EuroTrip Epilogue: European Black Identity and the #naturalhair Movement

I’m finally back in San Francisco, and after a three week odyssey to Europe and back it feels delightful to write this post from my bed.  I had a fanfreakingtastic trip traveling in the name of natural hair.  Well,  let’s be more specific there- I travel frequently in the name of natural hair, but the ABROAD part was truly eye opening.

The process of going natural and the experience of being natural is very much linked to the idea of black identity.  In Europe, black identity is much more closely linked to African identity as many of the persons there are first or second generation immigrants from Africa.  In the US, we call ourselves African American, but the terms “African French” and “African British” don’t exist.  Ask a black person in Paris where they are from, and they will likely answer “I was born in France, but I’m from the Ivory Coast” or “I’m from the Antilles” and when prompted, “and I was born here in France.”  Despite being born in France and 100% a French citizen, many persons of African descent in Europe have yet to embrace their European nationality.  At the same time, European countries do not necessarily acknowledge these people as their nationals.  In essence, there is a stronger link between African origins in Europe than here in the states.

The UK and French natural hair communities that I had the honor of connecting with are impressively international and with such diversity, there is also a unique cultural richness.  The ladies I met on this trip were from Ghana, Algeria, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Guyana, Congo, Martinique, Guadaloupe, Reunion, Switzerland, Haiti, and Senegal and it was beautiful to see all of these different countries represented, respected, and coming together to further the same cause.

The natural hair movement in London and Paris is in its infancy, but I see potential for it to spread as quickly and as rapidly here in the states.  I would assume that the prevalence of skin bleaching spas and weaves that I saw “Black Paris” are very much a result of attempts to assimilate to the dominant French culture.  But in a culture where African origins are held onto tightly, I see great potential for the celebration and growth of the natural hair, a piece of tangible evidence of African origin.

I made many friends on this trip and I’m looking forward to watching the growth and development of the natural hair movement across the pond.  It was an honor to unite the American and European natural hair communities, and to share our collective stories.  One thing is for certain, that despite the thousands of miles that separate us from our natural sisters across the pond, we’ve got more in common than differences.  Oh and that it certainly won’t be another seven years before I return to Europe for a visit!

 

now my only question is…where to next?

 

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12 Comments

  1. The Motherland!

  2. The next time you come to France we need to set something up for the regions surrounding Lyon :)

  3. I wish I had gotten the chance to speak to you at the Paris meet up. I’ll definitely make the effort to the next time you fly to Paris. I love your blog and inspires me everyday with my natural hair. I do hope more black women here in Vernon jump on the natural bandwagon because it pains me to see all these young girls wearing raggedy weaves as if it’s beautiful! I feel though that the natural fever is slowmly coming to the province.

  4. Great article you hit the nail on head!:) Iam frecnh born but of Congolese descent and living in th UK.So i have many ways of describing my identity. :)

  5. Hi there

    So nice that you made it to our shores! A lot of your observations are correct, but in my experience, these views and opinions on identity differ between those of Caribbean ancestry and those of African ancestry. Caribbeans/west Indians, were the predominant black group and culture in the UK until very recently, and in my experience, identify more with Britishness than the current crop of African immigrants/second generation. I think this is why so much of our culture here is infused with Caribbean/WIndianness (as a Brit of African descent, but who grew up around so many Caribbean people in London, I think it’s really noticeable in our slang, or speech, our food, our music…) in a way that I don’t think African culture has (yet?). Have no idea what it means for the Natural movement here though!! Anyway, love your blog, and am sooooo envious of you meeting Robert Glasper and Bilal!!!

  6. Ooh…actually, I do know! The excessive love of wigs and weaves, IMHO has come from Africa. As a kid, people relaxed their hair, and while ‘picky’ (i.e., unkempt or even hair not considered ‘good’) was frowned upon (in the mostly Caribbean cultural climate I mentioned in the last post), I don’t think the level of ignorance about our own hair existed on the same scale.

    At least in Nigeria, where my family’s from, the fashion for fake hair in recent decades has created this ignorance, and facilitated a need for a Natural hair scene, both at home and now in the diaspora.

    • Lita, I disagree with this statement: The excessive love of wigs and weaves, IMHO has come from Africa.
      It’s true that weaves and wigs are very popular now in many African countries. However, the love of wearing wigs and weaves originated from the U.S., Africans just copied it.

      Growing up natural hair coexisted with those who wore jheri curls, perms and relaxers. In fact many girls and women wore natural hair and it was not looked down upon. But obviously there was a shift, I personally noticed it in the 90′s when I was in high school. Everyone coveted the silky bobs and wavy hair they saw amongs’t popular R&B singers. Actually some of us didn’t know they were weaves, it looked like long relaxed hair.In Kenya where I’m from, it was not easy to find a stylist who knew how to apply chemical treatments without wrecking your hair (i.e. in the 90′s).

      The stylists never complained about your natural hair being too difficult to deal with. It’s the opposite now, most become impatient if you have natural hair, if you want it braided they insist on straightening and most times they are not gentle! You rarely see some styling techniques anymore such as “African threading”. Weaves and wigs are in vogue, some people are so used to it, it’s all they wear! It’s considered sophisticated, fashionable and professional.
      I have seen similar stories expressed online by others who grew up in places like Ghana.

      I’m all for people having different style options but I’m afraid that the idea that kinky hair is “difficult”, “hard” or “bad” is now ingrained in people’s minds. There is a natural hair awakening though, no doubt inspired by American blogs. Check out the blog http://www.KurlyKichana.com, run by 2 Kenyan ladies. Also alot of men and women now sport locs.

  7. Oh, I agree it’s from copying American fashions, and I should have stated that. You’ve said it better than I could. I get the impression that locs are gaining more popularity in Southern and Eastern Africa than in West Africa, although it’s slowly happening. When I was last in Nigeria, people assumed I was ultra-religious as I had natural hair!

  8. Another reason why many African- or Caribbean- descended folks are more tied to their homelands is that in certain European countries (for example Germany, but I’m not sure about France or the UK) at least one of your parents has to be from that country for a child born there to be considered a full citizen. If both of your parents are from say, Ghana and emigrated to Germany and have a child born there, that child will not be a German citizen..
    http://www.bmi.bund.de/cln_165/sid_EC011CBF9A4818138DEEF5893823ED32/SharedDocs/Standardartikel/EN/Themen/Migration/Staatsang/faq.html?nn=439476
    “…since 1 January 2000 German nationality law also recognizes the principle of birthplace (in Latin: jus soli) for the acquisition of citizenship. According to this principle, children born in Germany to non-German parents may, under certain conditions, acquire German citizenship.”

    Just wanted to add this bit of info to help understand the African/European diaspora experience.

  9. You’ve gotten it exactly right. I always have difficulty explaining to people on US hair boards how I am British raised, spent most of my life in the UK, definitely identify more with British culture, but am Nigerian first and foremost. You’ve managed to explain your observations perfectly in this post.

  10. You should come and see your neighbors next…Canada :)

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