By: Rachel Jones
I’ve definitely been away from the US too long, because as I follow the reaction to Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” I realize I will need Intensive Pop Culture Re-Orientation Therapy for months, perhaps years after I return.
I mean, when whole articles, talk show segments and self-righteous Twitter rants are dedicated to the “Becky With The Good Hair” phrase, I realize I’m way out of step with what American pop culture/media proponents care about. Now, PLEASE don’t take this as a negative critique of Beyonce’s new video album, because I’ve only seen a few random clips. The last thing I need is to get Bey-Stung by millions of her devoted fans. Truth be told, I’m actually totally digging Queen Bey’s empowered, socially-conscious imagery in her latest releases.
Also, don’t think that I do not understand the very valid conversation around the use of the term “Becky.” One of the funniest things I’ve seen lately was a “The View” clip of Joy Behar asking who the heck “Becky” was. It nicely illustrated how different ethnic communities appropriate terms which can deftly be used as weapons within the group, but can sail right over the heads of everybody else. But I had to giggle when Candace Cameron Bure declared she knew what the term meant, recalling its use in the Sir Mix-A-Lot song “Baby Got Back”…..
“Oh My God, Becky, Look at her butt…”
In other words, “Becky” is an African American insider term for a young white woman. And it’s rarely used in a positive sense. It’s meant to portray privilege, entitlement, and self-perceived superiority. But insider sniping about “Lemonade” aside, all the use of the term really communicated to me was the CENTURIES deep melodrama that strangles women and their hair. We spend far too much time and energy on our “crowns,” most often driven by the dictates of popular culture versus what makes sense for our lives and our comfort. And because in many parts of the world, the European definition of beauty is seen as the gold standard, it means non-European women have tortured their hair, skin and shapes trying to “get in to fit in.” (“Little Kim…you are in my prayers…”)
That is, until the Kardashian and Jenner sisters came along and decreed that Box Braids, big butts and wigs were cool. I suppose us non-European women should be grateful??? But that’s another post….
Anyway, 9 years on the African Continent have been kind to my #naturalhair. I first started twisting my wiry tresses in June of 2007, right before landing in #Uganda. I’d cut most of the chemically-processed part off, and wanted a relatively low-maintenance style since I’d be living in rural Northern Uganda, where I predicted that the few potential salons wouldn’t quite compare to what I’d been used to in Washington, DC. Mercifully, I even survived a Kampala dye job that made the top of my head look like the crack of an orangutan’s butt.
When my hair grew out a bit the following year, I took a deep breath and decided to commit to locks, a process that would fuse my hair into rope-like cords. Again, it was less a political statement than a move born of necessity. Exactly a year after moving to Uganda, I headed to Nairobi, and locks just seemed to make sense as I embraced life in Kenya. I was confident I could find someone in the Capital who could re-twist the roots of my natural hair every other month or so. Before heading to Kenya, I snatched up as many natural hair care products as I could carry during my US leave and set off on two journeys: one to deepen my knowledge of East Africa, and to also free myself from the tyranny of curling irons, chemicals and class-ism.
Because that’s what I think the global debate about natural hair is mostly about. Women who dare to enter the workplace with free-range curls, Afro puffs, braids or locks are too often considered less professional, or just plain weird looking. And I say it’s a global attitude because it doesn’t just happen in America. When I first got to Nairobi, someone at Nation Media Group headquarters asked me if I “meant to do that to my head.” Another woman recommended a stylist who could “fix” my hair. In 2016, I see many women AND men in Nairobi with natural hair, ranging from twists to puffs to locks, and I’m pleased with the growth of awareness and appreciation for natural hair styles.
I won’t begin to try and unpack the “Weave Debate” among women of African descent because I’ve never had long, straight sheafs of synthetic or human hair sewn onto my head. The closest I’ve ever come was having synthetic hair woven through my own to create individual thin braids, a style I adopted for close to a decade. I’m definitely a proponent of free choice when it comes to style and physical adornment., so to all my sisters out there, “Just Do YOU.” I’ll just end by saying that 9 years later, after a relatively healthy diet low on processed foods, using sulfate-free shampoos and coconut oil deep conditioner, and a stockpile of Carol’s Daughter Loc Butter, I’m thrilled with my naturally nappy locks. Anybody who wouldn’t hire me because my hair is not straightened, fried, dyed and laid to the side is an idiot. Anybody who thinks I’m not beautiful because my hair is a jumble of tightly fused coils might as well be blind.
I’m Rachella With the Nappy Hair, and I DO care. About an awful lot more than the latest Twitter fight or who might be divorcing who, or who’s wearing what designer, or how many followers I have on Instagram. Which is why I believe that upon landing in the US next time, I’ll be pulled out of the Immigration line and directed to a small dark room where “Formation,” “Lemonade,” “Live With Kelly and Who-EVER” and “Game of Thrones” will be screened on a loop until I collapse in a sodden heap and shout,
About the Author: Rachel Jones is one of LinkedIn’s 2015 top 10 media writers and international development media consultant.