Going back to my roots

2008-03-21 00:00

For a long time, when I was in college, I rocked an Afro. I can’t remember the exact reason I “relaxed” my hair. I cannot even recall the day I processed it but I do remember the mortified look on my friend’s face.

“You’ve changed,” he said politely. I egged him on, fishing for a compliment but he said: “You look great but it really doesn’t suit your personality, I figured you for the more soulful type.” I was devastated.

I was still the same person, just with processed hair, right? I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one subjected to death by stoning on occasion by “deep” people because I had straight hair. A friend of mine once refused to attend a poetry evening with me saying she was tired of being picked on.

“I let people choose dreadlocks and Afros and some of them really look unsightly but I don’t snub them or make snide comments when they pass by in the streets — I let them be,” she said.

I agree. Is judging someone on the basis that he or she has chosen to “relax” his or her hair not as shallow as a woman who chooses to keep the company of a bald guy because it’s a “cleaner” look?

Acclaimed singer Scott didn’t publicly denounce Afro-centric hairstyles before she shot the cover of her latest album, but many sisters in the public domain have come out with guns blazing, slating her for her choice.

Her album is not of a lesser quality and her delivery leaves nothing to be desired. But a lot of comments from women in powerful public positions who sport an Afro haven’t congratulated her on an amazing album. Instead they insinuate she should apologise for making the choice of plaiting a weave in to her hair.

When I recently broached the subject, a friend of mine called me a “sheep-goat girl”. This type of girl he says, will go with anything that is in fashion. He said that if he knew me back then, he would have agreed that I disrespected myself by “relaxing” my hair.

“It’s not a true reflection of who you are,” he said.

When I asked him if my reflection was better suited to a clean-shaven head perhaps, he quickly shot back: “The real you is exciting. Your current hairstyle isn’t. People probably think that you are capable of doing anything because of the way you look now.”

If looks could kill, he’d be lying in a ditch, naked, with a bullet wound in his head.

When I brought the subject up with my beau he admitted that he did think I was “an ordinary girl” when he first met me. But he made up for this by saying that when I spoke I commanded his respect and he began to think that perhaps this is where the true me lay, not with an exterior that is whimsical but with a soul that is nurtured (he’s a good catch).

We operate on the assumption that everybody with an Afro is soulful and those who choose to “relax” their hair are of a weaker character.

I relaxed my hair just last week and I am yet to find someone to prove me shallow.

• Nozipho Masabalala is a 20-something Johannesburg-based writer, currently working in PR.

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