Hair Despair

What blog about African heritage children/teens would be complete without a section devoted to hair? Kinky, bushy, nappy; cornrows, dreads, perms, braids; product, product, product!

I used to think, being the mother of a boy, that I’d escaped the hair despair of other non-African mums. Yes, I could laugh smugly at a friend’s story about how mixed children in England got called one-bunchers, because all their white mothers could manage to do with their hair was tie it all up into one recalcitrant bunch. I could tut-tut when desperate mothers straightened their daughters’ hair (all those chemicals!). And naively, I would think it could never happen to me.

And then ActionMan started high school. And decided to grow his hair …

I should have seen it coming, I suppose. He never was that keen on grooming, for a start, and most of his friends have long hair. Long straight hair.

But becoming a teenager seems to have coincided with the realisation that his hair belongs to him, and he’s decided to assert his rights about how he wants to have it. This assertiveness has resulted in months of (me) hunting for a good comb, experiments with product after product, the realisation that some hairdressers are more interested in a product sale than in your son’s actual hair, and more family conflict than I really want to deal with.

I was a child in the 60s. I remember the shock of the Beatles’ long hair, the disgust with long-haired layabouts, the public debate and disapproval, the first long haired politicians. But it all seemed to blow over fairly quickly. I wasn’t expecting to revisit it in 2006/7/8, and in my own family …

In Ghana – apparently – men are expected to wear short back and sides. Clean geometric cuts are ok, but bushy (Afro) hair and dreads are considered dirty. It’s a source of shame and embarrasment to DadaK that his son has bushy hair. For months, after it all started, he would greet me with “We have to do something about ActionMan’s hair”, instead of “Hello, how are you?”.

I don’t really care if ActionMan has an afro or not. My position has been: Have it long if you like, but wash and comb it. I think DadaK views this as me being a permissive wimp of a mother, and perhaps he’s right, because ActionMan just ignores both of us. I.e., he keeps it long and doesn’t comb it. To do him justice, he does wash it.

Hair in bunchesBut of course, when you don’t comb Afro hair, dreads start forming. This is why I find myself, every few months, spending a few hours combing out the knots in ActionMan’s hair. Or is it because I’m a permissive wimp and a more robust parent would just haul him off to the barber? I asked myself this question last Wednesday night as I hunched over his hair for nearly three hours, armed with two combs, an assortment of conditioners, scissors for the bits I coudn’t manage to detangle, and bands to tie the combed bits out of the way.

The conclusion I reached was: well, maybe, but what a great excuse to play with his gorgeous hair! It was a strangely soothing activity, possibly adddictive, and I was quite pleased – considering I’d never done it before – with how it looked all tied into little bunches. One-buncher indeed! Snort.

Of course the bunches couldn’t last. He did show them off to a couple of friends, and we have photographic evidence of the style (at left), but, well, they’re not really a guy thing. At least the combing has results: the dreads have gone and he has managed to comb it every morning since. Yes, I know that’s only two mornings – let’s think positive. The real test will be what DadaK thinks. We find out tonight …


5 thoughts on “Hair Despair

  1. I get amazed about how obsessive African’s are with hair. I think the media has a lot to do with it. Because hardly would you see the natural Afro hair being showcased as beautiful. However, I think it is up to the individuals to wear their hair proudly and feel good for themselves otherwise we will continual to see generation-to-generation of young/old African decent people having to go greater length to change how their hair look, naturally. Chinese & Japanese people have naturally dead straight black hair which identify them for who they are. I very much doubt if they will be spending the amount of time we do in trying to alter our hair obsessively – so to make it socially acceptable. Have we place such burdens on ourselves? How do we change this and be culturally happy & proud for who we are, including our hair? Thanks, MaameJ for starting this discussions about mother Afro hair and look forward to reading other comments about it.

  2. Yes, I think African hair is beautiful too & it’s a pity people feel the need to perm & straighten. Also a pity that there’s still this traditional approach to what’s acceptable in men’s styles. I will be interested to see, when we get to Ghana, if attitudes have actually moved on since DadaK was last there. Mind you, I share his irritation with hair that’s not well cared for. There’s a world of difference between dreads and a felt cap!

    Unfortunately, ActionMan’s hair tangles at the drop of a hat (perhaps it’s the mix, mine does too). And it doesn’t help that he has a mixed friend who has a gorgeous, well-kept afro, who DadaK holds out as an example of good grooming. But this boy happens also to have much softer, more manageable hair!

    The combing has not continued, by the way …

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  4. That’s a very nice ‘do you gave your son, even though you were just experimenting with his hair. Never knew that if you didn’t comb Afro hair dreads start forming. I was always under the impression that the hair doesn’t tangle that bad…just that you needed to be rough with combing :/

    I suppose some Africans choose to straighten their hair because it’s easier to maintain that way sans the curls and tangles, not to mention saving costs on hair straightening on your own each day. Drying curls must be harder than drying straight hair, not as simple as blowing heat all over it from a hairdryer…

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