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South Africa's New Miss SA Has Renewed Conversation Around the Politics of Black Hair

The beauty pageant winner is the first to be crowned while rocking her natural hair in the contest's 60-year history.

The Miss SA contest is perhaps one of the biggest and most highly anticipated annual beauty pageants in South Africa. In its six-decade run, the pageant has evolved considerably. From Jacqui Mofokeng, the first Black woman ever to clinch the coveted title back in 1993 to Sibabalwe Gcilitshana, the first openly queer contestant in the 2019 edition of the contest, the pageant has certainly made strides.

This year's winner, Zozibini Tunzi, becomes the first Black woman to be crowned while rocking her natural hair. While this may not seem like such a big deal, the debates that have been sparked on South African social media show the need to continue the conversation around the politics of Black hair, especially in a country such as South Africa.

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For Shahd Khidir, the Sudanese Military Crackdown Has Been an Emotional Journey

The Sudanese-American style and beauty influencer behind "Had You at, Salaam!" writes about losing a friend in the recent crackdown and attempting to use her influence for good.

This was originally written for the iRunWithLula newsletter. You can subscribe here.

There's a revolution in Sudan, my country, and my weapon is my social media influence. This revolution has affected my friends and family however the hardest part was losing one of them. There have been uprisings since last year, against a 30 year military authoritarian regime that has persecuted my people but the uprisings started intensified in December 2018. A lot of peaceful protestors were beaten and lost their lives for a better future for the rest of us. In April, the former President Omar Al-bashir was overthrown. In return, we got a transitional Military Council that was supposed to be in charge and negotiate with the opposition to reach a civilian led democratic government. But recently, about one week ago, there was a paramilitary crack down on peaceful protestors by the Rapid Support Force junta. When protestors were attacked at a sit-in area. I personally lost a friend during that massacre and it was the hardest because I hadn't known when and how it happened until days later.

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Uganda's President Museveni Tells Miss World Africa She Shouldn't Wear 'Indian Hair'—Twitter Reacts

"I have encouraged her to keep her natural, African hair," said the president—but who asked?

Miss Uganda, Quinn Abenakyo, made her country proud earlier this month when she was crowned Miss World Africa during the Miss World Finals in China.

Following her win, the 22-year-old beauty queen was welcomed by President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday at the State House in Entebbe, where he congratulated Abenakyo, saying "she is the true definition of beauty and brains."

But because simply congratulating her on her achievement wasn't enough, the 74-year-old leader decided to take to Twitter to offer his unsolicited "advice" on how the beauty queen should wear her hair.

"Abenakyo is indeed a tall, beautiful Musoga girl," he wrote. "My only concern is that she was wearing Indian hair. I have encouraged her to keep her natural, African hair. We must show African beauty in its natural form."

If you're wondering who made Museveni and expert on black women's hair and beauty, or who asked for his views on Abenakyo's—the answer is no one. But the president is known for touting his unwarranted opinions on a regular basis.

Museveini's spokesperson Don Wanyama, attempted to clarify his statement about the beauty queen's "Indian" hair, and what he meant by his brash comments, telling BBC Africa: "Just look at the photo and you will see the type of hair. It's an unnatural wig, he was saying she should wear her natural hair."

Museveni is clearly out of place offering any opinion concerning positive representations of Africa, and especially sharing his two cents on how a woman chooses to carry herself.

Many online used the opportunity to take their own jabs at the hairless president.

The comments reopen a conversation around definitions of "African beauty," the policing of women's bodies—and why men continuously feel they have the right to do it—as well as the ways in which Eurocentric beauty standards affect women on the continent.

While the embracing of natural hair is undeniably beautiful and important, Abenakyo's decision to wear her hair otherwise, according to many of the best thinkers on the subject, does not take away from that, and it doesn't simply equate to a rejection of African beauty either. Black women's hair is versatile and choosing to wear our hair how we please—whether that be in braids, locs, weaves, wigs or afros—is an expression of our unique blackness in and of itself.

The beauty queen told BBC Africa, that for her its a matter of choice. And while she agreed with Museveni about "not trying to copy what the Western world does," the style in which she wears her hair is "50/50...depending on occasion and how I feel."

"No-one needs to define how you wear your hair and what you do," she added. "If you are comfortable, that is what matters."

While some agreed with Museveni, many Ugandans took to Twitter to defend Abenakyo and lambast the president:







Beauty
Image from Josef Adamu's 'The Hair Appointment' Series. Photo by Jeremy Rodney-Hall

Reclaiming Tradition: How Hair Beads Connect Us to Our History

A history of beads and African hair jewelry told through the unforgettable story of Baroness Floella Benjamin.

In 1977, Trinidadian-British actress and singer Floella Benjamin (OBE) was on her way to premiere her new blaxploitation film Good Joy at the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France. Styled in braids carefully accented by layered beads, she knew she'd standout amongst the festival's mostly white attendees, but nothing prepared her for the kind of reception she would ultimately receive.

"We drove along the [Promenade of] La Croisette," she recalls, "in an open top Cadillac for the film premiere and as we passed along, the crowds tried to grab my hair to get a bead as a souvenir."

It was a decade when sequined jumpsuits, gaudy fur stoles and overgrown sideburns were the norm, yet Benjamin's beaded look, which many black folks might have considered ordinary, was met with unparalleled fascination—a uniquely African hairstyle that black women had been wearing for centuries hadn't been seen before at a place like Cannes. "I stayed at the Carlton Hotel and the maids were intrigued," she recalls. "They kept knocking on my door just to look and stare at me."

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