By: Iyabo Onipede: Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
Let me tell you a story.
In Nigeria, I went to a high school that was not the most elite. So, the more “upper class” high schools had a sprinkling of white kids and tons of mixed-race kids. My school only had a couple. So, the administration did not really know how to handle us. We were a little odd, to put it mildly.
Nigerian mothers labored over the weekend braiding their daughter’s hair and kids would come to school with all kinds of glorious crowns on Monday morning. It is part of a woman’s identity to be able to cook, take care of a home and braid hair, especially in Yoruba culture at that time.
My mother could not braid my hair. And my hair is, and was, like baby hair. Even when you braid it, the braid does not hold like kinky curly hair. Nothing can make my hair hold a braid.
It was school policy that your hair had to be in four or more braids, normative for parochial schools then and there. And you could not use rubber bands, barrettes, clips or ribbons on your hair. It violated the school uniform code.
Well, my short fro had grown and was longer than what was required. The principal sent me home with a note to my father that I could not come back to school with my hair like that. It had to be braided into 4 plaits or she would cut my hair at a public assembly as an act of punishment.
Have you ever heard of Fela Anikulapo Kuti? The famous Nigerian musician. Go look him up. Talk about a rebel! His daughter also went to my school and had to take the same letter home. He showed up at the school and drove his van onto the tennis court and stormed into the principal’s office and threatened her very life if she touched his daughter’s hair. His daughter liked to put her hair in three twists as it was extra-long.
Me? Wussy that I am, I stayed up all night learning how to braid my hair. No Youtube back then. Only trial and error. And very achy arms. Daddy stayed up in his study all night writing a stinker to that principal and told her he would sue her, and she would lose her job if she laid a finger on me. He told her she was discriminating against me because I was a mixed race child. My mother was just sobbing away. She could not handle the drama about all this because my father was certainly going to burn that school to the ground. My poor mother. Now that I think about it, she was probably feeling it was all her fault
You know where else you have to have your hair “tied up” with no clips or colorful barrettes. In prison! Women are not allowed to have their hair longer than an inch off their necks. But I digress….
Unbeknownst to my father, I appeared the next day at school with 4 braids half unraveling. My arms permanently stayed in my hair as I kept braiding the unravelling ends. I handed her my father’s letter in a sealed envelope and she later gave me a written response for my father.
My father read her note when I got home. By now my hair was well unraveled and sticking up like horns and he read her note out loud to me: “Your daughter’s hair is acceptable to me today.” My father was disappointed in me, but he understood my desire to not cause trouble and to fit in.
Mine has always been a place of adventure for me, betwixt and between. Not Black enough for relaxers and braids, not white enough for perms and wash-and-go hairstyles.
When I read this article below about the wrestler, I understood why he cut his hair. Our hair identifies us. We spend so much of our lives combing, curling, coloring, weaving, braiding, straightening, curling, chemicalizing, cutting, manipulating and brushing it. Yet it remains one of the most unspoken methods of communicating identity, conformity and also rebellion. It is a core aspect of unique expression.
This young man was publicly humiliated and probably scarred for life because of how his hair naturally grows. Let that sink in. We have no idea what we have done to this young man and to scores of black children in this country. Do you realize that also this year, 2018, the military allowed back women to wear twists and dreads for the first time?
Our largest institutions and practices – military, sports and prisons – ask black people like me to conform to how white supremacist culture believes we should show up in the world. This expression of systemic racism says I am acceptable only if I conform and behave and look like a white person.
That is not equality. That is not equity. That is not inclusion. That is death. You ask me to die to myself so I can live like you.
We are on a cusp of a new year. What are you going to do differently to make sure you are not a part of systems that say people like me must conform to the ways of people like you so I can fit in for people like you?
Go ahead. Make a new year plan. You need it even more than I do. Care. Care about this. It deeply matters.
Peace on earth!
More by Iyabo:
Iyabo is a Leadership Development Coach whose work focuses on the soul of the leader. She moves leaders from thriving careers into discovering, crafting and living into their life work. By helping successful people integrate spirituality into their leadership roles, they become more engaged with their work, expand the connection of their work to social justice issues and experience more satisfaction in their life work. Using the power of narrative and reflection, she helps leaders fine tune the sacred “work their souls must have” (Alice Walker).
Iyabo is located in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated from Goucher College (B.A.), Georgetown University Law School (J.D.) and Candler School of Theology at Emory University (M.Div.).
Iyabo’s home on the web is at http://www.coachiyabo.com
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