The Natural Hair Mafias

afroI love my hair, sometimes I’m in awe of its robustness and versatility, yet it’s so gentle, so soft, so me.

When I started wearing my natural Afro there were few of us around. I did it out of necessity. I had just started university and there was little money or time to be throwing at hair. So I started wearing my hair in its natural state. It was no big deal. It wasn’t a statement or a movement. It was practical and I liked it. And yes, it saved me a lot of money!

Fast forward 15 years later and there are more black women wearing their natural hair. This is a good thing. This is important. It is a good thing because I think the media often portray one idea of beauty, which isn’t always inclusive.

The truth is Afro hair rarely features in mainstream magazines, and when it does, it is often a caricature of the bizarrely big or outrageous funky type. I subscribe to a few magazines myself, and I always avoid the hair and beauty section because it’s never going to include tips on how to style my hair in 3 easy steps. It’s not going to show me the latest afro trends. And no, I don’t want to seek out specialist black hair magazines.

But there is another awkward truth. How can we expect mainstream media to showcase what we ourselves constantly hide? It is up to us black women to showcase our own hair in its diverse variety. And this is where I’m conflicted – I’m a weave loving mama. I completely enjoy the freedom to experiment and change my hairstyle. It is fun. It is fashion. It is options. But I do find it concerning that some black women think natural black hair is less attractive. Or rather strangely, that they have to apply all manner of concoction to make it ‘manageable’. I hate that word ‘manageable’. The truth is we are losing the natural skills to deal with our hair and adopting skills to manage Caucasian hair which in my view is not easier to manage – although they can Wash and Go!! And bloody hell I often wish I could Wash and Go!

I don’t belong to the camps that frown on weaves. In fact I went shopping the other day and this black gentleman kept saying to me ‘Yes this is how black women should wear their hair, I love your hair, I love your daughter’s hair –this is how to keep it real, gwan sis’. I was offended. I was offended because he patently thought weave wearers where selling out. If he saw me 3 months ago he would have thought differently of me then, in my weave. However, I was with my daughter and her face lit up at the compliments, what does she care about undertones. This confirmed something I already knew. Even though I am a badass confident chick, love my hair, love my body (not on days I’m bloated) type of chick, I need to instil this confidence in my own daughter. And this must include her seeing me wearing my hair in its natural state more often.

Is it possible to instil self-acceptance and confidence in my daughter if I put my hair in weaves more often than I let my natural hair out?. Am I sending a subtle message that mama only looks cute in long straight hair? I decided I couldn’t take a risk, so instead of alternating between weaves and my natural hair, I am leaving my hair out more often than fixing weaves. And I see other black women doing the same, and they may do it for different reasons, but it’s great! But some of them are getting silly, calling it a movement, some of them are rather fanatical, attacking weave wearers and acting as if natural hair makes them somewhat mystical, deep, more black, more enlightened, more in touch. It does not. I know a lot of dread wearing arse-wipes who have no clue. These people have been irritating the heck out of me with stupid-ness like coding different hair texture, promoting not using shampoo and touting all manner of concoctions. Listen, I’m not going to hate the players. If people want to turn natural hair into a lucrative business, fine and great!! But don’t do it under the pretext of a movement. It is a business. You have something to sell. It is marketing.

Up to a year ago, I used to use the phrase ‘it’s just hair’, but deep down I have always known that black women’s hair is more than just hair. I got a rude reminder a few months ago when a stakeholder told me that my hairstyle was rather severe, she said it was intimidating. I was shocked. I had my hair in what I considered a simple up-do. I was so stunned I couldn’t respond. I was upset. This is my hair, as natural as it can be, and when I was styling it that morning, it was just hair I was putting up, not a weapon. In that moment I realised that I couldn’t kid myself any longer. Afro hair isn’t just hair. There are deep seated politics of race, beauty and stereotypes attached to Afro hair and if we as black women want our hair to be perceived as just that, hair, then we need to show it more, in its natural state. But don’t let the business people pedalling their wares hijack it with all their mumbo jumbo.

