On 28th November 2017 “My Fro & Me” – Hair Stories from Women of Colour – was at The National Theatre, London, UK. We talked hair, culture, identity, Eurocentric ideals of beauty on our stage and screens, and discrimination.
“The prime responsibility of the theatre is to show a culture its own face so that it may reflect upon it. But art also has a responsibility to preserve the past, so that a culture may reflect upon itself in the light of its history” – Kristin Linklater
The Circle Way
For sharing Hair Stories, we held space in the round. We used beautiful black dolls (from Diverse, in Brixton, London) as our centre piece and talking stick. To speak, hold a doll. Then pass the talking piece on and hold space. The power of the black doll, cannot be underestimated. Read more in Ms Kenyah Nyameche’s insightful, and enlightening article: “A Dolly Like Me”.
We opened our Hair Stories with a poem called “I am my Hair” by Fiona McKinson read by my guest, and collaborator, Ms Nicole Moore. The poem was taken from “Hair, Power, Skin, Revolution”, a collection of poems and personal essays by Black and Mixed-Race Women, which Ms Moore edited. It begins:
Like Samson, I drew my strength from my locks.
In their duality, soft kinky keys that sit atop my head.
Standing above my shoulders in their afro stance.
Proud – my hair, my beauty, won’t let Delilah too close with her shears,
As she nears, my ends, I split!…
Hair Stories? I Love My Afro
As we started out our Hair Stories session, one leader (for each person there was a leader) said, things have changed. There’s so much to celebrate. Young girls with afro hair, LOVE their afros and have no desire or interest in changing their natural hair. The last decade has been a revolution. Not that we passed any judgement on the choice of not wearing hair natural.
This was not that kind of event. Many shared their choices on how they wear their hair. “I put on my hair as I put on my suit each day for work – my afro is my own private affair that I share only at home. I wear a wig because I want to”. Cutting hair short, for the freedom and no hassle, wearing braids for style out and protective maintenance. Whatever we choose, we shared it and celebrated it.
In true Afro Archives style, we also looked at the non-afro experience to compare and get to the roots. We talked about expressions of sexuality through hair and treatment of ANYONE trying to express themselves, no matter the gender, or ethnic background.
We got into politics and discussed the Chastity Jones case in the US: was this a correct ruling – that the employer in this case, Catastrophe Management Solutions, could expect Ms Jones to cut off her locs if she wished to get a job? The control of hair for women is current and historic.
Did you catch Actress Martina Laird talking about the Tignon Laws in Afro Archives episode Two? We have been here before. Our hair discussions took a really interesting twist and began to centre on the control of young black boys at school. Banning of fades, restrictions on length of hair – indirect discrimination? Attacking religion and culture? There was a case this year, of a mother Ms Tuesday Flanders, fighting for her son Chickayzea, to wear his locs.
Afro Archives centred on the experience of performers. I was delighted that this event, My Fro & Me, welcomed a spectrum of other professionals; we had lawyers, scientists, academics, fashion professionals, and many more.
Barber Shop Chronicles: Cultural Unity
My Fro & Me was part of talks and events at the National Theatre relating to a play called “Barber Shop Chronicles” by Inua Ellams. Barber Shop was set in Lagos, Nigeria; Peckham, London: Accra, Ghana; Kampala, Uganda; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe. As we travelled, stories were weaved together.
“The prime responsibility of theatre is to show a culture its own face…art has a responsibility to preserve the past, so that a culture may reflect upon itself…” That we have these uniting stories, connected to our hair, which is rooted in our culture is the argument for presenting all types of afro hair on stage and screen as part of the prime responsibility of art. No stereotypes, no restrictions, no good hair/bad hair. Just people being themselves. A failure to do so, is an attack on that culture and an act of discrimination. Hair is cultural. You can read more about Barber Shop and what took place during My Fro & Me in Bridget Minamore’s Guardian Article here.
We closed our Hair Stories session with a final poem “Happy ending” by Zakia Henderson-Brown also in “Hair, Power, Skin, Revolution”. Powerful words of unity of experience, and of celebrating beauty. It ends:
from the root
bergamot, her knuckles
tingle with the heat
of heavy historical
references on why
you are beautiful.
footnotes in her fingers
greasing grace all
through the tough parts.
Good and Sacred Times. Thanks to all who came AND Africa Fashion & the whole Afro Archives crew. Until next time. Fro Real.