Articles Part Two

                               POST-RACIAL HAIR AND HOPE by  DR. MAULANA KARENGA
                                         Los Angeles Sentinel, 11-03-09, p. A7

Let’s not pretend Chris Rock’s recent film, “Good Hair”, revealed any well-concealed secrets about how Black people, especially Black women, conceive and do their hair. The names of the chemicals have changed from “conk” to “creamy crack” and the irons have been transformed into new technological toys. But the urge and aspiration to alter one’s ethnic image and to parallel, if not embody, the Eurocentric paradigm, is as old as enslavement and racism and as deeply rooted and enduring as their evil effect. Indeed, Chris Rock’s daughter’s distress about her misdefined hair tells us not only about many among us with a racially problematized conception of themselves, but also about a pathological and pathogenic societal context that cultivates and sustains this conception.
The movie tends to focus on how we do our hair, but how we do our hair is, in itself, one of the least of our problems. However, the reasons we do our hair the way we do can be and often is a problem of serious significance. Thus, to discuss simply what we do to our hair without a credible engagement with the reasons we do it turns out as another diversion in the sense of both distraction and entertainment, done at considerable cost to a dignity-affirming conception of ourselves.
The “good” and “bad” hair issue is a question of how we see ourselves as a whole and how society reinforces or undermines our sense of self and worthiness in the world. Without this educational and corrective thrust, such a film easily moves from documentary to “mockumentary”, again presenting racial pathology, real or imagined, as a perpetual source of society’s entertainment. Indeed, it becomes just another way to reveal and bemoan another source and sign of pathology among us without any intent or expectation of correction. Under the oppressive gaze, judgment and treatment of a racist society, Frantz Fanon tells us a person and people can go thru at least four stages of psychological disintegration of self: self-doubt, self-denial, self-condemnation and self-mutilation. It begins, then, with self-doubt—doubting the worth of ourselves, hacking ourselves into unworthy pieces and constantly condemning ourselves.
We begin early to suspect a racial deficiency and set about questioning the worth and appropriateness of our physical presence, let alone our mental capacities. We question our skin color, nose, lips, hair and the life-affirming loudness of our laughter. We are, something evil tells us, too Black, our hair too tightly curled or our nose too bold, or our lips too large with loveliness and our laughter too loud and celebratory of life. We must restrain and restrict our Black selves, not speak ebonics, do the second “d” in “didn’t” and not concede the deep-structure tendency to change “th” to “f”, saying “Roof” instead of “Ruth”. And we are to take a knife to our nose, chop off our cheeks and wig, weave and burn away the Blackness of our hair and overall self-presentation. In this context of post-racial fantasies of White hair and the hope for ethnic invisibility, irrationality and self-injury run rampant.
Clearly, there is something seriously sick about a society that would cultivate even in successful, wealthy and otherwise highly-educated people the desire to dismember, disfigure or in any way “racially” correct themselves. This is a spiritual and ethical problem, especially for those among us who believe that humans are made in the image of the Divine and who at the same time believe we were made inherently unequal in Divine physical and mental endowment.
The contradiction is easily understandable, if we realize we are dealing with one of the greatest problems of our times—the progressive Europeanization of human consciousness and culture. This means the systematic invasion and effective transformation of the cultural consciousness and practice of the various peoples of the world by Europeans. This pernicious process is essentially achieved thru educational transformation, media messages and models, and technological dominance and deformation.
This produces three interrelated results. First, there is the progressive loss and replacement of the historical memories of the altered peoples. Secondly, there is the progressive dis-appreciation of themselves and their culture as a result of a conscious and unconscious assessment of themselves using European standards. And finally, it results in the progressive adoption of a Eurocentric view not only of themselves, but also of each other and the world.
This, in turn, leads to damage, distortion and diminishing of their sense of their own humanity and the increasing degeneration of the cultural diversity and exchange which gives humanity its rich variousness and internal creative challenge. Examples of this are also reflected in Asians and Latinos altering their eyes and noses; yellowing their hair; lengthening their legs and other self-redesigning in the image of Europe. It also means preferring European culture to their own and diminishing interest in their own classics. And it means European things become normal and normative, something toward which compliance rather than questioning is the proper and rewarded response.
There is no people without problems or practices which could not be called pathological, arguably insane or irrational and unquestionably self-destructive, even among the self-designated elite, elect, chosen and exalted. Therefore, when I lecture on various issues which self-designated superiors tend to see themselves as exempt from and above, I point out practices particular to them which bear considerable resemblance to ones they ridicule in others. After all, there are some self-designated superiors who strive to tame stringy hair, enlarge and pad insufficient lips, breasts, and butt, and seek color correction for an otherwise vaunted whiteness. Although this is not done because of a sense of racial inferiority emerging from oppression or a collective sense of deficient being, it nevertheless comes from personal perceptions of inadequacy.
This, of course, is said not to humiliate, but to impose a needed racial and religious modesty, shatter illusions of exemption and superiority, and conduct our conversations on the common ground of shared human weaknesses as well as strengths. Likewise, having made this point, I ask members of the so-called problematic and self-doubting groups to retrieve and embrace a more expansive conception of themselves and approach even serious problems in the most dignity-affirming and life-enhancing ways.
In this way, attempts at wigging, weaving and burning away Blackness become archaic and ethically unacceptable. And there is no need for fantasies of post-racial hair and hope of ethnic erasure. Instead, we confidently believe in the beauty of our own bodies; act in ways that define and deepen our sense of dignity; and clear space so that we can speak our own special cultural truth and walk in the world in the wonder and security of our own selves.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor of Africana Studies, California State University-Long Beach, Chair of The Organization Us, Creator of Kwanzaa, and author of Kawaida and Questions of Life and Struggle: African American, Pan-African and Global Issues.


