Afro is Not a Dirty Word!

This is my beautiful daughter.

Of course, I think she’s the most beautiful girl in the world…

She’s just the whole package. She’s smart, she’s funny, and just look at that face. And those curls!

Man, I love her hair.

Surprise!

She has this funny saying when she wears it out.

She says she’s “letting it fly”.

It fits her personality so well.

A happy free spirit with the biggest heart.

Letting her hair “fly”.

Letting it Fly!

I learn so much from her, you know. Like how to just let it fly…

But not yesterday. Yesterday I didn’t know how to let it fly. And I didn’t know the right words to say.

See, yesterday a grown up told my sweet girl that she should fix her hair because

It looks like an afro.

She had no idea what exactly this meant, but she knew it was meant to be insulting.

I could see the confusion in her face when she came through the door, came straight to me and told me what they had said.

I could hear the underlying question… “What’s wrong with an Afro?”

What’s wrong with an Afro?

I did not answer the question directly. In fact I don’t remember exactly what I said to her.

In my mind though, I was asking myself

  • Really? Her hair is in twists, pulled back neatly with a headband.
  • So what if her hair was in an afro?

The fact is she often has her hair in “a fro” and the choice is usually hers (except for school).

And it is incredibly sad to me that, here in Trinidad and Tobago where we pride ourselves on being the melting pot of the Caribbean and a Callaloo people, there are still people out there who associate Afro with the connotations of our Colonial past – unkempt, uncivilized, and something to be tamed.

I do not accept this definition.

No that’s not quite what I want to say….

I reject that definition.

The physical does not define us

There was a time when ignorance and the master/slave mentality of the past led some to reject any form of “African-ness”, whether it was represented in skin colour, hair texture, or body shape. And it was widely accepted by society. Those days are behind us. And those of you holding on to those vestiges of the past? You need to let them go.

To you, I say… update that dictionary because Afro is no synonym for untidy.

Furthermore, we are not defined by your definitions and expectations.

We are no more or no less because of the colour of our skin, or our eyes, or the texture of our hair. And you know this. And while you may think that your comment is not racist, it is steeped in a racism you have embraced and are yet to acknowledge.

And while I can be tolerant and understanding of how views long held may be difficult to let go of, I do not have to accept what you attempt to dump on my daughter.

In the end, she will choose to be able to do whatever she wants with her hair. And not because she feels inadequate or pressured because of someone else’s very aged measure.

So far, we have never discussed her hair a way that gives it any more significance than her hands or her ears.

We have never discussed her hairstyles as anything more than expression of how she feels to wear her hair on a given day. So “afro” holds no more significance to her than “ponytail”.

She is not learning to love her hair, or accept herself, “in spite of“… There is no “in spite of“… Why should she? In spite of you?

You are not that powerful.

Whether she chooses to describe her hair as “natural” or “unprocessed” or just “mine”, she will not be burdened by your sad, outdated definitions.

Instead she will live each day exploring her world as a confident child without a reason for self-doubt. With hair that is her own, that is different from her mama’s, and from her brothers’, and from her father’s. As a mixed family, we all have different hair, and we are aware that there are a lot of other characteristics that define who we are.

None of them is physical.

My daughter hasn’t yet learned that in this world, some people will try to turn you against yourself, using your own body as a weapon. But here’s my firm opinion, as a parent, on that.

They can only hurt you – control you – if you accept their rejection and own it yourself.

And it is this lesson that I will, subtly, continue to teach.

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