Towards Equality

I don’t understand why some expect girls to express themselves only with grace, while boys can be boisterous to applause. You expect girls not to raise their voices, be demanding or too assertive, but congratulate fighters, glorify male boxers.

We wrestle with the idea that a woman can be many things. If she chooses to get married and chooses to have children, you question her capacity or worse still her desirability in being more than a wife and a mother. Why are you offended when she says those things are not be enough

And if a married woman is multi faceted, her life fully rounded or in your view a bit too much, too much of this, too much of that, you raise your eyebrow and patronisingly try to put her in your box “oh it’s all okay, her husband doesn’t mind”.

We are all haters

HatersOnce published on FB – slightly updated.

I read numerous status updates about enemies posing as friends, haters, frienemies and all sorts. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think some people are unfortunate to have dubious characters around them, particularly if they are young and impressionable. But I wonder if people ever stop to think that they have or get the friends they deserve.

Some years ago I fell out with two people I considered my close friends. It was a painful experience for many reasons and I thought rightly or wrongly that other issues had contributed to the fall out, as opposed to having a misunderstanding that got blown out of proportion.

In the heat of the fallout I too cried haters!!! but, when I look back at the dynamics of the friendship I see clearly that I have no reason to feel hard done by. Before the major fallout I had in my heart of hearts stopped being friends with these girls. But for years I had nursed and continued a dysfunctional friendship knowing full well that I wasn’t being true to myself or to them. I had nurtured this friendship because it suited me to hang out socially with these girls and indeed connect on a purely superficial level.

Yes I can point to some mean and vindictive things that were said or done by one person in particular, but honestly what was I to expect when I wasn’t being true to either them or myself. What could I expect when I failed to deal with the problems directly, instead of carrying on and pretending as if nothing was upsetting me. I continued with the friendship because on some level I enjoyed the banter, mischief, manipulation, gossip. This dysfunctional relationship had been nurtured, in part, by me, for years and I was used to it.

So before you point fingers at the haters in your life, look within yourself. Do you have the friends you deserve? Are you true to them or yourself? Have you nurtured a dysfunctional friendship? I’m wise enough to know there is a bit of hater in all of us, we are human after all. I would like to think that I am a better friend as a result of my experiences. If I sense an issue I try harder to raise it early. A lot of times now I listen instead of talking. Sometimes, you can’t control other people’s behaviour, and so if I sense awkwardness I can’t shake, or a sense of unhealthy competition which dominated and plagued the friendship I referred to above, then I will withdraw. I have also learnt that its okay withdrawn from a friendship without announcing your withdrawal. We are not perfect, our friendships are relationships; they can’t be perfect. But all this talk about haters, ore pleaseeeeeeee, check your sef.

Racism in Nigeria

nigeria-flagI am glad that I started the charity Path to Possibilities (P2P) mostly because it keeps me in touch with Nigeria. I honestly don’t think I would visit as often if not for the charity. If you know me well, fairly well, you will know that I have a love/hate relationship with Nigeria. I am one of those people that will freely diss the country, but woe betides any non-Nigerian that wants to take a pop! I know! I am a hypocrite.

When I visited Nigeria this March gone, I honestly had a great time. My God I love the humour, the laid back attitude, and Nigerians resourcefulness. And the food! I ate Nigerian food throughout and it was just marvellous. But for the second visit in a row I noticed something quite concerning; the growing racism or call it destructive colonial mentality harboured by my people.

My charity is focused on education so this means visiting schools. I was puzzled that in one particular school we have been visiting for a while there seems to be a distinct preference for hiring white headmasters (and this seems to be the trend in the top ‘international’ schools). I am aware that this is a contentious issue; after all, I live in a country where I shout that there must be equality in all spheres of life, so why shouldn’t Nigerians hire white people. They should, if they are the right people for the job and if this is the sole reason they are employing them. But what I observed and what I am referring to is quite bizarre, quite different. I am referring to Nigerians dismissing talents in Nigeria and seeking other talents not because of what they can bring to the table, but simply because they are white or not black, because anything but black at the top seems to be reigning.

