The politics of hair


The politics of hair have their roots in the ever elusive beauty standards. Because of the differing ethnicities, how beautiful hair appears is up to the beholder. What maybe considered beautiful to one ethnic group may not be considered beautiful to another. Throw in mass media which has determined the narrative of what is or what is not beautiful, and mostly women are left with politics of how to deal with their hair.

The differing head shapes lead to different hair styles. Hair is a form of expression of beauty. It could be argued that its for their own beautification or for making themselves more attractive to men. The jury is still out with me. But hair seems to play a very important part in how we are perceived.

Is it suitable for work, is it too long, natural or extensions? Women are the ones mostly affected by politics of hair. There seems to be an issue with hair is worn in the work place and in schools. How should we wear our hair in these environments. Companies should have clear policies if its so important for them, and a prospective employee should made aware of these. if you sign on to that then you must just deal with it.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, getting a clean shave was associated with apostolic church. Dreadlocks were associated with ganja smoking Rastafarians. Women also didn’t get low cuts or even straight up bald. It was frowned upon. Expression of hair is probably seen as a challenge on authority of sorts. Keeping uncombed hair will give people a certain perception over you. Mostly associated with rebellion. I remember a case when Munyaradzi Gwisai won a case to appear in parliament with his natural dreadlocks. It was unheard of in Zimbabwe, even though some of our members wore those ridiculous wigs.

Ironically what was deemed acceptable was the English cut. Which brings me to the conclusion that some of our attitudes towards black peoples hair have its roots in a colonial mindset. We have taken beyond even the original perpetrators. I think colonial whites regulation of hair was a form or suppression and didn’t want black people expressing themselves beyond what they were used to or comfortable with. This uniformity was a method of suppression.

Past two years there have been many issues with private schools in South Africa and the politics of hair. In regulating how black girls especially, wear their hair. Some of it was clearly race related and some of it based on that issue of uniformity mentioned above. I have no problem with organisation specific regulations on hair, so long as its consistently applied and caters for the ethnic differences of hair. For me there is lots of time after school and work to express yourself through your hair.

Often when people clash over hair, it is not really about the hair but the hair becomes the frontier of engagement. Hair in itself says nothing to do with the true character of a person but because of societal standards. How we wear our hair has a certain perception it is associated with. It can normally lead to various repercussions which can be detrimental. I used to enjoy keeping a rugged afro but now because I cut my own hair I just have a basic cut regularly so I spend as less time as possible on my hair.