It was as if Abati took his Hip Hop hoopla from my mouth.  Have you noticed that they even produce their videos in South Africa  because they want to be surrounded by white girls?  Dare Alade, in his latest video, serenades a white girl, but his principal market is    dominated by teenage black girls.  The girls must be comfortable with the slight otherwise, Dare would not dare offend them.  Our girls aspire to be white, the superior race, and our mothers come from them.  Our mothers damage our psyche as babies before we can begin to think for ourselves.  I would be surprised if the African American Professor Staples, who made useful critical contributions at the CORA Hip Hop Conference last week, did not wear white female hair style.  Our women do that without feeling guilty and that makes them guiltier than the Hip hoppers.  We are all guilty for not knowing that we are guilty for being ashamed to be Africans.  Centuries of slavery, racism, colonialism and neo-colonialism and now foreign religious brainwashing ensured and still ensure that  African women are loosing sense of self-worth.  Their idea of feminine elegance is to wear white female hair styles.  Flip through any issue of our week-end newspapers and picture magazines to see how far this disturbing trend of self-hate by our females has gone.  No class of black women is exempt: film and sports stars, musicians, students, models, literary gurus, politicians, academics, business executives, civil servants, religious leaders and followers, unemployed or working class spinsters and housewives, are trying desperately to pass for white.  They are all pampered as teenage daughters, with charming African hair styles, which they promptly abandon for white female hair styles as soon as they become of age to choose hair styles for themselves.

Advertisers of cosmetic products are the architects of the assault on our sense of self-worth, telling our women that light skin and long, shinny, bodiless, straight, white female hair styles, are the ideal for our women.  The advertisers hide the truth that light skin colour age faster than dark skin, and that every race has natural hair styles that suit and compliment her.  Africans have the greatest variety of elegant, feminine, beautiful, sexy, creative, ennobling, envied, open to further innovations, female hair styles, than all the other tribes of the world put together.  Our women have hundreds of matchless teasers from the ancient Nubian, Kanuri, Calabar, Edo queenly varieties, to the modern exquisite resourceful African tribal traffic stoppers.

