Originally, I set out to compare my own personal hair experience in the United States versus in my experience in Ghana. However, considering SheaMoisture’s recent business ventures, I’ve decided to make a few changes.
BLACK HAIR IS POLITICAL. Not just in the United States but everywhere. Policing Black hair has always been used as a tool of violent assimilation in the States, but the attack on Black women’s hair is global and is extremely prevalent in Ghana. Walking through the streets of Accra, I saw huge billboards advertising skin bleaching products and relaxers, showing me how eurocentric beauty standards are still dominate.
I have had relaxed hair from as young as I can remember until I was a junior in high school. I decided to stop relaxing my hair after becoming jealous of my six-year-old niece’s Afro puffballs. I watched her rejoice in the beauty of her natural hair as I struggled with my relaxed hair that had seen better days. When I went natural, I relied on YouTube bloggers and intuition, which in the beginning, often lead to failure. I eventually learned and began to rely on products, like Shea Moisture, that I thought were made with me, Black women, in mind.
When I began packing for Ghana, I left most of my hair products behind because I assumed that they would be plentiful in West Africa. Many of the raw materials in Shea Moisture, like Shea Butter and Black Soap, originate in West Africa. The first day in Ghana we went to the Accra Mall and a group of Black girls automatically flocked to the cosmetics and beauty section. Instead of all the hair products for curly hair we thought we would find, we are faced with a wall of relaxers and Head & Shoulders. I chalked it up to us not knowing the right places to find things. Later that week I sat in a salon getting my nails done, and two women came in to get relaxers. One woman had to be turned away because she had gotten her last relaxer just a few weeks ago and her hair wouldn’t have been able to handle the chemicals.
I thought coming to Ghana I was going to have self-discovery of my hair because I would have access to the secrets of the African Continent. I soon realized that the biggest issue facing Ghanaian women when it comes to having healthy hair is access to quality and affordable products. It is easier, and cheaper, to relax your hair than to maintain natural hair. The same is true in the United States. Why should it be expensive for Black women to wear the hair they were born with? Who is to blame for Ghanaian women and African American women not having access to have healthy relationships with their hair? Whiteness.
To say Black women’s access to quality hair products is separated from politics is ahistorical and violent. In the United States, we are privileged to have Black companies cater to us, but even now that is being threatened. The lack of access to quality hair products in Ghana is not independent from colonialism. During colonial times, all colonies served as export economies for the European powers. All the raw materials for the world’s products came from these colonies, but the colonial powers did not create infrastructure for production. If Ghana, and other West African countries, had the opportunity to process and create their own products with raw materials, there wouldn’t be as big a need to import things. But it is an expensive endeavor to build industry almost from scratch, after a long history of doing the opposite.
Being in Ghana and experiencing the concerning lack of access to products has reinforced my belief that every little Black child deserves to have a chance to fall in love with their natural hair. I want Black girls to relax their hair as a preference and not because of social pressures. In order for natural hair to flourish, companies like SheaMoisture need to continue to expand their base of Black women consumers both in the U.S. and abroad. Until SheaMoisture can prove themselves worthy, I will renew my search for products that will work for my curls.