When I think about it, the best part about being an Anthropologist is being able to occupy really interesting spaces and speak as an expert on the topic – because that’s what the long days and nights of academic productivity are about. So, in my capacity as a scholar and children’s book author, I was invited to be a panelist at the #CoilConversations event hosted by the Jabu Stone brand and engage in conversation with the MC, Noluthando Nqayi, the legend himself, Jabu Stone and an audience of beautiful, natural hair influencers from around Johannesburg.
Jabu gave us a captivating account of how and why he started his business. He speaks of being heavily influenced by Steve Biko, the ideals of Black Consciousness and sought to show African people that they could wear their hair in locs, instead of being dependent on relaxers as their only option. That same desire to provide a solution for his community has led the brand to expand to natural products as well. One of the scientists who is in charge of creating the formulas for the products was there and spoke passionately about how the next frontier is addressing the issue of traction alopecia that leads to receding hairlines.
I shared about Mpumi’s Magic Beads and how one of its beginnings was in my Anthropology research for Honours. In South Africa, we constantly have the repeated occurrence of the South African school system being so riddled with discriminatory policies, that black girls like Zulaikha Patel are forced to become activists. These hair policies are what drew my attention as a researcher because I wanted to understand how this keeps happening, especially when we claim to be a democratic country that is “non-racial.” Many school rules aim to be accommodating of schools’ diverse populations but, unfortunately, end up being enforced in unfair ways and children are burdened to either conform or revolt. While I admire the schoolgirls of Pretoria for their courage, I also think its a tragedy that anyone must become an activist and a political fighter in their childhood. The only way that things will change is if parents and caregivers strive to become more pro-active. As soon as the child or teacher expresses some dissatisfaction that could infringe on the child’s humanity, the caregiver should take it up with the relevant bodies. So much can be avoided if both sides willingly sit down and come up with solutions that are satisfactory for everyone involved.
Overall, it was such an informative conversation and I had a great time thinking along with everyone about the meaning of our hair.