|Angela Davis with her radical Afro
As a mixed race woman with soft curls the one thing I always knew - old ladies would tell me in the street - was that I had lovely hair - this was before the tyranny of straighteners. Even my Mum knew I had the easier option, she didn't have to learn how to 'do' Afro hair and as a working woman with no time to fuss about she just kept my hair boy short until I was old enough to complain.
It wasn't really long until secondary school, where my teachers would regularly tell me off for messy hair telling me I looked like 'The Wild Man of Borneo'. Yes, that. Many times.
But although my hair was frizzy it did mostly hang down. If any of you have observed small black girls in a, say, nursery school, (not these days dressing up boxes routinely contain wigs) you might have noticed them tie long skirts or t-shirts round their heads to make the required, swishy, 'princess hair'. Black tightly curled hair was always described (by white writers) in a derogatory way as 'woolly' or 'wiry'.
You might not be aware of the massively complicated politics of black hair. Is it right, for example that the only way to get on (be employed) is to apply shit loads of chemicals or tightly woven on extensions to obtain the necessary Michelle Obama straight hair style? The chemicals in these products have been shown to increase the possibility of fibroids and are highly toxic, the weaves can pull and damage hair growth and cause all sorts of problems.
You may be aware that Afro hair is different to European or Asian hair, heaps drier for a start. And that years of treatment or wig wearing (many black women of the previous generation to mine had wigs for work and church) could result in real damage.
You might not know that many employers will not employ black women with natural hair - an Afro, or corn rows or locks. In fact I remember in one of my last proper jobs working in a bookshop in Whitechapel where the head of the arts centre that ran the shop - a lovely white woman told us employees - including the bookshop manager - who had short locks - that she could not abide them, because they looked 'dirty'. Airlines and the US army have banned braided hairstyles when surely these are the neatest going? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27626509
You might think that this sort of thing never happens these days.
You might not be aware that there is a movement among young women who rail against it and go natural - this I am happy to say is a thing nowadays with many many You tube channels chronicling the trails of going product free and sharing information about natural oils and conditioners to keep their hair healthy.
It has been said by some that when black women refuse to make their hair conform to the European/Western standards it can be seen as dangerous, as a form of defiance. Think of Angela Davies and her Afro. Society wants us to be something we're not. I am rather pleased there are so many women reclaiming their hair and deciding that they can be themselves rather than spend money and time trying to make themselves acceptable to the wider society.
And as I said in an earlier post Chris Rock, the American actor has made a rather good film that explores the subject in more depth. It's called Good Hair.
Catherine Johnson has always been lucky with her hair. She is also writing a film called Relax based on the story of the British company, Dyke and Dryden who first imported chemical hair relaxer into the UK.
Her next novel is called The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo, it's out in July.