By Milllisuthando Bongela (@MissMilliB)
After successfully hosting the first Hair Soiree, the Feminist Stokvel’s Millisuthando gives her reflections on the event where the dualities of hair – from hair porosity and politics, to feminism and follicles, consciousness and curls – was discussed.
I was meant to write this post on Friday but I was busy handling the avalanche of goodwill that came after Thurday night’s inaugural Hair Soiree presented by The Feminist Stokvel, of which I am a member. Thursday night in the basement of Bean Republic in Birnam was really something special. At first we were nervous that people’s wouldn’t show up in the numbers that they had promised but by 7.15 we were happy to close our doors because we had a full house of 60 to welcome and engage with.
I think what made the night successful (we’ve been getting texts, Facebook messages and emails from people who attended who said it really made an impact on them) was the fact that the Hair Soiree idea is founded on two tenants: the first is providing a platform for practical tips for looking after natural hair and the second is providing a space to have the political/psychological/emotional space to talk about that side of having natural black hair. Lebo Mashile, one of the members of Feminist Stokvel, was a brilliant host who was able to balance the evening’s conversation based on these two tenants.
We are not shy about our politics, we are here for black girl shine and that was highlighted in the beginning by Lebo, who stated our position on white people and men attending. Our position is that this space is primarily for black women to be alone and to be themselves. The presence of men and white people usually serves as a distraction especially because members of these two groups, we have found in the past, have hijacked and derailed the conversation, so that black women spend that time explaining themselves and their positions, defending their stances against people who fundamentally have a different lived experience in the world. What ends up happening is that black women end up wiping white woman tears and stroking black male egos instead of doing what they came to do, which is to heal themselves from the injuries to their integrity that is usually caused by white people and men. But since we can’t tell people not to come because that would be racial and gender discrimination, Lebo stated that we appreciate the presence of our white sisters and black brothers but respectfully, they are only invited to listen and not to speak because this space is for those who are deemed the bottom of the pyramid in our society’s socioeconomic eco system – we are trying to lift ourselves up without being derailed. This is a very interesting conversation within the group because there are no absolutes. The world is very complex. There are white parents raising black children who need hair care help the most and there are mixed race families and of course, everything we do is so that in an ideal world, there will be no racial or gender discrimination but we are not there yet. We first need to heal before we can get there. And at the base of what we are doing, is healing.
Secondly, Panashe dealt with our definition of black, which is plainly taken from Biko’s definition of black. It encompasses those that are and have been oppressed because they are black. Those who proudly take the negative meaning associated with the word black and embrace its positive qualities to call themselves Black with a capital B. Those who boldly choose to love their blackness in all its shades (government Black, government Coloured, government Indian) in spite of and because of its history and historical connotations. Those who are conscious of what their blackness represents and means and are proud of it. White people, are not included in this group even though they can be allies, friends, family members and lovers because as Biko said, white skin is a passport to a completely different lived experience to blackness in South Africa.
Thirdly, Danielle outlined the other events on the Feminist Stokvel calendar (film screenings, get togethers where we actually do each other’s hair, panel discussions, talk shops and online content) and the fact that at some point this year, you will be able to become Feminist Stokvel members by paying an annual membership fee. This is a woman’s movement that we want to grow to become a lot more than about hair. For example, we plan to form a lobby group that will address serious matters related to the hair of black people such as how it is problematized at schools and how in some instances, the chemicals used in hair relaxers etc are in illegal amounts. What are the effects of sodium hydroxide on the hair of little girls? Is there truth to the fact that that it causes early puberty? Etc.
Fourth, I spoke about hair types and the fact that we know there is texture discrimination in the natural hair community by us and mainstream media – especially how bouncy curly Tracy Ellis Ross type hair is the more favoured ”natural” that now people with hair like mine or Lupita’s must aspire to have. I also spoke about the fact that there is still a lot of unknown information on the texture and curvature of Southern African Nguni Afro Textured Hair like mine, which is not 4C but ACTUALLY TYPE 8, according to research that is currently being conducted by Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo, the head of Dermatology at UCT and Groote Schuur Hospital.
Lastly, Kavuli of Good Hair Diaries and Wisaal of Wiscallaneous got down to the business of practical hair care, which was a very interactive and informative presentation. There were questions from the audience, questions from Feminist Stokvel members, answers from audience members and our resident pro’s. They addressed different methods of shampooing, conditioning and I learned a lot such as that shampoo splits the hair shaft and if you wash your hair and don’t condition, you’re asking for a disaster. I learned that washing with conditioner is better than washing with shampoo and that there are different types of conditioners. Hair Food, the one that our mom’s put on us with petroleum and paraffin and all kinds of chemicals is BAD NEWS for your hair and that castor oil and olive oil and jojoba oil are much better substitutes. I learned that drying my hair with a normal towel is a big no no and that I should rather use an old t-shirt or a baby towel. I learned about moisturizing using the LOC method (Liquid + Oil + Cream) in a clear spritzer bottle that you can buy in the gardening section at Pick n Pay or Builder’s Warehouse. There were biochemists in the audience who would also answer questions who shed some light on basic things that people needed to know. A lot of the stuff that was said on the night re hair care will be up on our blog sometime this week.
The next one is penciled in for Thursday 23 April and our guest list is open. The price will differ from the first soiree’s price and that is because we are learning to value the value of what we are doing. We don’t have a sponsor and this is coming out of the urgency there is to deal with our social problems as black women, but in order to do that, we need some contributions. If you would like to attend, please email email@example.com
Yours in Curl Power
Images: Cover Image www.jemsofnatural.com
Image of Feminist Stokvel woman in a row (without Nova) was taken by my amazing boyfriend Malose.
The rest of the images were taken by me during the night. If you’re going to lift please credit. Klaaste Media filmed the event and will put out and edited summary of the night asap! Thank you to Bean Republic for being amazing hosts!