Custom Search 1

The importance of having an Afro

AFRO TO NO AFRO: The Jacksons (left to right) Marlon, Jackie, Michael, Randy and Tito, plus brother Jermaine made the rest of us look like baldheads

I CAN’T have been more than eight or nine when I first realised the incredible importance of having an afro. You see, back in dem days (we’re talking very late sixties or early seventies now) black boys only had one hairstyle. That was invariably known as the ‘skif e’ or the ‘skiftel’ depending on which part of the islands you originated from. For us Nigerians, it was just known as a ‘cut’. Your dad took you down to the barber’s on a Saturday to get a cut.

There was no fade or high top fade or mohawk or even- all-round. It was just pure and simple a cut and the barber man couldn’t wait to take it all off. Honestly, it was like there was only one setting on his clippers and that was ‘bald’, which was less than a number one. And it used to reduce us boys to tears because we knew what was coming on a Monday morning at school – bare slaps to the headtop. Especially from the other black boys who had somehow managed to avoid the barbershop execution line two days before.

It really was like an execution. If you saw the faces of us boys as we waited for our manhood to be shorn off you will know how Samson felt when Delilah betrayed him. Why, oh, why... Delilah?

Thousands of years on and fellas still haven’t gotten over it. Why on earth our fathers insisted that we endure the same fate is beyond me. No wonder boys want to stab their dads in the heart and marry their mothers. Don’t cuss me for that thought. Blame it on Sophocles and Freud’s Oedipus Complex.

Apparently it is true, all black men want to murder their pappas and make love to their mammas... according to old Sigmund. But then again, whoever believed anything he ever said?

Only the teachers that taught us in our schools, the child psychologists and the council care home workers who felt that they knew more about us than our own parents and were quite content to let us grow our hair as long as we wanted, that’s who. They are the ones who studied Freud’s child psychopathology.

Is it any wonder then that our children are so f**ked up? Is it any wonder that it is not only our daughters who are wearing weaves nowadays? You see since the mid-sixties we knew something was bubbling hair-wise in the States.

In fact ever since Stokely Carmichael coined that phrase ‘black power’ (why did it take so long to come up with that one – were the poets of the black generations not doing their job suf ciently well?) and gave us something to think about whilst our white counterparts were thinking that the power lay in flowers.


Well, it did for them, but not for us. Whilst they were engaged in the 1967 summer of love with owers in their hair in San Francisco, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were guring out how to feed poor black children in the schools of Oakland (San Francisco’s twin city, where all the black people live) and as they were thinking about it their hair was grow- ing...SLOOOOOOOOOOOWLY.

That’s one thing we are all agreed about black hair. It grows SLOOOOOOOOOOOOWLY. It’s egregious but there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s the way God planned it – for our hair to go like a corkscrew rather than in a straight line and for us to take our time between shifting from one fashion to another. Look how long it took Bob Marley to switch from an afro to dreadlocks. We’re talking three or four albums worth of time if you include the Lee Perry LPs and the first two on Island Records – Catch A Fire and Burnin’.

Yes, something was happening Stateside. We knew that. We only had to look at the pages of Ebony magazine to see that the lifestyles of middle class black people over there was slamming and far better than the lifestyles that we were suffering over here. But we couldn’t quite put our anger on what the difference was.

Many of us suspected it was something to do with the incremental growth in the length of men’s hair, or the black Yanks’ Billy Dee Williams moustaches or the fact that they smoked what was then considered to be ‘cool’ menthol cigarettes (the black- man’s smoke/lung cancer/ death). Especially those long thin ones they called More.

Yes, can you believe that, they called it More because they reckoned that if you wanted to get a message across to a black man you don’t flim- flam around with the sophistication of the Marlboro man, you just tell black people: More. Smoke this and you’ll want MORE. Have some MORE. MORE emphysema. MORE lung cancer. MORE! MORE!!! MORE!!!!!

Poor us who thought that the magic and the secret of black American success lay in the cigarettes. Most of us who believed that nonsense ain’t around anymore. Those of us who were sensible enough to believe that the power lay in the hair, on the Jacksons Marlon, Jackie, Michael, Randy and Tito, plus brother Jermaine made the rest of us look like bald heads other hand, were foolish enough to think that we could grow our hair out too and be just like the Yanks.

Until Jermaine Jackson popped out of nowhere with the biggest afro the world had ever seen, which made the rest of us look like baldheads – afro or no afro.

Along the way, we have to give a big shout out to Messrs Dyke and Dryden who gave us the afro comb and became the first self-made black British millionaires together with their partner Tony Wade. We have to also give a big shout out to Professor Angela Davis for making the afro not just a feminine issue, but a black feminine issue.

And we have to give props to all those positive brothers and sisters who spent hours in front of the mirror making their afro look just perfect and who then strutted their stuff on the streets and the discotheques of the time acting like they just got out of bed and their afro was perfectly groomed and in- tact throughout the night.

It wasn’t just white people who believed that. I was one of the suckers who thought that afros don’t crumple. But then how was I to know. By the time I managed to grow what could only be regarded as the beginning of an afro, everybody was locksing up.

World Afro Hair Day takes place today (September 15) from 10am to 1pm (kids/youth) and 5pm to 8pm (adults) at the Church House, Westminster in London.

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your Voice memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the following hash tag: #Voice35Years

Read every story in our hardcopy newspaper for free by downloading the app.

Facebook Comments