The proper African female hair styles fall in the range of  low/full cut, to thick, rich, woolly, curly, alluring, lively, dramatic, healthy, luscious, moist, sheer, knotted, kinky, plaited, jumbled, tangled, crown of part-collected, massed or cascading hair, confirming (like the peacock’s crown for  the birds’ kingdom, or the lion’s for the animals’ dominion), our females’ ordained status as the human queens: brave, proud, confident, real,  important, dignified, feminine, irresistible. 

African women, wearing hot combed, straight, stretched, compacted or other white female hair styles, look inferior, like cheap substitutes and slaves, standing besides their true to nature white female peers; and like grandmas besides their proudly African peers with African female hair styles.  They invariably look like white headed black dolls, doubly empty inside, or like cats emerging from a forced bath of hot oil: ugly, slimy and abnormal.  So, one is tempted to ask, do our women wear white female hair styles out of a feeling of self-hate or because they are angry and want to shock and terrorize with their, I don’t care how I look pose, blacks they are ashamed of and whites that reject them?

Most modern African and Black women from around the world are ashamed to be African because African continental women are copying their African American peers.  There was this actress looking like a precious jewel in her African hair style at the Pan-African Night of Tributes in Los Angeles and a few hours later, was looking like grandma in her white female hair style, at a Pre-Oscar Gala.  Every April, Ebony magazine features black College Queens.  All of them wear white female hair styles that make them look like jokers and pretenders to the throne of beauty queens of any tribe, black or white.  Obviously, a great deal of confusion is going on in our women’s heads at the moment.  A kind of a split personality crisis.  If they cannot change their ‘black skin blemish’ fast enough, they can at least, jump start this with white female hair styles.

Of course, 400 years of slavery dealt a devastating blow to our feeling of self-worth. While Hiroshima bombing happened over a few days and the Jewish holocaust lasted a couple of years, without causing either of them the loss of cultural focus and identity, our dehumanization went on for 400 years and it was brutal and total.  It obliterated our languages, culture, traditional mores, religions, history, individual names and identity.  It was 400 years of no industry, learning, or progress, because we were running and hiding, not knowing who they would kidnap or murder next. 

Over two hundred million of our relatives died on the run or during the Middle Passage.  It was 400 years of unbridled rape of our women and the inhuman and ungodly castration of our men; 400 years of slaving like beasts of burden without pay on the plantations of Bible totting slavers; 400 years of not knowing what we did wrong to be visited with so much hate, violence and destruction; 400 years of not knowing if and when it would end, and it has not ended 600 years after.

The Jews and the Japanese received compensation for the terrible wrong done to them but our tormentors do not consider us human enough to deserve their apology and reparations.  We do not count in their records of human history, not even as a footnote and we are powerless to exert restitution because we are not united.  When men are powerless, their female folks tend to ride with the winners as booties, or in the hope of some of the master’s spoils robbing off on them.

In a recent Ebony magazine feature on black female senior executives, directors, and vice presidents of some leading US corporations, all of them wore white female hair styles that did severe damage to their look and age.  They obviously believed they reached their merited heights by being dowdy and loyal servants.  White leaders and bosses are not likely to be telling themselves, “I trust her absolutely because she is not true to her nature?”  There is courage and strength in not living a lie, which all sane leaders and bosses, whites inclusive, recognize and quietly respect.  Our girls cannot hide their basic nature under alien and unbecoming hair styles and assume that all is well. 

Senior black female holders of political offices in the US and African governments, including Michelle Obama, our first, first lady, think, passing for white with white female hair styles, encouraged their ascendance or appointment, and that foreign white leaders would resent them if they looked their natural African selves from head to toe.  For a start, it makes them look older than their real age, unattractive and undignified. It definitely offends the trust implied in the truism that: “real is more likely to be honest and reliable to deal with.” That is a conflict we all face right now, we are not real but we think we are, or do not care.

The current US Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Rene Sanders, is an exception.    She proudly wears dreadlocks and proud Africans love her madly for her courage.  We trust her; see her as our own; as a sister and a friend who wants the best for us.  It is an instinctive feeling because she identifies famously with us.  Another great Diaspora African mommy and beauty is Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of the US Congress.  I wish all our women, at what ever age, would emulate her and Robin Rene Sanders.  They look ageless, regal, strong, trustworthy, dependable and beautiful.  They inspire our confidence by being proudly African. That is what African women not contaminated by Western decadence look like.  It confirms that the Queen of Sheba’s extended family has not been completely wiped out by European’s plastic culture.

