Elaine Codrington
October 12, 2021

My afro hair journey

By Elaine Codrington, Portfolio Lead within Service and Demand

Feeling inspired by Black History Month, I’d like to share my afro hair journey with you.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with the relationship I had with my afro hair. I used to think it was too thick, it was too long and more importantly, I wished it was straight just like everyone elses.

Growing up, I went to schools that were predominantly white. From a very young age I noticed how all the white girls had lovely long, straight hair and most had a different hair style every day. Sadly, this is difficult to do with afro hair. My mum washed, moisturised and then styled my hair once a week. These three steps could take my mum up to two hours at a time. Two hours! Can you imagine if we did that routine every day before or after school?

As I got older, I hated that weekly routine with a passion. And, to make it worse, the ridicule and teasing I would then get at school simply wasn’t worth it. 

I remember my first day of high school as if it was yesterday. It shaped most of my adult thinking and relationship with my hair. My mum had put my hair into two side pony tails. My sister is 18 months older than me and was then in the second year of high school. All day I remember her ignoring me at school. I kept asking myself ‘what did I do’? Then at the end of the day when we’re on our way home, she explained to me that her white friends had seen me and said “look at that girls hair, she looks like she has horns”. My sister, wanting to fit in with the crowd, felt embarrassed so never stood up for me. So, to make her life easier, she simply ignored me all day.  

As you can imagine, as an 11 year old I was devastated. I know kids can be cruel, but this was something else – they laughed, stared, made jokes about my hair and from that day I hated my afro hair. 

I begged my mum to have my hair relaxed, which is a chemical treatment that straightens afro hair. After a few months I finally got my wish and I immediately felt more accepted. I felt free. Or so I thought…

When I reached my 40’s I decided I’d had enough. I didn’t really feel free anymore. I found myself asking “was I relaxing my hair to feel accepted or was I being compliant to society?” My hair was limp, dull and years of heat styling with straighteners had taken its toll. At that point I had an epiphany – I’d already accepted my skin colour and my heritage, the only thing left was my hair. So, I decided to go natural, back to my afro roots (no pun intended).  

After having my hair cut I was nervous about my first day at work, but to my surprise everyone loved my new hair do. I felt amazing, empowered, and that word again accepted. But this time I was in no way complying to the status quo. For the first time in my adult life, I realised the fascination white colleagues had with my afro hair. It was a revelation and a great way to educate people about afro hair. It made me feel incredibly happy and so Proud to Be me.

The reason I’m proud to tell you this story is because everyone, whether it be a black person, a gay person or anyone, they want to feel accepted in some shape or form. I can’t change my skin colour and I wouldn’t want to. I thought changing my afro hair would make me feel and be accepted but it didn’t. In fact, I was trying to comply with what people think is acceptable, the normal to them, the normal to society. For the people reading this story, I urge you to be true to yourself. Be Proud to Be you!

If I could go back and talk to my 11 year old self, I’d simply say, your afro hair is part of you, it makes you unique but it doesn’t define you. Instead of spending all that time and effort trying change my hair to comply and be accepted by others, I should’ve been proud of who I am and if anything what should be changing is the lack of education, tolerance and acceptance of race, cultures, religions and other marginalised characteristic. For those kids in high school it was just a few seconds, minutes, hours, day or week of cruel words, no consequences to their actions or the impact of their words. For me, it impacted most of my life but I’m finally in a place where I can say I’m incredibly Proud to Be me. I’m a proud 46 year old black women and a proud single parent with two amazing children.

Let’s celebrate why we’re Proud to Be

To support Black History Month on Co-op Radio we’ll be featuring ‘Proud to Be…’ soundbites from colleagues of black heritage from all areas of the business. These’ll be scheduled to play a couple of times a day on in-store radio throughout October. Longer format interviews that delve further into what BHM means to our colleagues will be available to stream on MixCloud.

In addition, all five of our ‘Saturday Night Party’ shows in October will be in celebration of Black History Month, featuring amazing music from black artists from across the years and across different genres (Motown, Reggae, Northern Soul, R&B etc, etc.). These shows will also feature song requests, introduced by our very own colleagues. And, to top it all off, we will have a guest presenter joining Matt on these special shows…. Malcolm from The Blue Clovers!

Listen out for our celebratory Black History Month shows this Saturday between 7 – 10 pm, and every Saturday throughout October.

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am a white woman with 3 children of mixed heritage. I have spent hours upon hours washing, moisturising and braiding my girls’ hair. When they were young I used to get endless comments about their hair (we live in a predominantly white area), people were fascinated by it. Friends didn’t understand the amount of time that it took to do their hair. I admit it caused me so much stress. Once the girls started high school I said enough was enough and that they would have to do their own hair. Fortunately they embraced this and do a great job. It’s good to talk about these challenges and Don’t Touch My Hair is a great book.

  2. Hi Elaine, what a fantastic story, I’m of Jamacian heritage so totally get it. I’ve had braids, relaxed hair and now like you embrace my natural hair. Thanks for your sharing this. I hope it will inspire others from BAME backgrounds to be “Proud to Be” not only over Black History Month but every day of the year.

  3. Love this article Elaine, written from the heart, and just so wonderfully you!

  4. Love your story Elaine – thanks for sharing! My husband has recently started to embrace his Afro & its absolutely beautiful, I’m so envious! Now costing twice as much on hair products though & often arguments about my stolen hair bands when he’s tying it up for work 😀

  5. thanks for sharing Elaine ….& love your afro its so you

  6. Thanks for sharing your story Elaine. My nephew has faced into similar situation but now in his early 30’s is fully embracing and loving his afro – why wouldn’t he?! Love the pink addition to yours too! It’s a pity we can’t all go back to your younger selves to offer advice…how different life could be. But as it is, we can all be grateful for when we do realise the beauty of truly being ourselves and sharing with others, to hopefully help them on their journey.

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