There is a distinct trend for those who own private businesses to go outside of Nigeria, specifically targeting non-black people to run their businesses. And I repeat, it is not because they can’t find the talent in Nigeria (although I accept that this is the situation in some cases). My problem is that to these Nigerians, hiring white or non-black people apparently lends an air of competence, professionalism and respectability to their businesses. In the school I referred to, this is the 3rd white principal in about 3 years. I actually dismissed this for a while and thought surely they can’t simply have a preference for white people, until a meeting with the proprietor convinced me that they did.

I spoke to a friend of a friend who is in construction. We were having a casual conversation about his business and the challenges it faced and very casually he said he was going to China to recruit someone to head up his construction company. This person was going to be the figurehead and the client facing person, while he would run the show from behind the scenes. He said this was what he needed to take his business to the next level. A Chinese person. People like a non-black face at that level. He said people expect to see ‘this’ these days. I was about to start protesting but stopped. Over the years I have grown tired of arguing with Nigerians, especially Nigerian men. Also, I had to check my own privilege. I can preach to the cows come home but I don’t know what it’s really like trying to survive in one of the harshest economies in the world. It is tough running a business in Nigeria. It is tough making a living in Nigeria. Some will argue that you just have to do what you have to do to survive, and honestly a part of me sympathises with every hardworking Nigerian/business man just working hard. But we must stop and ask is this right? Is it right that we Nigerians are blatantly discriminating against our own people, our own talents? Nigeria puzzles me. When it comes to parties we are prepared to throw on the aso-ebi and shout about our culture. We dance to Wiz Kid all night long who the hell is Wiz khalifa. I observed dudes, fine guys, wearing sokoto and buba in the clubs, proudly declaring their heritage. But when it really matters we turn our backs on our own. We allow most of the private schools in our own country to teach a foreign syllabus that has no bearing to the reality of the Nigerian life. Honestly, there is something majorly f**ked up about children knowing nothing about the significance of Badagiri or the Nigerian Civil War knowing everything about World War two. There is something seriously messed up when our children learn about the principles of economics in pounds and sterling’s. We proudly announce that our children can’t speak Yoruba (I am personally ashamed of this). I understand Igbo has been declared an endangered language by Unesco. We are playing a dangerous game and we don’t know it. We are sending mixed and strange messages to our children and we don’t know it. When little Abike looks up and sees only a certain colour at the top in very many spheres, she will grow up believing it’s not possible if she isn’t that colour or as I observe now; it’s not possible if she doesn’t lose everything that identifies her as Nigerian to become more and more and more western.

Let me pause – what do you think?

The Politics of Beauty

Serena

I don’t enjoy Tennis, I yawn at Wimbledon. But over the years I’ve caught glimpses of the Williams sisters and I’ve been inspired and motivated by them; not just because they are winners but because they appear to win on their own terms. I came across a picture of Serena Williams 2 weekends ago looking majestic, strong, toned and defined. She was on a beach, wearing a bikini. The comments under her picture were vile. She was called a gorilla, a chick with a dick, a man. I had to inhale, squint and scroll back up to look at the picture again; what had I missed? I had missed nothing. So I put the picture on my FB page saying something along the lines of ‘ I’m shocked at the vile comments this picture is receiving, she looks amazing”. I expected rounds of agreement. Silence. Silence. Silence, until one very vocal FB male friend chimed in. In his view Serena looked dreadful. Too much muscles. Too manly. Too overweight. In his opinion the bikini look was certainly not for her. And so a debate ensued with just a handful of people supporting Serena. The silence was deafening. The silence convinced me that most people agreed with him.

