Growing Up in Africa

Since starting this blog, I have come to many realisations. One of them has arisen from reading the experiences of black women all over the world growing up with hair issues. My oh my do we have issues. Stigma. Discrimination. The list goes on.

However, what is interesting is that my image of myself and my hair might have been a little different, had I not had the privilege of growing up in Chingola, a small copper mining town in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia in Southern Africa.

I say privilege, because from what I have read, black women and girls in America and Europe appear to suffer far more with regards to their hair, than we do here in Zambia. Now, this could be because of the multi-racial and mixed race populations in those regions. Perhaps women in South Africa would have the same stories to tell? I’m not sure, so I will not generalise too much but will share my experience, which I have heard echoed by a number of other women.

I didn’t know much about classifying hair type, but from what I have read, if I had grown up in America, I would likely have been subjected to negative comments about my 4b hair type. All my life, I have always been confident and proud of the fact that I have the much talked about ‘good hair’. Only, good hair seems to depend on where you live. My hair is genetic and especially in the past, women of the Luvale tribe were well known and admired for their long, thick and black hair. In fact, there is a Luvale folk tale in some primary school text books about a girl called Mulevwana. She was known in the land for having extremely long hair that she used to comb into an umbrella to shade from the sun. When I was a child, my parents bought me a black doll that had a lot of hair. My mum nicknamed her Mulevwana. I loved that doll and appreciated my parent’s effort to buy my sister and I black dolls. I always wanted a black Barbie doll, but it proved impossible to buy one. In those days, most things came from the UK and black Barbie dolls had to be ordered from America.

Getting back to topic, my hair has always been admired because it is thick, it is black, it grows long and it looks extremely healthy. I have always been been used to compliments over my hair. When I was a child (even though it was hard to comb), it was considered good hair because there was so much of it and because it was black.

Fast forward to my relaxed days and it was the same. However, my good hair became much more evident when I had locs. For all the five years I sported dread locs, people marveled that my hair was naturally black and was not dyed in any way.

I have to admit that I may have been a little snobbish about my good hair. Yes, I said it.

So, it came as a surprise to read in hair blogs that my 4b hair is not favoured at all in countries like the United States. At first, I was sure I was not reading correctly. What black woman or girl WOULDN’T  want to have beautifully thick and black hair like mine? Many it turns out. Yikes!

Every so often, I will come across a comment on a website or forum, with a woman sharing how she was teased and looked down on because of her nappy hair. I now understand why some would consider nappy a negative and hurtful term — they may have endured their entire childhood and beyond, being taunted by this fact.

It makes me very sad that had my family relocated to the States (as many did) when I was very young, I may have grown up with far less confidence about myself and my hair. In fact, many people in Zambia tell me that the reason I have the confidence to wear my hair natural is only because I have the ‘good hair’. Fortunately, much of what I have read is that even that notion is a false one. Everyone’s hair can be healthy (and grow long) if you choose it too. It is all about taking good care of yourself and of your hair.

So, the moral of my story is that I am glad that I grew up in Zambia and that I grew up in Africa. I remain proud of my 4b hair.

Picture from Grass Roots Movement

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