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Why are we so ... troubled?

The black hair business rakes in $9bn a year, mainly for Indian, Chinese and other foreign companies producing the wigs, extensions, and other "beauty products" for black women. When will our women learn to love their natural selves, and African parents take pride in our identity by giving their children African names, asks Stuart Vukayi.

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I MUST SAY THAT I WAS VERY PLEASED when I saw Akua Djanie's article "The black woman and the beauty myth "in the October issue of New African. For so long had I been waiting for this moment when a proud African woman would assert the beauty of her natural self without apologising for it. Akua wrote about how our African women are shortchanging themselves with horse's tails or hair extensions in the name of beauty. I was beginning to wonder if we had any African women proud of their natural looks and Akua's article brought a sigh of relief. My hope is that her reflections will finally bring other African women to their senses in accepting themselves for the beauty they truly have in their natural selves.

From a man's perspective, I would like to reiterate that African women are beautiful without the horsetails or extensions or the toners they add on to their hair and skin. As a contribution to Akua's reflections, I find it interesting to note that so much has been said about neocolonialism manifesting itself in economics and politics, among other things. Yet, it is very ironic that it is the same men who claim to fight against these so-called new imperial weapons who yet fail to notice the real victims of neo-colonialism in their own homes, in their wives through the tails they deprive of horses by patching these on to their heads. Whilst perpetuating colonial stereotypes like the idea that there is something wrong with the black skin and short hair, hence the need for "fixing" them, the capitalists, mostly from India and the West, are also benefiting financially through the endless list of beauty products.

Good inventions and products are usually those that positively benefit humans by making life better and not those that through some hidden technique perpetuate stereotypes. Capitalist sympathisers respond positively to this by buying these products in the name of beauty, whilst creating reasons for justifying their purchases and sustaining the "beauty industry".

Ask a woman who puts on a horse's tail, wig, or extension why she does so and she will justify herself by appealing to reasons like beauty, easy maintenance, and "after all, I have the right to do what I want with my body", and "you men don't get it."

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The moment is probably ripe for African women to wake up and smell the coffee and realise what they should have realised ages ago, which is that they have been created with short hair and other people have been created differently with long hair. And so why would one want to have what she was not meant to have, if she is not driven by a poor self-image born out of such messages as a woman with long hair is more beautiful?

What's in a name?

Having said this, I am also dismayed at the rate at which Africans in the name of "freedom of choice" choose Western names for their children over African ones. Now some of you may be wondering why I am writing against giving African people Western names when I have a Western name myself.

Whilst writing this article some friends drew my attention to the seeming contradiction. In response to my friends and you the reader, I write against giving Western names to Africans because I probably know better from experience about the identity dislocation caused by such names to Africans.

I use my name, Stuart, because this is the name I was given at birth and the one I am identified with. With all due respect to my parents and to all those who have, or are planning to give their children, Western names, I have to say that as a victim of this Western naming trend, I feel ashamed that Africans do not find value in their identity.

While some parents do end up giving their children African names, these names sometimes end up as second names, only used as "home names", deemed unsuitable for use in formal settings such as schools, the workplace, and even in church. I remember when growing up how some children of my age group were teased about the "ugliness" of their African names.

I also remember with sadness that I used to brag to friends over how my name, Stuart, has connections to the royal family in Scotland and England. I moan over this period of ignorance in my life, yet what makes me happy is that I have now been redeemed and I thank God for His amazing grace, for like the Prodigal Son, I was lost but now I am found.

Giving African children Western names only serves to show how the African's ego has been systematically bruised, and how Africans see themselves as second class citizens. To those who hold on to the argument that we are now living in a global village where we share cultures, I ask the question, why are no American or European children given African names?

Africa has become a flourishing consumer and dumping ground of Western goods and names to the extent that some "extremist parents" even give their children names after famous mobile phone brands and cars. Call this the right to choice, ignorance, stupidity, or genuine naming, but in my mind this trend in some parts of Africa leaves a lot to be desired.

Our people have to be emancipated from such naming habits that, without doubt, psychologically compromise the children in later life and further damage their already fractured identity. I am fully behind some of these children who, when at the legal age, opt to change their names. Some people say they are Christian and therefore have to give their children "Christian names". I urge such people to look into their own culture, open their eyes and see the abundance of "saintly" names that are now thankfully being chosen even by church ministers at baptism.

In emancipating ourselves from this Western naming trend, we will be connecting even better with our African identity. I have had the experience, and often hear others also say it, that when someone calls them by their Western name, they feel lost, confused, or "nothingness" as Jean Paul Sartre would say.

There seems to be no connection between myself and the name given to me. It is as if there is something missing. And indeed there is something missing, it was only with growing up that I realised what I am missing in not having a first name from my culture.

I therefore encourage those with African names to treasure them. It is time we reset, appreciated, and maintained our own standards as Africans, not always judging ourselves harshly by Western standards. I long to see the day when Africans re-assert their pride in their identity by giving their children African names.

"For those who hold on to the idea that we are living in a global village where we share cultures, I ask the question, why are no American or European children given African names?"
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Title Annotation:AFRICA; african women's self-identity
Author:Vukayi, Stuart
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Dec 1, 2009
Words:1231
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