OPINION: Not all blacks have black hair
"I am not my hair," sings India Arie in the song of the same title. An ode to westerners' judgement on black hair and a declaration that it does not define her and other women of the same colour.
Nina Simone, a musician often criticised and critiqued for her blackness and "way too natural hair", unashamedly described as "ugly" by many, and an artist who refused to conform to norms penned the song What have I got?, and in it she proudly sings:
And what have I got?
Why am I alive anyway?
Yeah, what have I got
Nobody can take away?
Got my hair, got my head
Got my brains, got my ears
Got my eyes, got my nose
Got my mouth, I got my smile
I got my tongue, got my chin
Got my neck, got my boobs
Got my heart, got my soul
Got my back, I got my sex"
A chorus that carries the proud statement that she is in fact her hair, but that she is not only that. And she is proud of it. Dissimilar in statement to Arie's song but the same in many ways in messaging.
In a whiter and more universally accepted opinion on the matter, the lyrics from the title track Hair from the popular musical Hair, contain a more westernised norm of what the standard of beauty is when it comes to furry tops that naturally cover the human scalp, and I quote:
Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair.
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen.
Give me down to there hair, shoulder length or longer, here baby, there momma, everywhere daddy, daddy.
Therefore: lekker, kwaai hair is long, blonde and beautiful and comes from the breeding of totes caucasian parents.
No person of colour is excluded from this. Black, white, Indian, coloured, mixed race. It's the root of many a weave and GHD sale, the reason that salons and hair product manufacturers are able to sustain their businesses through Brazilian blow dries and straightening treatments. In my family and certain circles of the community, where women are known to have coarser hair and then all of a sudden don't, we exclaim, "Jou hare's ge-Wella" (direct translation: Your hair's Wella'd. Wella being a hair product brand for taming this type of hair). Another fond forage into the fear of hair not looking "beautiful" is to get caught in the rain and have your blow-dried do revert to a more natural state, "Oooh jirre. My hare gaan huistoe" (Oh god, my hair's going home. Ie: back to my non-westernised roots).
Keep your hair struggle in your lane. While Indian hair, for example, may be criticised within our own communities for not complying with our own traditional standards of beauty, the black hair struggle is not universal. Not all blacks have black hair. So why are some of us pretending like we do? No, it's not blonde or in some cases particularly flaxen, but I for one never did have to shave my head and keep it tame and short in school. I was never subjected to keeping my personal identity in chains because I could not wear my hair more natural or braid it for that matter. Sure, it couldn't touch my colour, it was harder to highlight because the hair dye would be more noticeable than in Caucasian hair - the fairer race did this all the time. But I could blow dry it and keep it straight and long at least - if I cared to do so. Therefore checking, quite comfortably, a lot of the beautiful hair boxes. Not the same struggle.
It's not universal. It's not all of ours to have. And while we can support, feel compassion and protest alongside the brave and necessary fight of students like Zulaikha Patel from Pretoria Girls High because we all witnessed and continue to witness the disgusting treatment of our black friends, fellow students and colleagues' hair, we must still allow for the fact that the physical struggle does not belong to all blacks. Stop jumping on the bandwagon. If you have hair that's not "Indian enough", for example, it's not the same. Sorry for you. Maybe chat to your granma about the standard that's being imposed on you.
As for middle-aged white men who continue to fill airwaves with literally white-noise and refuse to understand but instead practice epic degrees of degradation and disregard for matters like this: You have a struggle of your own. It's called receding hairline. Maybe concentrate on that.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is employed by Code For Africa at the head office in Cape Town as programme manager for i mpactAFRICA - the continent's largest fund for digital-driven data storytelling. She is a regular commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment. Follow her on Twitter: @sageofabsurd