I had an interesting conversation with a black man yesterday. It was a familiar conversation, with all too familiar themes: intent to do a DNA test to discover, which tribe in Africa he is from; he now has an African girlfriend and has decided to stop dating non-black women, “because once you go black, you can’t go back,” he says. However, he utters another recurrent misnomer, by claiming he is biracial because of his light skin, which is about a shade darker than Will Smith’s. By his logic my mother and my sister must be “biracial” too and I needed to do my DNA test, which would reveal some “white ancestry.” He claimed part of my family was “red-boned” like him.
For the record, I do not have any oyinbo blood (at least as far as I know in my recent family tree), and I have never claimed to be descended from any oyinbo (white person in Yoruba language). I am perfectly happy, content and proud of all the black sub-Saharan African blood in me. I embrace the complexity and humanity of being black and African. I was having a conversation with a cop, who is one of the funniest people I have met, and it is always relaxing just shooting the breeze with him. However, his limited perspective looms over the minds of some Africans, who are recent 21st century immigrants to the Americas as well.
I recall the excitement my ex exuded, once she discovered that the hair just above the nape of my neck was wavy, or curly as she put it. This was a clear sign that I had some kind of blood, other than black West African blood. For her, like many Nigerians, what was akin or at least just a step closer to oyinbo blood was Fulani blood. Fulanis are a mixture of ancient peoples from the Middle East and autochthonous West Africans. She asserted emphatically, “Rotimi, your hair is curly, I tell you I am certain you have Fulani blood in you!” Weirdly enough, there is Fulani on my paternal grandmother’s side. But nobody talks about it. I remember, because my dad had a first cousin, everyone called, “Fulani.” Uncle Femi had the hallmark features of a Fulani, with his wavy hair, light skin and spindly frame. He looked nothing like my father.
However, I dismissed her interrogation, because I thought she was just being silly, with her inordinate fixation on hair type. After she left me, she would call me to apologize for “breaking my heart,” but also to remonstrate what she believed was my lack of appreciation of the challenges, she faced with her hair type.
I wasn’t sure if she wished I could have “created” her with the long straight easy to manage hair type she desired. Really, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about at all. I just recall, at some point she cried in anger, “black hair is just so difficult to manage, and you have no idea what I go through!”
Of course, she would leave me for a long-haired pubescent looking Chinese boy. It was the best thing for her, given her love of straight hair. Her best friend, also a Nigerian, had married a very likable white guy. And we were in the habit of sharing dinners together. Once, after dinner, she had been a little drunk on the red wine, and as we all sat on the couch, she started touching her best-friend’s husband’s hair. She was quite fascinated with straight hair.
Oddly enough, when I was checking out how gorgeous a beautiful and attractive woman was, I don’t recall docking her on points for having less than easy to manage hair, or even no hair at all. She can’t escape the smile, her manners, kindness and what is in her head – displayed by her thoughtful words. What is in her head, not on top of it – that is what elevates my desired woman above the curve.
I am not one who bashes our African sisters for spending heavily on hair and weaves, etc. For me as an admirer, one of the beauties of being a woman is her freedom to experiment with her looks, as she is inspired. Hopefully, the experimentation is not detrimental to their health and well-being. And I leave it at that.
However, there is a point I am making with this treatise on skin color and hair type. And that is the need for Africans to love themselves and their fellow Africans as they (we) are.
A wise friend of mine, often blames the general downtrodden conditions of blacks on what she perceives as the self-hating element endemic in black societies. This is a rather simplistic, if not myopic way to put the quagmire that people of African descent find themselves in. But there is some value to the sage’s call that blacks must learn to love themselves and love each other as well. We should learn to do unto our fellow brothers and sisters of African descent, what we would have them (and others) do to us too. Blacks can never be emancipated spiritually, economically and socially, until they learn to embrace and love one another. How can anyone love you, if you do not love someone who looks just like you?