50 years of hairstyles are captured in this beautiful book.
For today’s book about Black hair, I’m digging into the Meltingpot archives to re-introduce the work of Nigerian photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere. Last year he published a book of black and white photographs, capturing 50 years of Nigerian hairstyles. I wrote it about here on the Meltingpot, so you can revisit that post and get lost in his stunning portraits of hair artistry.
Today’s Black History Month book about Black hair isn’t really about Black hair, but Black hair does feature a prominent role in the story, so it counts. The book is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read this book when it first came out in 2013 but I’m reading it again because I assigned it for homework for one of the classes I teach at Temple. And I cannot believe how prominently Black hair and Black hair culture are featured in the story and moreover, how perceptive and precise Adichie is at describing not only the specifics of Black hair styles and hair styling, but the culture surrounding Black hair here in the United States and of course, in Nigeria. Yes, the book is really about two Nigerians and their epic love story that spans years and crosses continents, but don’t discount the importance of the hair in all the drama.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie & Ms. Meltingpot in 2013
If you haven’t read this book yet and you want to read a great story set in modern day that features unique characters and lots of hair stories, you should pick it up. And if you already read it, read it again. I am and I still love it. And FYI, you might want to get the book read before the movie, starring the divine Lupita Nyong’o and the delicious David Oyelowo comes out. You’re welcome.
The hairstyles are amazing and each one is imbued with meaning. Many of them harken back to the styles my co-author and I wrote about in Hair Story, in the chapter about pre-colonial hair practices. In general, one’s hairstyle said something about one’s identity. So, a person with a lot of status in the community, for example, would have a very elaborate hairstyle, man or woman. On the other hand, a woman in mourning, would wear a very subdued style. Each family also had their own style that served as an identity marker. Viewing these pictures of Ojeikere’s makes me believe that the significance of the hairstyle has not changed much over the years. They are still clearly a source of identity as well as style.
Of course Black people aren’t the only ones who use the hair as a medium for identity messages. What about you dear readers? What does your hair say about you?
So, most of you know that I’m knee deep in the research for my new book, Same Family, Different Colors. Currently I am at work on the chapter focusing on Latino families and their issues with colorism, and let me just say I feel like I’ve fallen down a Kinky Gazpacho wormhole like no other. It’s fascinating how far back the Afro-Spanish alliance stretches into the past, here in the United States, in the Caribbean, in Europe and of course, Africa. But despite the long history of cultural clashes, connections and co-opting, Black and Spanish remain unsettled in the Latino community.
So, these colonial Spanish Castas paintings didn’t help, or rather they did help give the Spanish speaking world a social hierarchy based on color.
Perhaps you read about the Univision television host, Rodner Figueroa, who recently compared First Lady, Michelle Obama to a cast member of the Planet of the Apes? Or maybe you’ve heard about the horrific treatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic of late? Or maybe you, like me, just happened to notice that almost every famous Latina beauty in the Untied States is on the fair side of brown (see, Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, Cameron Diaz as examples). This rejection of Blackness runs deep and wide and I’m trying to find out why. Of course there’s colonial Spain to blame, global White supremacy and good old-fashioned American racism, but still it seems like an unusual amount of effort is put forth in the Latino community to deny the Black behind the ears/the Black abuela in the closet/ and all of the other African family secrets everyone seems to have. Where is the love, I wonder? (Part of my research involves finding that Black love/Black pride, I hope.)
Make no mistake, Latinos in the United States are no more color struck than anybody else, if one could even quantify that. I just happen to be fixated on them right now because that’s where I am in my research journey. Not to mention, as a member of my own personal Afro-Spanish alliance, raising three Afro-Spanish kids, the research hits very close to home. So, that’s where I am. And that’s why I’ve been listening to this Concha Buika song on repeat. It gives me hope. Enjoy and you’re welcome.
P.S. If any of you dear readers identify as Latino and were raised /or are in a nuclear family where family members had/have different shades of skin and you’d like to share your story, whether there were/are issues or not, please send me an email to MyAmericanMeltingpot@gmail.com with Latino Story in the subject line. Thanks!
Alex Boyé and Lexi Walker get Frozen, with an African twist.
Hi Meltingpot Readers,
Do you have a small female in your household who is obsessed with the song “Let It Go,” tends to run around the house with a blanket draped around her shoulders like a cape, and bangs on closed doors screaming, “Elsa, Elsa, let me out?” I do. And it’s quite comical bordering on annoying, especially since my small female has never even seen the movie Frozen in its entirety. She thought it was too scary. But boy does she dig that song. And apparently at preschool, there is a pint-sized Frozen scholar who fills babygirl in on all that she’s missed by not actually viewing the film.
