Zina Saro-Wiwa (daughter of executed Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa) on her hair

Since hair came up a few weeks ago, thought I would share this video I just found.  The embed code isn’t working, so click here for the five minute video.




  1. That was awesome, and she is gorgeous. Funny, I straightened my hair for years because I thought it looked more professional (less sexy). I decided to stop fighting the curl and allow my hair to do what it naturally does last summer. It has been freeing to finally accept myself the way I am…with curly hair that looks tousled and wind-blown no matter how many times I brush it. That acceptance lead to the acceptance of my body as the curvy hour-glass it is. I am a woman, after all. I found this video to be both powerful and moving. Zina’s story really resonates with me — the power of self-acceptance is enormous.

    1. lotusgurl · · Reply


      Just as the post you made on my blog, you’re INCREDIBLY offensive. Simply put: you’re NOT black. This five-minute video could potentially produce a 200-page dissertation about black women’s hair as a symbol of their own divinity and selfhood, but you instead choose to chat about your own body issues.

      By comparing your biological circumstances as a blonde anglo woman to a black woman (the daughter of an executed writer from Nigeria, no less), you do a disservice to black women everywhere. Your words (again) nullify the entire struggle of African culture, as well as the conflicted relationship black women experience regarding their hair, lips, nose, hips, and bottom.

      The woman in this video (and many like her) underwent a “transition” not simply from straight hair to curly hair, as you have again pointed out for us was your situation, but from concealment and shame to acceptance and celebration (of not just hair, but blackness!). When you attempt to draw parallels, you obliterate the very reason we’re all here in this course. By applying this woman’s moving transformation to your own caucasian existence, you cheapen the sacred experience we are lucky enough to observe here.

      You’re clearly guilty of the same eurocentrism we’ve already discussed in this course, and I would encourage you to situate yourself differently within the arena of black women and their hair–and by “situate,” I mean leave yourself out of it.

      My intention is not to upset you or to condescend, but I don’t think you have a genuine understanding of the power and ignorance behind some of your posts.

  2. If I may interrupt this fracas (which I love, boy do I love a good fracas), I have to say that the discussion in this thread reminds me of the problematic Mohanty explores in Under Western Eyes. Donna, you are attempting to locate common ground by essentializing Saro-Wiwa’s struggle to the male/female gender binary. In Mohanty’s terms, by relating your own experience and conflating it with the experience of a historically Othered group, you create a ” re-presentation of Woman produced by hegemonic discourses.” Jenny talks in her reply about “power”. Words have power. They can reduce and augment and conflate and extend. They can other and label and hurt. I don’t necessarily think that you must “leave yourself out” of the conversation about the objectification of women’s bodies, but I think you must certainly understand that Saro-Wiwa, to paraphrase Spivak, occupies a different subject position than do you. Straightening your hair to appear more “professional” is not akin to denying your race, your class, your gender in an attempt to silence a doubly conscious consciousness that always reduces you down to an objectified other. I believe that women are oppressed. I believe that Western women are oppressed. I am troubled about how to approach the liminal space between my consciousness and the consciousness of a racialized Other. Of course, I can relate to certain experiences discussed in our texts; we all can. A complete denial of universalisms is absurd. This is why I disagree with Spivak’s summation of Foucault; Foucault perhaps does abstract and universalize identities of oppression wherein the subject in question becomes transcended, transparent and abstracted; Maoism becomes a signifier for Western Revolution; it transcends it’s material meaning in order to give power to a privileged Frenchman’s grievances. Watch La Chinois if you want to get a better example of this. However, Foucault also, by abstracting certain experiences, elevates these experiences into a larger binary, into Williams’ binary of dominant and suboordinate. When you apply formal logic to politics, you cannot whine if the identity politics do not fit your binary; you cannot then call for the dissolution of all binaries except the one particular to your situation; you cannot make a particular a synechdotal signifier for the universal. However, you can, as Jenny suggests, “situate yourself” within a position while understanding that you only occupy a very particular part of the position, that your subject position that you believe to be so subordinate can float and transcend and you may find yourself of the dominant end of someone else’s binary. That’s how identity politics works.

    1. Cait, I’m gonna have to argue with you. I think we can and must reject the idea of universalism. When you group certain peoples and cultures together and present them as one it’s no wonder you get responses like Spivaks the subaltern does not speak. Yes they do to f’n speak, they are just bound up in this idea of universalism. That’s why I think the idea of relativism is so important. Although Donna might not have understood the full implications of the woman in the video, it is ok to for her to try to relate herself and understand as a woman. Granted this video was more focused on the acceptance of her racialized and sexualized body, I think whats important is that Donna was trying to situate herself thus she fell into the trap of universalism–believing that all women face this very issue in the same way. The truth of the matter is that we all experience certain things in different ways,but we must avoid the essentialist view of universalism. Danger of the single story anyone?

      1. Dear Sean,

        Thank you. I was ready to drop the class. May I send you a hug? I’m trying so hard to wrap my brain around certain things. I am a good 20 years older than you guys, a different generation altogether, and raised so differently. I was rejected for not being born a son and I reacted to the video based on the self-loathing I have experienced of my female body and weird, “woolie” hair (as described by my mother). I have come a long way in self acceptance. The pain I felt from the woman in the video and the change to self acceptance resonated for that reason. I saw the magazine covers and related how all women are told they have to look etc. in the “West”, and that was what I reacted to, not race. I don’t think all women feel this way, but I do think a lot of us who are not what we are told we should be do feel like this. I think that is also cross cultural. I seriously did not mean to offend anyone. I realize the issue does not manifest itself in the same way for people of differing ethnicities, but I did relate to it on a basic, personal level based on my (very painful) experiences.

    2. Dear Cait,

      Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt and approaching this as an academic discussion in a non-judgmental and non-condescending manner that was not hurtful. I appreciate your kindness. I responded to the video in a few available moments at work. I probably did not think everything through to its end; however, I responded to it based on my own personal experience of being raised to be ashamed of being female. There was something wrong with everything about me because I was not born the son my parents were so sure I was. They didn’t even have a girl’s name picked out. Fancy having that as your funny family story. My father shamed me for growing breasts, for having hips and thighs, for having unmanageable hair, for having full lips, for being taller and heavier than my sisters. My aunt would invite them to work as perfume girls at Macy’s but I was never once asked because I was not considered presentable enough. I didn’t look like someone’s idea of perfect teenage girlhood, so I got left out. Those magazine covers in the clip really got to me because that was what I was supposed to be and never was. This is why I reacted by talking about my own journey of self acceptance. I never even considered it a racial issue but as an issue of what women are told we must be and what so few of us are.

  3. And I also think that what’s most important is this idea of liberation, liberation from the hegemonic forces that constrain us as human beings. Something in which we cam all relate to.

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