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Africans Consuming Hair, Africans Consumed by Hair
In this article, we use the consumption of and perspectives on hair by Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to demonstrate the extent to which African identities as permanent works in progress refuse to be impoverished by dichotomies. If relationships forged and entertained with hair are anything to go by, Africans, it seems to us, are more amenable to flexible, composite and negotiated personal and collective identities than they are to fixities and purities. Perhaps schooled by repeated encounters with the violence of dominant others or simply enlightened by the wisdom of centuries of intimate conversations across myriad divides and chasms, Africans have cultivated a collective gaze that sees beyond appearances in their everyday understanding and articulation of reality. They have trained themselves to recognise and provide for the present absences and the absent presences of their lived and social worlds, bridging and providing for interdependence and conviviality between the apparently contradictory. They are just as keen on nature and the natural as they are on human interactions and relationships with nature. Beauty is as much a work of nature as it is the outcome of working on nature. Aware that beautiful hair can be both natural and cultivated, Africans are as enamoured with their hair of birth and nature in its gradations and complexities as they are with their artistic and creative investment in the social shaping of the hair they wear. Beautifying and transcending the thrills and trappings of birth and birthmarks has been and remains an African preoccupation. As a collective presence in simultaneous diversities, Africans are united by a determined freedom to consume hair – natural and artificial or enhanced, raw and cooked or domesticated, pure and hybrid, and authentic and transformed.