Neither Here Nor There: Perspectives on Identity by the Young Eritrean and Ethiopian Diaspora in America

September 9, 2009

Hair Part II

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 5:39 pm

liyaendaleHair is such a cultural symbol that it truly plays a much larger role in our lives than we realize at times. I cut my hair off around the same time as Brittany Spears. I looked in the mirror one day and realized I did not know what I was truly meant to look like. It was one of the best decisions I have made.I learned so much about myself through the reactions of others. Here is a conversation I had about hair with an anonymous Facebook associate. It’s a perfect example of how hair is perceived as a cultural symbol– and how such symbols can be fluid. He was responding to my photo on the Miss Africa USA Pageant website which you can see above.

Anonymous: “Hey just voted for you and got a couple of my boys to do so, too. But I must say, the hair style wasn’t the best choice for an Ethiopian beauty u know. But still, go out there and REPRESENT!”

My response: “Wow! Well… I don’t know if I should be offended or flattered. Maybe a little bit of both. Anyway. Thanks for the votes. And remember what a true African represents… more than just ‘long straight hair’. That’s what we’ve been brainwashed to believe symbolizes true beauty. The essence of African beauty is encompassed by a woman who can rock a fro, still hold her head high, and turn heads. When she knows who she is and does not feel like she has to hide that with straighteners and chemicals, that confidence scares people. That is power, honey. And that is why I disagree with you and believe that this hairstyle is a perfect choice for this pageant. Thanks for the opinion though. And keep the votes comin’! I need your help if we’re going to rock this competition.”

Anonymous: “I see where you coming from and its all good sweety, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a hip afro and wouldn’t make a girl any less pretty. And probably real handy to blend in to the whole theme your aiming for. But still, I think if want to go all the way and represent your home land, then you should worry less about looking like a typical African woman n emphasize more on your true identity ”an Ethiopian”. As u said, most people are inclined to believe that straight hair is better looking But jus as much(specially westerners) think a big ol’ puffy afro is all an African woman could have. Now C one of them Eritrian contestants (Senayt Gaim) – sure she’s not all that dark chocolate, and an African girl’s afro but still, she is a Habesha- she is an African! Wether u walkin in the streets of addis or deep in a di bushes, it’s never a surprise to see girls similar in hair texture and also complexion and almost none of them have a direct Caucasian ancestor- which makes them a true African. Just a bit different but still an AFRICAN. See what I’m saying? So i still think you could go out there with a soft shoulder long curly hair and tell em all where u, your mom and dad and their’s are from…”

My response: “But that is me yo… like really me and I’m as Ethiopian as they come. So are you telling me I’m not a typical Ethiopian cuz my hair is kinkier than the Ethiopians YOU’VE encountered? I don’t know bout that bruh. Can’t co-sign on this one. I see what you’re sayin. Ethiopians have a rep for having light skin, softer hair… but you ever stop to wonder if that’s cuz them the Ethiopians you notice? I mean… truth be told, we come in all colors and hair textures ya know? So this is me. I’m Ethiopian. And this how I came out the womb. If someone doesn’t like it… there’s really nothing I can do about it.
So it seems like this is a case of me not fitting into the box you’ve created. I’m used to it. And I’m actually more comfortable outside that box sometimes. You know the crazy part though? How different peoples’ opinions are. Another chick said “I love your pic. You look so… Ethiopia.” Just goes to show that you can’t please everyone. It’s best to be yourself. That way the ones who stick around are there for the right reasons.”

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5 Comments »

  1. Nice story! By the way, do Ethiopian women have “Hair-complex” like other Africans? The short hair on the girl looks pretty cool to me.

    Comment by Tariku — September 10, 2009 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Takiku, thanks for your comment! But I’m not sure what complex you’re talking about. Can you tell me about it?

    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — September 11, 2009 @ 8:58 pm | Reply

  3. Have you guys heard of Chris Rock’s new documentary/comedy “Good Hair”? Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MazokEvX63I

    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — October 13, 2009 @ 9:08 am | Reply

  4. I am ever inspired by your blog and have written a new post that I thought you might find interesting. Should you desire to link to it in a different manner, please do so and remove this comment. Here is the link: http://ayannanahmias.com/2009/11/07/indias-biggest-export/.

    Comment by Ayanna Nahmias — November 7, 2009 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

  5. Hi Ayanna – thank you for sharing the link to your newest post. This is such a prevalent topic in the community that I’m sure it will be discussed again. We’ll be sure to link your post in at that time. 🙂

    ~Mahlet

    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — November 10, 2009 @ 9:12 am | Reply


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