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Let’s do away, once for all, with disgusting ‘hair pornography’

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By MAKAU MUTUA
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I continue to be flummoxed why blacks — Africans and peoples of African descent — invest so much in whiteness. That’s why I went over the moon when Miss South Africa Zozobini Tunzi ran away with the title without mimicking white European standards of beauty. She spotted a slick short natural African hairstyle. She didn’t stop there. The beauty queen slammed the imposition in Africa of what she termed a “westernised type of beauty”.

I hope Ms Tunzi’s emergence leads to a “woke” conversation about the intellectual and cultural surrender among blacks to white supremacist notions of beauty. Why do so many black women brazenly repudiate aspects of the African body as undesirable and impose crude and disgusting white European facades on it?

I am shocked most by the incendiary language some black women use to assert their prerogative to mimic whiteness. They see absolutely no contradiction in being dumb copies of whites. They employ a number of tactics — most half-baked — to silence the criticism and interrogation of the mimicry of whiteness. They fiercely stand their ground on why “their choice” to wear fake long European hair can’t — and shouldn’t — be questioned. Personally, I find the white fake wigs disgusting on a black woman. I am not alone — many black women agree with me. I classify the fake European hairs with skin-lightening and nose-straightening surgeries. If one must wear a wig, why not one of natural African hair?

Let’s dig deeper. First, let’s put asunder the “choice” argument. Those who adorn the offending wigs often claim that it’s their choice to do so. It’s surprising they think the argument should end there. In their view, questioning their choice is an attempt to control their bodies. I find this thinking ludicrous. “Choice” isn’t a compelling rationale for deference to a social practice, especially one that’s anchored in white supremacy, Eurocentrism, and black self-hate.

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The argument is a lame attempt to silence the interrogation of a serious and malignant social and cultural practice. The answer to “bad” speech isn’t censorship, but more speech. People make bad choices all the time. To make choice infallible is anti-intellectual thought tyranny.

Second, what does the fake white European hair say about the black wearer? Attempts to silence criticism include drawing parallels with blacks wearing suits and ties. I agree Western clothing such as suits and ties are part of the cultural hegemony of the West.

But it stretches credulity to equate such articles of clothing with fake European hair, nose-straightening, and skin-lightening. The latter are an irrefutable manifestation of black self-loathing. They are a repudiation and own hatred of black anatomy and features of African biological identity. They are a hatred of the actual bodily self — the internal genetic self — and not an external piece of clothing. It says one hates that body part of the natural self.

Third, in Kenya — and this isn’t unique — black socialites and celebrities are at the forefront of selling what I call hair pornography. They flaunt their fake ugly long European wigs and present them as a thing of beauty. Personally, I think they look like clowns in Halloween costumes. But this form of self-hatred where the African values the European over the self has over the last several decades taken deep root in society. African socialites, like Hollywood itself, are teaching young kids that white is beautiful and black is ugly. That’s what I see mostly on TV in America, and it’s sad that mothers and sisters in Africa are teaching young girls — right from the crib — to hate themselves.

Fourth, I’ve seen some commenters online suggest that even ancient Egyptians and the Maasai straightened their hair. This is pathetic — clutching at straws won’t vacate the genealogy of the practice of fake European hair wigs in Kenya and the modern black world. It has nothing — zilch — to do with the Maasai and the cultural practices of the ancients. Ideas don’t come from the clouds. They are anchored in society.

Africans have been so pulverised and emasculated by the colonial project they can’t even see the fake European hair wig for what it is — as part of the global industrial cultural commercial complex built on the exploitation of notions of white supremacy and black inferiority to sell “beauty” products to blacks.

 Finally, let me recall a speech Malcolm X once gave on the difference between “field niggers” and “house niggers”. The house Negro, he said, would oppose a revolt by the field Negro to protect “massa” [master], his white enslaver. If the white enslaver’s house caught fire, the house Negro would say, “massa, our house is burning”. This is the pedagogy of the oppressed.

The oppressed internalise the needs, feelings, and values of the oppressor so deeply they defend them as though they were their own. That’s why some black women will defend to the death the fake white wig. But it’s hair pornography that we must eliminate from our culture.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.





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