In a recent BBC debate “The good, bad and ugly hair days” (African Manes), a documentary examining the culture of African hair, I read a troubling comment that:
“In Africa, the preferred look seems to be straightened hair over natural, kinky hair. Natural hair wearers are perceived as being deliberately non-conformist or religious.”
Wait a minute! Why the stereotypical perception on going natural? What is so wrong with the natural African look? It is obvious the ideal
of beauty in most African countries has changed, and continues to
change by the season. The typical African has dark ebony skin, big brown
eyes, big lips and a short nose but not anymore! Many are going
My fear is if we Africans continue to view things through the ‘Western eye’, our unique African identity will vanish totally. From
our hair, language, and even our music, all of those things that make up
‘the African identity’ are undergoing drastic modification into Western
stereotype. It’s like Africans are ashamed of their indigenous
identity — and the only way to cover-up the shame is to wear that
foreign identity even if it is ill-fitting. No doubt, the rich and
buoyant African culture is going extinct!
Language –Do you know English language, the ready-made weapon of British-American cultural imperialism, is gradually replacing indigenous
African languages, even in our homes? A fab example is Yoruba, a
native tongue of approximately 28 million people, spoken in
South-western Nigeria. Yoruba is slowly turning into the new Latin – a
dead language. Why? Because it is not being passed on oncoming
generations. Check this out:
A lady raised in Lagos, born to a Yoruba-speaking couple, surrounded by Yoruba-speaking relatives and friends, and has never lived anywhere
else but Lagos, but guess what? She doesn’t speak or understand one
word of Yoruba. When I first met this babe I was convinced she was just
being a “wannabe”; posing by not speaking Yoruba, but after getting to
know her I realized she wasn’t faking it, it was for real -– flawless
English but no word of Yoruba. Can you believe that!
Now tell me how would she pass on the Yoruba language to her children if she doesn’t speak it? Yoruba is already killed and buried in her
linage– killed and replaced by English. As Toyin Falola identified in
her article “Death of Yoruba Language” this scenario can be explained as follows:
The greatest tragedy in Yorubaland today is the parents’ dominating trend to speak only English to their children, making it their first language, then sending them to private nursery school, who
only teach in English and causing Yoruba children to value English above
Music — Have you listened to African music lately? Their beats and lyrics are borrowed from the American hip-hop culture of disrespecting
women and cursing in every other sentence — a display that is inherently
contradictory to the African culture founded on respect. The most
annoying part is when their videos imitate American artists like Lil
Wayne, Snoop and 50 cents with the sagging pants and blin’ blin’. These
“copycats” even film their music videos in America or Europe. At the
end, music, a potent means of showcasing the African culture, is lost
and replaced with the worst of the western culture.
Dressing — The cultural influence does not end there. What about our dressing? We all know the way a person dresses is a form of identity,
and in some cases should be a reflection of their culture. Only a
colonized mind will say that the western dressing style is more superior
to the African style. Western style has its own assembly and African
attires have their own too so why compare?
An incident at the Kenyan parliament in 2004 speaks volumes to our dress sense. The dress code required male members to wear suits and ties
and legislators not ‘properly dressed’ would be thrown out of the
House. And when some Kenyan Members of the Parliaments tested the rule —
by wearing the Nigerian “agbada” robes — they were thrown out!
Hair — They say hair is the crown of a woman and I know one African woman that has taken that literarily – yeah you got it – First Lady Chantal Biya.
Anyway she is not the focus of this article so I wouldn’t go there.
Do you know what African women go through to get longer, smoother,
shinier, straighter “good” hair? At least four times a year, an average
African woman applies chemical relaxers to her hair to achieve that
goal and spends anything between 10 – 45 minutes in excruciating pain
with the relaxer burning her scalp. The general notion is that the more it burns the better it works.
Some African women started using this “creamy crack” (the American slang for relaxers) at the early age of 4. Yes! That is ridiculously
young! Why do African woman put themselves through so much pain? Is it
for the African men? Are dark, curvy, kinky-headed women no longer
aesthetically pleasing to African men because they don’t resemble the
“women” they see on TV? Some women claim they use the creamy crack
because it makes styling their hair easier than the painful torture of
combing the kinky bushy hair. Let’s suppose that argument justifies the
use of relaxers, but what about women who spend tons of money on
weave-on or hair extensions? What is their argument? Are they trying
to look more European? Do we use weave-ons and extension because we are
adopting the Western definition of beauty?
Skin –The most dangerous trend in West and Central African countries is skin bleaching. The procedure of women going from dark skinned to
lighter skin is detrimental to the health, but some African women still
chose to do it anyway. The damage is equivalent to sunbathing without
sunscreen because these lightening creams slowly destroys all the
melanin in black skin, making it more prone to skin cancer. One might
ask why bother knowing all the risks associated with it? Why would
African women use such extreme measures to become light-skinned? Are
they ashamed of their black identity? Or is it because they want to be
accepted? Or do they feel that being light skinned makes them more
If anyone can answer these million-dollar questions I would love to hear them. What are your thoughts on these issues?
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