The Real ‘Fro Woe

Post by Emma DabiriEmma Dabiri

Emma Dabiri is a Teaching Fellow at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London. She’s written for ThandieKay in the past on race representation in beauty and we’re delighted to have her contribute her thoughts again, this time on the necessity of afro hair. Over to Emma…. 


Society commends itself on being progressive, multicultural and diverse. We are told that we are equal, that we are lucky to live in this century, in such a tolerant environment, with access to these privileges.

When we try to interject this narrative with the realities of our lived experience, to articulate the challenges and complexities of navigating society in the body of a black woman; the varying degrees of injustice, violence, pain and disrespect that we are subjected to, often for no reason beyond the fact that we are black women, we are frequently met with resistance that spills over into venom.

Discussions about Afro hair provide a reminder of the constraints placed on our bodies, in this age of alleged equality. The fact that having the audacity to wear your hair as it grows from your head remains a politicized act.

Diana Ross, Marsha Hunt and Pam Grier

Diana Ross, Marsha Hunt and Pam Grier

Despite the presence of a number of highly visible black women, from Michelle Obama to Beyoncé, some (people) remain shocked when faced with the reality of what most black women’s hair actually looks like (when it is not chemically straightened or hidden under a weave).

We (still) face stricture and censure in the education system and many professional settings, if we are so bold as to imagine that society might accept us looking like ourselves, rather than insisting we make ourselves into imitations of others. Many of the icons we can readily recall who have sported Afros were revolutionaries.

Kathleen Cleaver, Dorothy Pitman-Hughes, Angela Davies

Kathleen Cleaver, Dorothy Pitman-Hughes and Angela Davies

Increasingly this is changing, but progress is slow. Even within the natural hair movement, the beauty ideal is not set by the fully picked out ‘fro. A more palatable, ‘mixed-race’ curl – rather than the resplendent Afro in all its Africaness, remains what many aspire to. That’s right I said it, AFRICAN.

Esperanza Spalding, Adwoah Aboah and Solange Knowles

Esperanza Spalding, Adwoah Aboah and Solange Knowles

So go on, seize your Africaness. Get intimate with it, make yourself comfortable in it, never ever underestimate the beauty of our hair. For it is ours and ours alone, and surely like most things that are rare, is it too not exceptionally precious?

Thandie in Afro

Thandie in Afro

See more from ThandieKay on Afro hair….

Read Bwalya Newton’s wonderful piece ‘The Playfulness and Politics of Black Hair’

And Dija Ayodele’s haircare tips for afro hair

Follow Emma Dabiri on Twitter and on instagram


2 thoughts on “The Real ‘Fro Woe

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  1. I LOVE the fact that we can choose how to wear our hair and celebrate our Africanness! I used to use a relaxer on my hair (first applied on me by my mother to help make school day hairstyling ‘easier’) – but have been natural for the last 6 years.
    It’s been a re-education for me – a time of getting to know, love and understand this hair that grows from my head. It’s not been without its challenges – but it has suprisingly been the most significant life-altering beauty journey of my 38 years of life. Reclaiming my hair has been harder than loosing my excess pounds. It showed me time and again how my thoughts of being ‘ugly’ had more to do with what I thought was acceptable hair to others – rather than based on what I felt or believed for or about myself. It showed me my own prejudice and miseducation. It started me on the road of discovery so I learnt for the first time in my life, what my own hair really needed to survive and thrive. Powerful. And so is it a political statement? Yes – it’s a statement of the politics of LOVE. For embracing our natural hair in all its glory is a call to LOVE FULLY. And there is a place for that stance within the framework of politics. Some might say it is its very foundation.
    So thank you for encouraging us in this reflection. .this remembrance of self and this call to love. As we are. All of our Africanness in ALL its resplendent natural beauty.

    June 6, 2016 at 11:15 am
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  3. I adore this website. But I would love more diet and nutrition tips such as the Neal’s yard flax oil and what you put it on and how you keep a healthy lifestyle while traveling.

    June 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm

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