Needless to say, when el esposo‘s sister posted this video on Facebook the other day, I was thrilled and slightly confused by this African, world music, Frozen mash-up. But the Ms. Meltingpot in me was intrigued. Have you seen this?
So, as it turns out, talk about a Meltingpot story, the man behind that music mash-up is Alex Boyé, a British man of Nigerian descent who became a Mormon and now uses his music to spread the gospel and introduce the world to African music. Talk about a meltingpot mission. You can read about Boyé’s interesting life here and hear more of his music here.
So, you know I’m working on my next book that will explore the role of colorism in American families. Right now I’m deep into the research, so the majority of my waking hours are spent trying to figure out why so many people of color only see beauty and self-worth in light skin. As you can imagine, it’s a search with no satisfying answer and it is almost impossible not to have a head banging moment at least once a day when I discover something even more ridiculous in terms of the lengths people have gone or will go to erase the pigment from their skin. Like Japanese geishas using nightingale poop in their facials because it reportedly lightens the skin.
And then yesterday, I saw this on the bottom shelf at the grocery store.
Black soap, white skin. What’s wrong with this picture and this product?
Yes, it’s skin lightening soap, but that’s not what made me pause. It’s the fact that the soap is manufactured by the same company that makes African Black Soap. That just seems so wrong, so I did a little digging to find out who owns this nefarious company that promotes itself as traditionally African, yet creates products that would strip Africans of one of their most defining features, their dark skin. I guessed it might be a White-owned company, because they wouldn’t care much about the politics of identity and might be greedy enough to try to sell African pride and Black self-hatred on the same store shelf. Then I realized that skin lighteners are big business all over Africa today, so it could be an African company that simply tries to please all of its customer base. What I didn’t suspect is that Mandina Industrial Corporation, makers of African Black Soap and Skin Lightening Cream, was started by a Bangladeshi media tycoon in Brooklyn, New York.
The things you learn. Do you care who makes your soaps and shampoos? How often do you see skin whiteners on the store shelves? I’m so listening.
I think all of you know that I’m a huge Chimamanda Adichie fan, especially after having the chance to meet her in person last year while she was in Philly for a reading from her latest novel, Americanah. And truth be told, I love her as much as I love her books.
So, of course I was only too thrilled to see that I don’t have to wait for her next book to be released to satisfy my craving for new content from her. She’s started a blog, or rather, the main character from Americnah, Ifemelu started a blog, The Small Redemptions of Lagos. Written by Adichie, but in the voice/character of Ifemelu, the blog is a continuation of where Americanah left off and covers contemporary issues in Nigeria today, like the Ebola virus. It’s really a cool concept. I suggest you check it out if you’re as much of an Adichie fangirl as I am.
Let me know what you think. I’m so listening.
P.S. Did you know Lupita Nyong’o is reportedly turning Americanah into a film in which she will star? Be still my brown girl heart.!
Earlier this week, my co-author and I had the privilege of appearing on Arise360 to talk about Hair Story. What? You’ve never heard of Arise360? Well, then you heard it here first but don’t think it will be the last time. Arise360 is a daily entertainment and culture show on the new Arise Network which launched in early 2013. In Europe and Africa, the channel is available on cable. Here in the United States, you have to watch online. Yes, people, an entire new network was launched and sadly not a lot of people are aware of it. But I’ve been told by a little birdie that that’s about to change.
So, let me give you the 411 so you can be in the know, before the rest of the world. So, Arise is the brainchild of Nigerian media mogul, Nduka Obaigbena. He believed the world was more than ready for a media outlet that covered the world and not just the White and powerful. His products are gorgeous, informative, smart and multi-ethnic. The TV network is just the latest of many initiatives. Every time I page through Arise magazine or watch Arise TV, I am so thrilled that Mr. Obaigbena had the balls, brains and initiative to bring the world what it needs when it comes to fresh voices and colorful perspectives in the public sphere. We need that diversity in our news today more than ever.
Wouldn’t you agree? So, how many of you have heard of Arise? What do you think so far?
My name is Lori L. Tharps but around here I go by Ms. Meltingpot. I am a Black woman married to a Spanish man, raising two brown boys and a beige babygirl. I am an author and a professor. I like books, babies, Black hair and things that make my inner meltingpot smile. Take a look around and maybe you'll find a reason to stay.