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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

To Resist What Persists

To Resist What Persists

Diana Kamara

It is not the first time someone walks to me and say: “What kind of a revolutionary are you? You don’t write, we don’t see you on political platforms.” And I ask myself: “Do they even know what a revolution is?”

They may be right, there seem to be a revolutionary spirit in me that is subconscious. Since being a revolutionary is a concept not bound to membership in cults and parties, I consider myself one (not to blow my own horns though).

When someone said it today that he does not think I am revolutionary enough, it reminded me of a moment at a hair salon when I was a student. On that day I had given my hair a treat by going to wash it at the salon instead of washing it at the hostel. It was long, a lot and so curly after being washed. On my right side there was a girl I used to see around campus and she pulled her eyebrows together, looking at my hair and wondered “Why such long hair? What are the weaves for?” So I gave her a blunt smile to shut her up. You can’t count hair but you could tell hers wasn’t so much. The chemical had exhausted the hair instead of relaxing it. Short, falling off, heat-traumatized brownish hair. As I quickly scanned it, I think it was begging to be on my head where it would eat natural oils every two days, a hot water bath at most after fourteen days and untouched on Sunday to relax after being stretched for the whole week. Too bad my head can only accommodate my hair.

I was more surprised than angry. For the first time someone did not see beauty, nature and Africa in my hair! I had not cut my hair for three years and I was now a finalist. My mind rolled back to the freshman days at Chuo. Tell you what; laws written are laws broken and laws unspoken are laws that govern. Usually as first year girls coming to Chuo, most of us have hair that were natural or exhausted but at least in fashions we desire and afford. We start going around town and every third person you see is a woman with a weaving. You board a shuttle and the girls laughing loud have contrasting shades of braids, the gender course professor has a few hair clips and when she turns you can still see hair peeping out of the clips at the back of her head. No wonder when we graduate some people are even embarrassed of the pictures they took during the first year. There is that visual pressure to confirm to the ideal appearance of a Chuo girl. All around you is hair hidden or hair exhausted.

The visual pressure is raised and raised by advertisements, media and social media. What we forget is that the women we see in adverts are paid to make us pay to have something like what they look as having. Those we follow in the media have their own ways of raising money to have the elaborate hair dresses and styles which look fresh and attractive. With the little loan money hair cannot be a priority.

This is when we need to lie to our parents if they can support us, get boyfriends who can pay us to pay for the hair we want. I have seen girls worried about their hair than their books when it rains. I remember my friend’s roommates complaining about a desa which was not worth more than a thousand shillings. They read it in turns and hence forced to discuss the notes before exams. They were all surprised I occasionally went to the library and made my own madesa because I was not satisfied with the lecturer’s notes. And I was surprised that each of them had five thousand plus money value on their heads.

My hair keeps generating incidences and stories to date. Some of the people maltreat me and sincerely apologize when they find out that I am not a student. Others have recommended that I should upgrade my hair and dressing so that I look like a real university lecturer (while am just a tutorial assistant!) and people will respect me. I ask myself: respect?

Ah, respect me like they respect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for riding on the “The first African Female President” donkey in her elaborate head dress, delicate pearl and expensive clothes? The same respect the first lady receives as she appears in Kitenge to receive award for “fighting for women” because of her marital status? Maybe they mean the same respect special seats female Members of Parliament (MPs) command while getting in the way of feminism and democracy? They will respect me for admitting to hate my hair and submitting to the visual pressure of the ideal woman who goes with trend she never creates.

We take for granted the heavy weight word revolution and not knowing why there have been so many revolutions in the world and only a few lived long enough to be meaningful. A revolution is not people shouting, rioting and taking media coverage. It is not a light trend that can be spread in social media and forgotten all about like people will forget the snow white of the year, Lupita.

It is never ‘just hair!’ It is a step forward or two backward in the revolution. It is hair, boutique clothes, Italian shoes, original lipstick and designer perfume. My hair is how I want to present myself and represent my identity as a young, elite, conscious African. I will not surrender to the woman who leaves at a billboard her smile held by fear for age. I will not shake hands with neocolonial notions of I am only beautiful if Hollywood blesses me so. I beg to differ with those who still see women for the hair and beauty, not the brains to reject assumptions that come with the hair. I take an alternative point of view when it comes to being a revolutionary. It is the ability to resist what persists after the day of the revolution, the hour of liberation, the minute of transformation and the moment of new temptations. 

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