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.
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.
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.
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?
Post by Kay
“If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?”
John E. Lewis
As you probably know by now, ThandieKay is all about representation, so I was thrilled to stumble upon these Distant Relatives t-shirts designed by Mandy Mli.
Here is an interview we did with her.
I think it’s important in that it allows us all to be more knowledgeable and understanding generally. Creating a more balanced and mindful society/world. Representation to me is about clear well rounded communication. It should involve recognising diversity and studying various human experiences. I think it is important to recognise the richness in the experiences of those particularly left out of “popular culture” . I think it’s also about opening up that room for truthful dialogue and thus better understanding
It’s motivates me to celebrate and create on behalf of the underrepresented (and often misrepresented). It motivates me to paint and promote a different picture to the one handed to me from birth and hopefully inspire others to do the same. To paint their own picture of their world and experience. And with that I always like to support those who are doing the same. Representation to me should be about being able to tell your own story and inspiring others to do the same, all chapters included.
Distant Relatives itself was actually inspired by a few things, including my own cultural observations and further by an interview I heard, David Banner discussing his new direction/perspective now being more overtly culturally conscience in his music and using his platform to share knowledge and push towards building and educating his community.
Working in education, teaching in early years education and designing as a hobby (and considering going back to university to study a postgraduate degree in Social Entrepreneurship.)
It would be hard to pinpoint one thing that inspired me but music,was a huge influence as far as opening my mind to different experiences, perspectives and the art of story telling. at one point I was learning how to DJ. I loved all things 90s, music videos and all. I still do.
I would like to collaborate more with different artists and individuals. I see Distant Relatives as a collaborative brand. I also hope to expand the product line to include a variety of other accessories and products. Also working towards balancing a more design focused aesthetic whilst still being able to convey an important message.
Making and selling personalised and affirmative accessories. And constantly looking for ways to support social enterprise. And pretty much everything I am currently involved in is about mixing creativity, conversations and promoting positive energy. Directing energy to the things that I think are the important.
Photo: Ol Parker