*Because I Care series #10
I have spent the last week in Uganda and Kenya, and I don’t know if it is just my eyes playing tricks, but it seems I have seen more people with dreadlocks in one week than all year in Abuja. In my small hotel alone, there are three women with dreadlocks of varying lengths. This got me thinking about hair and the politics of hair.
I can’t remember seeing any Head of State being bold enough to experiment with hair. The moment a black man walks into a room with long or braided hair, there are immediate assumptions. People think you are a rascal, a drug dealer, a hippie, a Rastafarian, an African writer or a poor struggling artist. No one appreciates the work that goes into long male hair. I must digress to say that the most stressful of non-traditional male hair is white dreadlocks. The results aren’t always easy to look at, and I don’t understand or know why they go to such great lengths but I cannot help appreciating the effort.
I am bald both by choice and nature. I discovered the latter once when I was too ill to keep my ritual of cutting my hair every four days. It is hard to put into words the trauma I experienced when, having recovered enough to walk into the hospital toilet myself, I saw in the mirror that the front of my hair had assumed an M shape. Just then I knew- that was the end of any experimentation with my hair.
I have pondered the issue of hair stereotypes and how growing up, we are fed the idea that no man (with the exception of good singers) who keeps long hair, braids or dreadlocks will ever amount to anything good in life; that no man with long hair will make heaven. This made me contemplate growing my hair when I become president. I was poised to give hope to all the children in Nigeria with dada, that they too can become anything they set their hearts to become without being judged. (Note that ‘dada’ and ‘dreadlocks’ are not the same. Dada is the less attractive, wilder, more superstitious cousin of dreadlocks)
I have since changed my mind on the issue. It is reactionary to grow dreadlocks and it does not solve the problem of stereotypes or people being free to be who they want without being judged. Apart from that this whole thing is also tied to the issue of race. I mean, who gives a white man who forces his straight hair into dreadlocks a lesson on race? And why is it that when a modern black woman whose tough natural hair is really problematic decides to use relaxer on it or just wear a weave gets judged and is forced to sit through myriad history lessons about the dangers of relaxer or how straight hair is culturally oppressive but when a white woman gets a breast implant as a birthday present from her boyfriend, people find it sweet. Why don’t we give the following lecture to white women who have small breasts or buttocks:
Dear not-so-endowed white woman,
Cosmetic surgery to increase the size of your breasts and buttocks means you are not proud of your white heritage. Breasts are very political. Be proud of the non-buttocks and small breasts that God gave you and stop trying to look like Yoruba or Ugandan women. There is nothing wrong with being white.
My hair is political. It is not because I am bald and will look awkward with dreadlocks that my head is shaved clean. I keep my hair like Jacob Zuma to make a statement: that although I have nothing against dreadlocks, it is also fine to do what you find convenient. My baldness is a vote for choice without judgment. Let the black man have his dreadlocks or bald head, let the black woman have her weaves or natural hair, and let the white woman buy padded bras or get breast implants, and if one says no to the other, let their teeth break.
Ps. Someone from the Embassy of Lebanon emailed me regarding my last article. Mr. Wassim Ibrahim informed me that although a huge signboard with the inscription ‘Embassy of Lebanon’ stands on a plot of land full of rubble, the actual building where the Embassy operates from is at 12 Usuma Street, Maitama, Abuja. Then he invited me for coffee. I might have gone, but apart from the fact that I am currently in Uganda (loving my view of Lake Victoria), coffee really upsets my stomach. I prefer tea instead.