Blog // 10.07.2011

Ms. Esi Cleland on Afro Pride

Article by Boipelo M

And so the age old debate about black women and their hair continues taking many heated angles, and twists like the processes involved. Looking at magazine pages, female friends and salons, it is clear that chemicals, weaves and wigs are a mark of the 21st century with very few sisters still sporting their natural hair.   Esi Cleland, a Ghanaian born business woman who is of the nappy hair make is one such sister who despite the hype, firmly sticks to her natural hair stating ‘My politics is my hair.’ Having worn her afro with pride for the past four years, (bearing in mind that it is no easy feet with all the kinks and combing involved) she can be considered a young expert in the natural hair department.

Tempo recently caught up with  Ms Cleland  to tease out hair issues  and give practical advice to women who chose to go the natural hair way.

So Esi, why the natural hair when all around us and in the media (not forgetting Nollywood movies) it is all about processed hair, weaves and wigs?
I have been weaning natural hair for the last four years and because my hair reflects my politics, which is to say, I use it to make a statement, I am able to stand strong. For example, in the last two years, I’ve worn a short afro. No twists, no cornrows. Nothing. I just wash, comb, and go. It’s freeing. I don’t know whether  wearing the hair that way has made me more confident or if it’s my own confidence that makes me able to wear my hair that way  but either way, I’m proud of it.


And proud you must be. So would you say that there’s a rise in women who are pro natural hair?

No, not really.  Not in Ghana anyway.  I haven’t noticed any such thing. When I sit in a tro-tro, I am often the lone woman with natural hair. I do notice that among foreign educated women in Ghana, there are lots of people with natural hair but being rather new to that circle, I can’t say whether that’s a recent trend or that’s how it’s always been. I’m tempted to think that if there were, we’d see more natural hair salons. Now I can only count Mikesh hair salon and Twists and Locs. Mikesh has been around for years whilst Twists and Locs is fairly new. Does a new natural hair salon every 10 years count as an indication of a rise in pro-natural women? Hardly. It will be interesting to see how things evolve in the next few years.

As you’ve identified very few salons in Ghana that do natural hair, how then have you maintained your natural hair over the past years because that is a common complaint amongst black women?

You see, the best thing about natural hair for me is how easy it is to maintain. And in my case, it’s so cheap too. My only hair expense is shampoo. (I shampoo twice a week, put in some shea butter daily and off I go.) And then of course there is the occasional three cedis at a barbershop for a trim. But that’s it. I love it because I really don’t have the time, or the temperament to do the weekly salon thing.

As low maintenance as natural hair sounds, surely though there must be a downside to it otherwise there would be more women opting for it?
Well yes, the downside is the lack of versatility. As I mentioned, my hair has been low for two years.  That’s wearing the same look everyday. I’m someone who loves change so I don’t like that so much. I’ve tried to switch it up by cutting lower, colouring etc, but a ‘fro is a ‘fro. I got my lowest crop a few months ago. The hair is growing now so I’m contemplating twisting it myself to switch things up. No salon in Ghana would have the patience to twist my hair that is less than 1 inch long. Thankfully I can do it myself but it takes hours.

OK Esi, I hear you on being pro natural hair and the benefits associated with it but, there are so many women out there into weaves, what’s your opinion on this?

I think it’s a little silly when you think about it. What I really don’t understand is kinky hair extensions. It makes no sense to me why a black woman would relax her natural hair, then go buy kinky hair that looks just like what she permed, and attach that to the permed hair so in the end she has kinky hair that she paid for. But hey, it’s a personal choice.

Yes it is a personal choice and speaking of choices, from your experience do you think black men prefer natural or processed hair? What has been their reaction since you went natural?

Haha. Well, actually brothers love my natural hair. I get compliments all the time and have had absolutely no trouble attracting men. In fact, I’ll say the quality of the men I attract has gone way up in the last few years and I’ve been natural the whole time. So the hair is not a turn off, I can say that. A lot of them love it. One said he has a thing for women with natural hair because it indicated to him that they are self-assured. When I had my baby locs, the guys were huge fans of it. So as far as I can tell, brothers’ responses have been overwhelmingly positive. And that’s across board – I get as many compliments from cab-drivers as I do corporate types.

Wrapping things up on this hair issue Esi, what’s your opinion on the old age debate that those who relax their hair and use weaves are dying to be white? Would you say colonialism is still at play or is it all about lifestyle choices for the modern black women?

A black woman will never be perceived as white even if she dyes her hair blonde and relaxes it because her skin will remain. Personally I think it’s a role-model issue. If all the beautiful women you’ve ever seen have perms, you assume, wrongly, that relaxing hair has something to do with beauty. I know that I am beautiful with my hair natural because people have affirmed me. And I have seen images with hair just like mine and they have been beautiful. So I think it’s about the kinds of images we present of ourselves.

But I think that’s our problem. As an African, I don’t see any use in complaining that western magazines and brands do not portray people like me as beautiful. It’s not up to them. It’s up to us. If they won’t put us in their magazines, let’s have our own magazines that will glamorize us. Let’s have our own brands that will speak well of us. You can’t tell someone how to run something that belongs to them. But you can create your own vehicle and run it as you deem fit. So the solution is not to complain. The solution is to do something about it. And for some of us, wearing our hair natural is our small way of doing something about presenting an alternative image of a smart, successful, beautiful black woman.


One Response to “Ms. Esi Cleland on Afro Pride”

  1. Kathy B says:

    Beautiful photo.

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