The introduction of hair straightening to African women through colonization have become a way of life currently backed by various personal defensive explanations from different perspectives from women who pride in it.
In Ghana, ‘Relaxing’ is the term used for the process of chemically altering the hair while the straightened hair is known as a ‘relaxed hair’. Hair relaxing is also known as ‘perming’ and hair relaxers are usually called ‘perming creams’.
According to Lester (2000), the origin of hair straightening has its root from slave women who admired the easier-to-comb nature of their slave master’s children’ hair due to its straight and silk nature as compared to their rich African hair whose strands were tightly coiled, hard and a bit tough to comb.
Beginning to see this as a difficulty, slave women began to view their hair as a disadvantage and a hair inferior to the hair of white women. They lost appreciation for what they once valued. Can-Tamakloe (2011) in research done on the similar subject explains that the yearning for straight hair became a cultural element in African American society pervading even their literature.
She states an excerpt from Lester’s (2000) poem that describes the intensity to which straight hair was sought after by African Americans after the process of hair straightening with lye emerged.
Oh give me a perm Where the waves all roam firm
And the style and the body will stay.
While seldom is heard
A bad, blasphemous word
As my scalp becomes toxic sauté
In this poem, it is clearly seen that although the women at the time knew straightening their hair meant using toxic and harsh chemicals, they cared less as long as it was going to give them the straight hair they desired to make them feel free and appreciated. To the point after generations, cases filed by black workers alleging discrimination against their natural hair in the workplace have filled courthouses for more than forty years without positive results (Griffin, 2019). So what began as a personal desire by African slave girls has defined who African women are, to the extend we cannot be who we really are.
Feeling Appreciated! This gets me thinking, wouldn’t the one who created us also want to feel appreciated? After all, He could have made us goats or dogs or maybe fowls to only exist for a pot of soup. In the book of Isaiah 45:9, the prophet warned:
“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but one clay pot amongst many. Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?”
It is like me writing a book and the book telling me the type of cover to give it. In fact, it has no say. There are many wonderful books I have read whilst growing up, sadly I found some of them in weak coverings in dirty store rooms.
Funny enough, many Christian women easily judge, gossip or act shocked with women who decide to pull flesh from the waist line or other places on their body to add an extra flesh to their hips or buttocks. What these Christian women forget is that, with a permed hair, both you and that woman are saying the same words to God, “We do not appreciate how you have made us!”
Another scripture that as African women we need to reflect on is Jeremiah 13:23, which states;
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?”