ashanti region are mandated to wear their hair natural with the sides shaved in a circular format (known as densinkran). This is the official hairstyle of all queen mothers of the Asante tribe. In the event that a queen mother has her hair relaxed, she is required to cover it with a scarf or five hair nets before appearing in public in her royal regalia.
Personally, what instigated me to rethink letting go of my permed hair was an interview I listened to around 2010 between a renowned radio station host and the CEO of one of the global hair straightening companies. The Host asked about how profitable the business has been and which markets they intend to penetrate. His response shook proud Africanism out of me. I was almost angry. He said, “Imagine selling a product that a whole race of people has decided to use, we are making big money and hoping that all African women will embrace our products to give them the kind of hair they desire…”
Like many of you, though I was angry at the CEO’s comments, I did not give up my permed hair immediately. Neither did I give it up the year after or the next. The boldness to make that decision only came when the revelations of this research shook me. The delay is because it is deeply engraved in us. It has become part of cultures we silently transfer to our children.
Our great grandmothers’ hairs were relaxed, our grandmothers’ hairs were/is relaxed and the hairs of about 90% of our mothers’ and our own hairs are likely to be relaxed. Giving it up is like a sacrifice to many women. In effect we have blindly received something barbaric and shameful without asking questions. Amazingly, the church encourages us and the media does worse.
To end, I encourage readers not to take this as an extremist’s point of view but quietly ponder the views put forward and understand my position as a PhD candidate at the University of South Africa, Pretoria, who is interested in researching into topical issues and informing the public.
In addition to reasons stated above, Follow the links provided below on articles relating to health risks posed by hair relaxers to offer the extra boost needed to make that decision; and when you have been able to make that bold decision, go forward without looking back.
African women are beautiful! And YES no matter how hard and coarse the hair, we are capable of managing it. That is who we are, Let’s accept it, walk in this truth and see our unique beauty glow.
The writer is an Information Management Consultant and can be reached via email on email@example.com