Not so long ago, I was chitchatting with two friends of mine, a Somali and an Indian. For some reasons, we talked about some of the misconceptions regarding hairstyles given that my hairdo raised suspicions, not exactly an Afro-look kind of hair nor does it entirely look like locks. Questions like ‘does a typical black African hair grow always puffy?’ What do Africans do to let their hair stand like that? How do they wash their hair? What kind of shampoo? And so on were at the center of that conversation. And to ‘How on earth did you get your hair so naturally twisted’, was and still is a question I cannot properly answer. Recognizing that my do is to some extent, a result of my laziness makes it easier for another person to understand. Yes, at some point I got fed up combing my hair every morning before class to be yelled at hours later by my teachers that my hair looked ‘unkempt’. Interestingly after that conversation with my friends I came across the #supportthepuff movement on the internet.
Basically, the hashtag made its way on social media after C.R Walker Senior High School in the Bahamas asked some of their students to take care of their ‘untidy’ and unkept’ Afro puffs and other natural hairstyles, and that they needed to be changed. Responses to this were rather furiously harsh ranging from parents’ reactions ‘[…] her hair does not affect her brain… What could possibly be so wrong with this hairstyle?! She is a black child with thick natural hair!!!’, to support movements across the world on Instagram with the hashtag support the puff. Multiple petitions were created in a matter of days, one of them stated ‘This Petition has been created in support of those students and we encourage you the potential voter to consider the damaging effects of telling our precious darlings that in the in the year 2016, their hair is not good enough to be worn naturally. Sign the petition today and remember to #SupportThePuff.’ and has gotten 1503 signatures thus far.
This issue ties in the much larger discussion of racism and racial stereotypes. Throughout history hair has been used as a tool of cultural expression and identity especially by people of color. The Afro hairstyle emerged in the 1960s in the middle of the civil rights movement to be a symbol of rebellion, pride, and empowerment. Among other art exhibitions, in 2015 Liverpool held an exhibition with the sole purpose of investigating ‘the significance of hair in Black culture, from African styles to dreadlocks and the afro. It is said that hairstyles could have been used to indicate someone’s family background, tribe and social status in the early African civilizations. When slavery was abolished, it is to be believed that slaves of African descent tried to adjust the hair according to the mainstream white society as they were trying to fit in. Aaryn Lynch the Liverpool exhibition producer, told BBC that ‘Black people felt compelled to smoothen their hair and texture to fit in easier, and to move in society and in camouflage almost.’
The question of knowing when hair started to be an expressive weapon is still widely debated upon. The #SupportThepuffs could possibly be an evolution of the Rastafarian theology. In its early days, Rastafarianism followers were asked to keep their hair uncut and twist it into locks instead. The locks were then thought to be disgusting and frightening, however, they persistently remained in the Afro-Caribbean revolution with Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey as leading figures amongst others. In the modern pop culture, I can cite Beyonce with her hit ‘Formation‘ that grabbed the world’s attention with the line ‘I like my baby hair, with baby hair and Afros’. Weaponising hair not only to serve cultural wars but also to demonstrate one’s strength should be traced back to the Roman apogee era. Samson was believed to have seven locks on his head which, once cut would be a direct attempt to his potency. What does this biblical tale tell us about today’s support the puffs movement? Aren’t we seeing people being victims of their own look (hair)? Could then this be an attempt to diminishing the abilities of people of color? In the end, hairstyles should not be a threat to anybody especially when associated with a particular cultural group, hence,
how can a community tackle this issue for the better?
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