By Prof Agyeman Badu Akosa
The black race has two main characteristics, a melanin rich black skin to protect us from the ultraviolet rays of the sun and hard curly or kinky black hair. In addition are fuller lips, in particular the upper lip, and a broader nose, both of which have adaptive significance for the environment we inhabit.
Although intended to serve us well, these characteristics have been used in many places to discriminate against the black race, to the extent that it has become imperative to modify some of the features in order to evade harsh directives.
Man’s ingenuity continues to be applied and plastic surgeons today can do pretty much anything, broadening the upper lip and reducing the dimensions of the nose, while giving it a point.
Whitening of the skin has become so pervasive that Glutathione tablets are used to reduce melanin production and, sadly, it is even being applied to the unborn child. Black women have become lighter shades, so much so that the real black woman has become minority.
Straightening of the curly hair to the long straight hair of the Caucasian is done regularly, in addition to the wearing of wigs made of artificial materials and human hair from East Asia and India.
The cost is high, but the black woman must have them as part of her near- permanent disguise. The straightening has gone from the use of normal or regular hair pomade and heated metal combs to the use of many chemical relaxers.
The use of hair dyes has also become fashionable and our women can be anybody they so wish to be but themselves, and that is not without complications.
Certain diseases are known to be either common in the black woman or have been found to occur at an earlier age, compared to Caucasians.
My personal experience as a Pathologist in the UK was seeing fibroids only in black women. I can count the number of times one found it in a Caucasian, and it was usually one, unlike the many (the largest number I have encountered is 98 nodules) in a single womb and increasingly in a younger age group; the youngest a 24-year old.
Fibroids are hard nodules of disorganised smooth muscle cells, which is the predominant cell in the womb. They may occur in the stomach, intestines and skin, but by far they occur mostly in the womb.
They affect fertility and commonly lead to increased monthly or inter-menstrual bleeding, with or without lower abdominal pain.
Breast cancers are on the rise and also occurring in younger women: work done in Ghana shows the median age to be 10 to 15 years younger in Ghanaian women than among Caucasians and more aggressive.
Also, because we present to hospitals late, the outcome is worse. Many researchers have hinted that the chemicals in hair relaxers, straighteners and dyes could account for these anomalies.
Recent publications have indicated the presence in black hair cosmetic products of many chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine system and the regulation of the reproductive systems, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism and sleep.
The chemicals can cause cancerous tumours, birth defects, reproductive problems, developmental and neurological disorders. The chemicals, including aromatic amines, can cause DNA mutations and known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde which are used in some popular hair smoothing or straightening products.
The chemicals are also present in shampoos, soaps, dyes and nail polish. However, because manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on salon products, it is difficult to find information on the toxic chemicals.
It is the regularity in which black women use these chemicals that has become the point of contention. Many use these chemicals like every four to eight weeks.
A recent publication in the International Journal of Cancer analysed the link between chemical hair straighteners and breast cancer and found an increased risk of 31 per cent. Do white women not use these chemicals?
Studies have pointed out that because their hair is straight, lighter and softer, even if they use such chemicals, they use smaller quantities and not the harsher chemicals.
It has been found that 74 per cent of black women use the chemicals compared to only three per cent of white women.
If the information above is indeed true, what happens going forward? Black hair with its undergrowth is protective of the scalp. Relaxing and straightening exposes the scalp to greater ultraviolet rays, not to mention the burning sensation from the chemicals.
Why do black women have to have straight hair?
Beauty has been classified uniformly between black and white women and it appears the criteria for assessing beauty favours the white woman and, therefore, this is the response of black women.
Can we as black persons not come out with our own criteria of beauty and, if need be, have our own beauty pageants. Should we always suffer in the quest for equity? It is, indeed, the black woman’s dilemma and most certainly a dilemma for the entire black race.