You may be reading this and think so what’s my point? What’s the big deal if one or more people think Serena looked dreadful. Let me stress and emphasis that it is not whether or not a lot of people find her attractive that is the issue. The issue for me is that the world is going crazy where body image is concerned. The issue for me is that too many people only equate a certain type of body shape with beauty. The issue is that as beautifully made as we are, most women, and in particular most black women don’t fit into this ideal. This is a big deal. It is a big deal because we are expected to integrate, be confident, love ourselves, value ourselves and be the best versions of ourselves whilst simultaneously hearing and seeing messages saying we look manly, too mussily, too aggressive’.

There are a lot of people who will argue that attractiveness is subjective. And so all those people calling Serena a dreadful simply don’t find her attractive. But is beauty really so subjective when we are constantly fed and bombarded with images of what beauty should look like. How subjective is beauty when everything that shouts beautiful, pretty, alluring of desirable isn’t bigger or more rounded than a size 12 . How subjective is beauty when Serena Williams a fit and visibly strong athlete is called such vile and emotive names.

Some people say curves are in; big bums are in, and in turn there is more celebration of the natural curves black women sport. But please look around and tell me whose big bums are celebrated ( leaving aside the fact that it is repulsive to reduce us to bums in the first instance). Black women have been sporting big bums since before Jenny from the block and before Kim K, but strangely these curves are more desirable in everyone but black women. Serena’s bum was sitting up high like she had been doing squats from her mother’s womb; not one compliment. What does this tell you? Her tummy was flat and it flattered her waist and hips; not one compliment. The body fascist couldn’t deal flesh just that bit thicker than the acceptable ‘ magazine ‘curvy’ which is mostly a size 10 or12 (British size).

Serena’s body type doesn’t fit into what we are constantly brainwashed to accept; long and thin. At one point my FB friend changed the argument and said what was dreadful was her bikini. The bikini was not a good look for her. Let’s keep it real. The bikini look was as close to her being naked as it comes. The bikini in question was not ill fitting. It was not too tight. It was not too small. It fitted perfectly. It was the body he had an issue with. A body typical of many black women. If he is reading this he will no doubt accuse me of playing the race card, again. And if you are reading this and think race doesn’t play a role in the politics of beauty then you are naive. What was telling was his use of the word ‘aggressive’ How can the body of a woman strolling on the beach be aggressive? Yes, this is a race issue. It is indirect discrimination by the media and by everyone who has been brainwashed into accepting one body type as the ideal. And just in case you didn’t know, indirect discrimination is often less obvious. When a practice seems fair because it applies to everyone equally, but on closer look shows that some people are disproportionately affected then it’s indirect discrimination. We are constantly bombarded with “thin, slim, long, lean” as standards of beauty and yes this applies universally ( in the Western World at least) but when most black women can’t even begin, for genetic reasons fit into this ideal, then it is discrimination. And yes it is a race issue.

I am worried and very concerned about the amount of people who have been brainwashed into believing that beauty only comes in one guise; slim, fairly toned, but not too much muscles, even for an athlete who earns her living on her physicality. For the first time in my life I think my eyes really opened to the discrimination, bullying, and nastiness faced by those whose body type don’t fit the ‘mould’. And it really bothers me.

Sent from my iPhone

Oxtail @ Harrods

Funny thing is, like Snails (The Giant  African Snails as oppose to the French Escargot/land snails)  I started out not caring very much for Oxtail.

But you can’t grow up in Nigeria, live amongst Nigerians , or be into naija men and not know what Oxtail is ; that succulently soft, gelatine, Bonny tail of a cattle! Now I can say these things and end with yum!  But until recently I was quite indifferent to it. Everything changed when  I visited one of my closest friends for dinner, she served oxtail amongst other delights, assuming that I and my husband cared for the thing! But in my usual excitement about the amazing spread I must have asked why the Oxtail looked much bigger than normal,  she told  me she brought the Oxtail from Harrods and I remember giving her a look before laughing!

Now if this wasn’t my ‘personal person’ I would have secretly thought how pretentious! But I know my girl loves food, seriously loves food! She is the type of girl you’d find in China tang at the Dorchester on a Friday night, and at Lolak  in Peckham on Saturday ( if you haven’t tried these two restaurants you are a learner), so long as the food is good she/ we are there.

