I did a truly brave thing this weekend. I went… to the hairdresser.
Now, I can hear you thinking, ‘c’mon, Yassmin! We want more!’
I get it. You mightn’t think a simple trip to a beauty salon would be notable, but there are a number of key points to keep in mind.
1 - Being in Paris, I have no vocabulary to do with hair, and in particular, the curly, afro, 4c hair that I have.
2 - The aforementioned curly, afro, 4c hair can be very easily mishandled, mistreated and mis-styled by inexperienced hands. Black-woman wisdom states that going to a hairdresser without a referral is playing with fire.
3 - I didn’t really want to go to the hairdresser… but alas, I do not know how to say no to an aunty.
You see, the coiffure in question sits right next door to my building’s entrance. Every single day I walk past, an aunty calls for me to come in. Typically, I respectfully smize (we’re all in face masks) and politely shake my head. Yesterday however, they were clearly more determined. One aunty ran out, and pinned me down before I could escape.
Ah, I just couldn’t find it in myself to say no to her face. