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Something about black hair seems to upset white folks

By Smangaliso Mkhatshwa | 2015-05-16 06:57:16.0

I once lived in Edenvale, an exquisite scenic town east of Joburg. For many of us, Edenvale had become a transformed and ideal post-apartheid South African town until I went for a haircut.

I visited two hair salons. At both of them I was told, ruefully, that they were unable to help me because they were not experts in cutting African hair.

They didn't say their prices were steep or that I had not made an appointment. No. Their message was loud and clear, 'Go back to Soshanguve or some native township to have your hair cut. You guys are so special we whiteys need extraordinary genius to cut your kinky hair'.

I tried two other hair salons in the same city. Nowhere did I see Matshediso's hair being done in a white-owned hair salon. The good news, though, I now see Nomthandazo fixing blonde, red, white and brown hairs of white ladies in white owned hair salons. It is a step in the right direction.

Nelson Mandela seems to have reassured white customers that not only are the black hairdressers well trained in their jobs but that they will not cut the throats of white customers.

There is something about hair which seems to upset or provoke the disciples of Mussolini, Hitler, Verwoerd and their ilk.

You may have read about how African-Americans used to be turned away from white-owned hair salons. Americans were rather crude about it. They did not hesitate to use violence to discourage uppity black customers from asserting their social status in a white world.

The post-1994 South African whites are more subtle. They won't touch my kinky stuff, not because I am black, but because my hair is so special it needs someone with a university degree to service it. That is intended to make us darkies feel very special. Whites are afraid we might sue them if they ruined our hair.

I wonder, given this absence of specialised training for the troublesome black hair, whether the Minister of Trade and Industry should not subsidise the training of white hairdressers so that they can help black customers and make a lot of money.

In the interest of non-racialism, the Department of Trade and Industry should incentivise white owned enterprises to promote African hair styles. Just a thought.

I sympathise with black folks who try so hard to make their hair look Anglo-Saxon but are still discriminated against by white hair salons.

I wonder how many millions of rands are wasted by black people in Africa trying to make their hair resemble that of Caucasian folks.

The imitation is so perfect that oftentimes you can't tell the difference between white and black women, except for the colour of their skin.

What is happening today in our black communities seems to take us back to what the Black Consciousness Movement successfully dealt with in the 70s and the 80s.

While we are on the topic I'd love to see Michelle Obama wearing an Afro hairstyle. She would look more stunning. Above all she would empower her black sisters to be proud of who they are.

But I am digressing.

All I was saying is that my kinky hair is so special that white salons need a PhD to treat it. Why must 'isicholo' or Afro wig be less attractive than Madam van der Merwe's blond or red hair?

The average black customer is not interested in becoming an artificial black Caucasian. They just want to walk into any hair salon in a democratic South Africa and say, please I want ukuphothwa (twisting) or ukwelukwa (braiding), dreadlocks, 'cheeskop' or just a simple German cut.

Mkhatshwa is chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement

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