A year ago, my daughter would say things like “Mummy, I want my hair to look like Tiffany’s hair.” I was not alarmed when this started because her friend Tiffany is a black girl with natural hair and what my daughter wanted was for her hair to be styled with beads like Tiffany’s hair. No problem! She got beads.
When the requests started going something along the lines of “I don’t like my hair, I want my hair to be straight like Christie’s hair,” my own kinky hair stood on ends. You see, Christie is Caucasian and has Caucasian hair. And here was my African child wanting straight shiny, bouncy Caucasian hair like her friend Christie’s. I thought it was a one off request until she started saying that she wanted her hair to be like her nanny’s hair (her nanny wears a straight weave or relaxed hair most of the time).
This got me wondering if I was not being remiss in my duty as a parent by assuming that I did not need to speak to my daughter about how beautiful each person is in their different ways. Teaching her to love her kinky African hair and by extension other things that make her African/Nigerian. You would think that at the age of four, it is much too early for conversations like that. Especially as we live in Nigeria.
While my hair is natural, I am the only one of my sisters and extended family that has natural hair. Yeah, I stick out like a sore thumb but who cares? My daughter has grown up seeing relaxed hair and long weaves on her female relatives. She has a number of Caucasian friends (who she refers to as being white while she refers to herself as being brown) and for some reason she focused on straight hair as being her idea of “beautiful” even at her young age.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against females that choose to relax their hair. I am just wondering what sort of message our kids are getting and how that message spills into other things like what the accepted way of dressing, talking e.t.c. is.
I know Nigerian parents, living in Nigeria, that have sent their young primary school level children to boarding schools in the UK because they did not like the fact that they were sounding so Nigerian (you can’t make this stuff up). I also know parents, living in Nigeria, who flatly refuse to let their children learn a Nigerian language, insisting instead on English (our lingua franca) and a European language like French or Spanish…I am NOT kidding. No be say dem say. Suddenly meals like Eba and soup are being thrown out of the weekly menu at home and are being replaced by Indomie noodles, hotdogs and pizza. It never ceases to amaze me when I speak Igbo to my daughter in public places and people are dazed at the fact that she can understand me. Hello! She’s Igbo! It’s her language. Unfortunately she does not speak it but I am hoping that will change with time.
I do believe in exposure to different international cultures, but you really can’t expose a child to a culture if the people have let their culture die can you? Can you Imagine a France where no-one speaks French or drinks wine and eats smelly cheese? What if they all decided that being white was not cool and got permanent tans or locked their hair? What if you go there and they do not maintain their old buildings and let it all fall to ruins….imagine no Eiffel tower? Now, think of Nigeria. What will we have 50 years from now that is representative of our culture? Of who we are?
So I guess my questions are: what are our children getting from the way we act? What will our legacy be for them? Is it really that uncool to be Nigerian/African? What can we do to right this wrong?