We have great female poets who, despite their age, could still win the Miss World title if they would be true to their African nature.  We have others in public eye, people others look up to, such as artistes, authors, film stars, who ought to know better, in terms of the correct public image to project, who do not feel there is anything wrong with their unnatural hair styles. 

We have daughters with long straight hair, of course, who look becoming because they are natural, but we also have black female TV hosts who wear pathetic, short or long, weightless, graceless, revolting, fake styles, thinking they look cute.  Such hosts would not get me out of bed in the morning to watch a ‘Good Morning’ TV show? 

When African American men were wearing pressed or hot combed hair styles not too long ago, many of us pined and prayed for the phase to pass.   Our urgent critical worry now is that we may not find proudly African sisters to marry by the morning.  May be we should buy our African American females, mirrors to look at themselves with the African eye every morning, before stepping out into the world?  Better still, we could send them the mirrors left behind in Africa in payment for slaves by slavers?   That way we might find some value for the mirrors, by using them to see what the slavers are still doing to our daughters’ mentality because, Diaspora Africans are continental Africans’ mirrors in modernity.

Female newscasters and talk show hosts on African television stations such as TVC, Mitv, Ltv, Galaxy, Silverbird, Channels, AIT partially at dusk and not day light, habitually wear white female hair styles. NTA is the only exception and I influenced them when a listening patriotic African, Segun Olusola, was in charge of programmes there. Typical cultural African programmes, such as Gbedu, Mo, Oge, on our TV stations, are routinely hosted by females unsure of their correct racial image.  The confused message they pass on with their unsightly non-African look, as against what they say on the programmes, apart from irritating their proudly African captive audience, discomforts the non-African viewer, eager to be treated to genuine and honest African scenes and entertainment.   

There was this presenter the other day on Ltv, with long, straight, artificial hair, drooping all over her face to below her shoulders.  She was shaking her head every few seconds to re-arrange the hair, and using her hands to transfer hair falling over her eyes to the back of her ears in typical white female manner.  It was a lot of trouble for her, but that is not the issue here.  On the programme, she was admonishing her listeners for not being true to their nature.  “We should be proud of our culture, stick with it, and show it off to the world,” she said, stoned face.  I had to touch my television set to assure myself, I was not dreaming.  

When a Nigerian won the Miss World title in 2001, she was looking a delectable African queen.  A year later, after her European sponsors had taken her around the world as their queen, she visited Nigeria looking like a masquerade.  No one could recognize her.  She had added 30 years to her age in twelve months, with her European hair style. 

If you ask our females why they take so much trouble to disfigure themselves, they say it makes them look beautiful.  It is all so very sad for our race because they (as our mothers) pass their feelings on to the average African child who prefers a white baby doll to a black one because the white one is more beautiful.   Then when you ask the child to point to the doll that looks more like him or her, he or she helplessly and slowly points to the black one.

The typical African right now, would tell you he or she is proudly African, wearing a suit in our noon day heat, and answering names like John, Jane, Stella or Stephen.  The young men are wearing hair styles the females should be wearing, with earrings and all to boot; the women are looking like scarecrows or extraterrestrial beings, repulsive, masculine and strange to our environment, in compacted, stretched, alien, unbecoming hair styles.  They look neither black nor white from bleaching to sore point, with accentuated stretch marks all over the covered body. 

Non-African tribes that would not try to change their nature as a race, by switching wholesale to African hair styles, religion, fashion, or answering African names, or burning black (in counterpoise to us bleaching), with injurious health consequences, that include kidney ruin, aggravated or heightened diabetes and hypertension, are difficult to fault for thinking that black IQ might be lower than that of the Chimpanzee.   

Naiwu Osahon, renowned author, philosopher of science, mystique, leader of the world Pan-African Movement.