The Backstory

What is an afro? In the context of this blog, it is the ::magic:: that follows any “before.” It’s the discovery of something new about the world, or better yet, about yourself.  An “afro”—be it a new lipstick or a new career—changes your perspective. It makes you think, walk, see and experience life differently.

There’s before. And then there’s afro.

I must mention here, the afro also happens to be an extremely important historical landmark. It’s a hairstyle rooted spiritually deep in black culture, symbolizing a renewed sense of identity after the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the fifties and sixties. The afro became a powerful political symbol for black pride, redefining personal style and making a stand for total integration, all in one. It became a booming pop-culture icon into the seventies thanks to legends like Billy Preston, Angela Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Diana Ross.

The afro is also a hairstyle that I’ve recently rendered part of my personal style repertoire. I originally got my fro for a Studio 54-themed costume party, and let’s just say the party has not ended. The afro changed my perspective; it made me think, walk, see and experience life differently. I wear it often. It’s not about feeling black… what I actually feel like is ME, understood more clearly. It’s not an alter ego. It’s an amplified ego.

After a summer racking my soul over what kind of blog to start, the afro was the catalyst. The catalyst to begin sharing this strange and wild journey of self-discovery. (Among other discoveries, so I have learned.) There was before, and now, this blog: the afro.

Fro-ever yours,

Xx Michelle Joni
@michellejoni

91 thoughts on “The Backstory

  1. Yo did you know that an afro for some people is their actual hair and not a wig????
    And that the people who wear it do so because of political reasons because their hair is associated with negative ideas and images, and so for them it’s a form of rebellion?
    And did you know that our society prefers straight hair, and people kill their hair trying to get that “white girl flip”?

    Oh and did you know that your usage of afro is a complete mockery and spit in the face of all that I just said?

    Just wanted to spit that knowledge.

    • I feel bad that you’ve been the recipient of so much anger, Joni. Bullying too. Certainly not what you intended or expected, I’m sure.

      I’ve been wearing a ‘fro wig for several years. I didn’t know until I found your blog that it was such a cultural no-no. That it could inspire so much hurt and hatred.

      As a result of the backlash you’ve had to deal with, and after reading some of the kinder, more patient explanations for why it’s hurtful or offensive, I’ve decided to stop wearing mine.

      I posted about it on my blog yesterday. And it’s got some of my White friends up in arms, because no one attacks Black folks for wearing straight or blonde wigs. There’s certainly a double standard.

      But the bottom line for me is that it’s not worth the fuss. Guess I’ll just stay (visibly) whiter than I wanna be. ;)

      • Danielle, there is no double standard. The double standard IS that black women wear that plastic crap on their heads because this is what society dictates to us. Our natural afrocentric beauty is FROWNED UPON in society. So to “fit in” in a sense we must look more “civilized” and many of us have been brainwashed to sew, glue, perm, press, etc. our beautiful textures into a look more acceptable. That is the ONLY reason we do this to our hair. Not me personally but I am speaking for the black women I know who would have your head for this ignorance you just posted. You are WHITE, you have something called WHITE PRIVILEGE, and you can wear your straight, textureless hair everywhere you go without discrimination. It is really hurtful to see white women walking around in afro wigs saying that it helps experience life differently…um DUH. So different, I don’t think you would be strong enough to handle the deepness of the “experience” you go through when the hair actually grows from your on scalp. Trust me, if you were white and born with afro textured hair, your own people would disown you and have crazy things to say about you because of your hair. Our African hair is beautiful and unique so if you want to compliment it, do that. That is the most genuine thing you can do. But to make a mockery of something that is barely being accepted by society is a stab to the heart. At the end of the day you can take the wig off and go back to being Danielle while I stand in the mirror convincing myself to love myself and my hair and accept the cottony mound for what it is – MY hair. .

      • Black people don’t get criticized for wearing straight or blond wigs and hair because its always been the standard of beauty that we’ve been told we need to achieve.

        Throughout or lives the media has stressed to us that if you straighten your hair you will be more beautiful. If your skin is light, you will be more beautiful. Black is bad and white is good. Don’t be yourself, BE WHITE!

        Lately we have been able to transition into a time where more and more African American people are becoming independent thinkers and not letting the main stream media influence us. We are getting back to the understanding that black is beautiful. It can be represented in the shades of our skin tone, the fullness of or lips but most importantly it is represented in the curly/kinkiness of our hair.

        When we see you in your Afro wig we are offended. It creates anger in our hearts for this race of people that hated everything about us in the past, including our hair. With that being said, don’t mock us, appreciate us for who we are. Teach your children that black is beautiful. There is already enough hate in the world and making a mockery of the beauty God gave us does nothing but give the opportunity to create more.

