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Our women's obsession with wigs a classic case of self-hate

By Makau Mutua | June 23rd 2019

You can’t be your own liberator if you don’t love yourself.  You can’t free yourself from your own demons if you hate the person that you are. In fact, no one – and nothing – can free, or liberate, you if you are consumed by the evil within you. 

Self-hate and own-loathing are the most damnable cancers that eat you inside out.  They turn you into an empty shell – a shadow of a dead person walking. Those who condemn themselves through anger protest against self.

One clear manifestation of self-loathing is the relationship one has with hair. Many blacks, or persons of African descent, have a tortured relationship with African hair. It’s one of the key loci of internationalised psychosis of inferiority.

I’ve written about this demon, especially among black women, and gotten flak for it.  But that has only served to convince me that we need an intense and probing conversation about it. 

It’s like black skin. Some blacks hate themselves simply because they were born black. Their psychotic relationship with African hair is an integral part of their hatred of their own black skin. Their understanding of black and African identities is stunted – truly retarded – and is symptomatic of a sickening slavishness to whiteness and Eurocentricity. 

Now, they want to normalise certain “hairs” and hairstyles. Not so fast. Let’s interrogate the genesis and kernel of this illness. I hope they are introspective, but I think they won’t care.

All – and I mean all – ideas come from the natural world. As humans, we haven’t since the beginning of our conscious existence come up with an idea that wasn’t “stolen” from existing natural phenomena. Think of a few. 

Airplanes mimic birds. The atomic weapon simulates the great explosions that created the universe. Computers are simply an inanimate copy of the human brain. I could go on. The simple story of human life is this – monkey see, monkey do. That’s how we learn as infants out of the mother’s womb. We mimic, copy, and emulate. That’s how we build both individual and societal wisdom. But – and any fool will tell you this – we shouldn’t copy every damned thing we see. 

Let me not keep you hanging. Different races and ethnicities have certain generalised physical features. For example, you can generally tell a black person from a white one, although there are many inscrutable, or undiscernible, cases.  In the US, for example, as in many societies deeply infected with racism, a good number of blacks passed – and still do – as whites because their physical characteristics make it possible to fake their socially constructed racial identities. 

They are ambiguous enough to hide their blackness. The reverse – where a white person passes as black – is almost never the case. Some whites will cheat on race identity to access the benefits of affirmative action programmes. Doesn’t mean they want to be black.

Blacks who pass as white want – crave – to be white.  There’s an epidemic of blacks who “wear” the accoutrements of whiteness. Let’s take Kenya, for example, and the country’s celebrity and upper classes. Don’t accuse me of misogyny but allow me to focus on women in these two classes because they set the cultural standard for other women and drive the big commercial business of ugly “European” wigs (pieces made of long straight faux or real European or Asian hair) and straightened hair. 

They parade themselves on Instagram touting their “beautiful hair.”  I find this “hair pornography” particularly revolting. Imagine the hair piece falling off during intimacy, or an expected rain shower matting the straightened hair. Sad.

Where did black African women get the idea that “white wigs” or straightened African hair is beautiful and preferable to their natural African hair? Remember, all ideas come from the natural world. Did they just dream it up? Or invent the concept of straight hair? 

Of course not. Because of white supremacy and Eurocentricity, blacks – and Africans since colonial rule – have been brainwashed that white is intelligent, beautiful and superior. Conversely, that which is African or black is savage, dumb, primitive, and subhuman. So natural African hair is kinky, rough, not fine, ugly, nappy and difficult to manage. Hollywood with its “beautiful” white blondes and brunettes – with TV-made flowing waves of straight hair – is the gold standard for beauty. 

This is what now passes for beauty in Kenya. Black Kenyan women are passing as dumb copies of white women. They mimic whiteness without shame. What’s more depressing is that these women are not “woke” enough (politically and socially conscious) to know that the white world has snookered them, in a manner of speaking. 

In political science, it’s the pedagogy of the oppressed – where the oppressed identifies and embraces their oppressor in a manner akin to the phenomenon known as the Stockholm syndrome.

- The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC.  @makaumutua

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