“I like your white hair aunty” – Words from my 3 year old niece, as I laid my weave out to dry after fully conditioning it. I asked her what she meant by this because the hair on my head was natural. She explained the best way she knew how. She said “your hair is like my hair but that hair (pointing to my weave) is white hair, I like that hair, and I want that hair like my friends”.
I sat down puzzled and slightly ashamed. Is this what she sees? Her aunties and women in her family not liking themselves or their hair? Trying to be something they aren’t. I started to think of when I was younger. I moved around quite a lot but never lived back home (Africa). When I was younger it seemed easier to be everything else but African. We grew up in mainly white dominated neighbourhoods, mum always use to say this is how you could tell if an area was good or not. It was hard growing up, hard simply because I wanted to do what my non coloured friends were doing but still had the fear of God (parents) in me for our culture.
I would see my non coloured friends talking to their parents in rude ways, and going out at all sorts of hours of the night but of course if I tried this best believe I more than likely wouldn’t be here to write this post today (haha). I too wanted to tell my parents “I’m going out” and not have to give two weeks’ notice to do so. I wanted to have a boyfriend at a young age and my parents be ok with it. I wanted my parents to take care of their own kids and not expect me too. I wanted to fit into a society that didn’t accept me, the real me…..
I didn’t want my culture getting in the way of this, I use to think my parents were backward and this was Europe for peeps sake not Africa. I didn’t want my hair in its natural state, I wanted it straight, and long, I wanted “good hair” besides with 6 girls mum always said relaxed hair was easier to maintain. I didn’t want to take traditional food to school in fear of being teased because of the strong smell of spices, I didn’t want them to make fun of my second name that they couldn’t pronounce (oh why didn’t I have a second name like Johnson),so when they called me Oak instead of Oke I accepted it. I didn’t want to speak our language in public, or for my parents to call me by my African name in front of friends. I didn’t want to listen to music from my own country. It wasn’t easy to fit in because on one hand I had my parents who were strict Africans and I was in a society that thought my culture was alien.
Every school I went to, primary through to secondary school in Ireland I was literally the only coloured person to attend. In the 90’s Ireland wasn’t as culturally diverse as it is today so of course in certain circumstances I became the point of contact for everything black related for example hip hop or questions like “is it ok to use the N word now since were friends”, when I was younger things like this seemed ok to me, they seemed ok because I was trying to fit in anyway so who cared.
I could say I grew up confused, my parents wanted us to keep our cultural but at the same time had a weird attitude towards other black people. I don’t know what it was but I remember my mum not wanting us to mingle with other black kids in fear of being corrupted or too street smart, she didn’t want us speaking like them or acting like them, and I started to realise maybe the urge to fit in didn’t necessarily stem from me.
I’ve grown up since then, now being 23 I see the world changing and I embrace my culture and my natural hair #UnapologeticallyAfrican. It’s been a long journey and there are still things like economic injustice, subtle racism and a lot happening everyday but I believe the masses are no longer ignorant to these things. With celebrities like Beyoncé shedding light to a matter we all know exists, the recent issue with the Oscars, decrease year on year in hair relaxer sales and incidents like the Trayvon Martin case and others I feel there has been a sudden awakening and I hope change follows……..