      • “It’s got some of my White friends up in arms, because no one attacks Black folks for wearing straight or blonde wigs. There’s certainly a double standard.”

        Your white friends should try to understand that blacks wore straight and blonde wigs to fit into society. Not chosen out of fashion but to be accepted, to avoid criticism, and comments from ‘white folks’ and blacks.Which is the main point your white friends are missing. It’s a costume for you and if you say other wise you are truly mistaken. Just think about how you obtained your precious fro, “I originally got my fro for a Studio 54-themed costume party” and a costume is all it looks like you are wearing.

        Also wearing a costume for a year gives you exactly zero insight into the struggle of anyone. The reality is that any perceived ‘prejudice’ you had was justified because only an idiot would wear a costume outside of Halloween and think it’s an acceptable norm.

        You didn’t experience the struggle of a minority, you experienced the struggle of a dumbass spoiled white girl. Oh and even for Halloween, imitating another culture/race is considered racist. Native Americans, Jews, blacks, Mexicans, or any other culture/race as a costume is offensive because the costume is a piss poor representation of living breathing people. You can take a costume off at the end of a year, but you can’t change your facial structure, skin stone, and the years of racism against genetics.

        In trying to immerse yourself in black culture you chose to be willfully ignorant of how your actions would be perceived in the very community you’re trying to understand. Being willfully ignorant of how your stupidity is perceived makes you a pathetic human. Join the rest of us and be yourself. Embrace who you are and don’t make genetics into fashion. Embrace the style, but don’t paint your face black and wear a costume fro to show your ‘immersion’ in a culture you no nothing about.

      • Thank you, Black is Beautiful, for your patient explanation. It IS difficult for many white people to see hair as politics. We see it as an accessory, not so much as a statement of anything. I see that there is a difference. I was ignorant about the offense before. I don’t wear my wig anymore.

        respectfully_yours, you responded to two people in your comment. I am not Joni, the writer of this blog.

        I am also not a dumbass spoiled white girl. I grew up poor, in East St. Louis. I went to school where my race was the minority. I am a woman, not a girl. The only thing you got right is that I’m white.

  2. what makes me the most sad is how unwilling you are to hear the pain in your respondents voices. Your need to do this is more important than the discomfort it causes those who live this reality. That is what makes this hurtful. If you ever decided that you want a non -angry but indeed honest dialogue about why this is sooo offensive and problematic please feel free to email me at sonyarenee@gmail.com. I would love to talk with you about from a place of respect and humanity.

  3. Costumes are fun, but don’t think you know about struggles associated with afros. I’m a white person in the south (united states) and i have a natural afro. of course i could cut my hair, but i keep it for spiritual reasons, and am willing to pay the non-conformity tax. white people don’t want to hire me. people call me nigger and fag. sometimes people want to fight me to impress their girls and the mates. i’ve almost been jumped by large groups of fake g-wanna-be’s but i don’t back down. in some places i’ve lived, spoiled fubu-sporting privileged black kids from suburbia have given me shit about my afro, meanwhile sporting chemically straightened hair, not realizing they are selling out their birthright to the man. all i do to my hair is rub plants and dirt in it, no shampoo, no chemicals, just me, and occaisionally some olive oil because it’s divine. i smells amazing. i study plant medicine and associate my afro with shamans, and the indians with dreadlocks who clean the river ganges by swimming naked; it reminds me of the strength of lions and of samson, and i just don’t feel right without it. it also works great to keep close-minded people away and scare anyone who wants to hurt me. i don’t wanna give you too much flack, sometimes i wear dresses or get naked just to shake people up a bit, and i tend to get people dancing when i go out, and maybe that’s what you’re trying to do with your afro. but i wouldn’t take it too seriously. if you really want attention, maybe you could play an instrument, juggle, or be really great at putting on one-person skits using improvised props from your environment.

    • i forgot to mention how my parents would try to run a fine-toothed comb through my hair, and the pain i experienced every sunday, when i was dragged to church to worship in a way that i didn’t see fit. at least the old ladies with perms were envious of me. my parents would always tell me how handsome i was anytime i had to get a haircut or shave to get work. i wanted to stab them, or at the very least slap them, because when i look like me all i got was criticism. people think i’m dumb and lazy and unemployed because those are the stereotypes associated with afros.

  4. Wow, you clearly have no idea how offensive that is. I hope you mature and stop your childish thinking. Your ” Afro experience” is not inspiring, not at the least. It’s just as bad as a racist costume on Halloween. I hope one day you come to the realization that your actions are at best childish. It’s as bad as wearing a Indian head dress claiming “I feel like me!” It’s offensive to a culture and you should be mature enough to realize this. Hope you can for once see another point of view instead of thinking of your own ego.
    Sometimes people just learn the hard way.

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