My friend didn’t really need to do much explaining, Harrods is synonymous with quality, the best sourced food under one wonderful roof! Dinner was scrumptous, the Oxtail was sublime! And so the next time I was entertaining with nigerian food, I went to Harrods of course! and I’ve never looked back! No one does it better. Pleaseeeeeee try Harrods oxtail!

There is no trick to cooking oxtail. It needs to be slow cooked. This is how I do mine.

  • Get your onions, ginger, garlic, black pepper, and knor.
  • Blend all the above and pour over your washed oxtail
  •  I rarely use dried herbs in my cooking, please leave it out; No to curry and thyme if you are Nigerian! Knor however is king of the jungle.
  • Salt it to taste, but usually the salt in the Knor cubes should be  sufficient
  • Cook on low heat; I can’t give you specific a time but I generally cook mine for over an hour
  • Getting your oxtail right is all about texture, texture,  texture, texture!  Just like spaghetti, and yes 90% of people I know can’t cook spaghetti right! So your oxtail needs to be soft enought to eat, without you chewing your jaw off!  but not so soft that it falls off the bone – think Al-dente.
  • Once your oxtail is cooked, put it under the grill, heat up high, and brown both  sides.
  • Now blend one onion, a scotch bonnet and fresh tomatoes.
  • Pour some palm oil ( use vegetable oil if you prefer, but if you are serving with efo then be consistent with the oil you used for the efo) in a pan, when it’s nicely heated pour  in your blended onions, scotch bonnet and tomatoes and cook it till its all reduced, add one knor chicken.
  • Once this paste is reduced, add in your oxtail, simmer and there you have it!

Thank me later! Naija food forever!

 

 

 

The Butler

I finally watched the Butler and although I know I shouldn’t, I compared it to 12 years a slave. But at least I can now articulate why 12 years a slave simply didn’t touch or move me like the Butler did.

I found the Butler more relevant to my experiences as a black working woman. Without meaning any disrespect, movies about slavery, as important and necessary as they are, have the capacity to delude some people into thinking that black people’s struggles are consigned to a dark time past.

I am uncomfortable with the knowledge that the more subtle and real stories of inequalities and lack of opportunities can’t compete with the sheer gore and brutality of slavery.

The story of the Butler is closer to my story. Cecil and his colleagues working in the Whitehouse often spoke about having two faces. If some black people are honest they may admit that there is still some element of truth in this. Sometimes we bend backwards so as not to appear “threatening, aggressive, feisty or diva -like”, negatives stereotypes often slung at black people- black women.

It took 20 years for Cecil to get a pay rise; pulling the lever of the president in the end. The truth about modern working life is that often white counterparts find it easier to find someone who believes in them. This is crucial for progression. If you don’t have a ‘godfather’ routing for you, believing in you, or encouraging you, it can take that bit longer, even with talent. There is nothing wrong with having a über mentor, if the same encouragement and support is readily available to black staff.

There are campaigns and attempts to redress the lack of equal opportunities in senior management in the UK today. But then you hear some people shouting that “black folks must be promoted on merit” indirectly and naively implying that the talent just isn’t out there, or implying that half of the white men in positions of power are talented or competent. The truth is that a lot senior managers are too complacent and lazy to see the talents of people who may not sound like them, come from similar backgrounds,went to the same university, dress like them and so on.

I also found the tension and discontent between Cecil and his son touching and sad. I see some of that struggle between an older black generation that insist that the younger generation of black people can attain anything BUT if they work twice as hard. It is bullshit advice. Working twice as hard to get exactly what your white friends have is not equality. It is another form of slavery. It is buy one get one free.

The Butler reminds me sadly of my reality at work, I am a minority. I sometimes have two faces, the one that wants to scream when the next senior manager waltz in talking about some half-hearted initiative to tackle or develop talent, because they only just found out that ethnic minorities are mostly consigned to junior roles or middle management. And the face that just wants to enjoy work, my colleagues and progress.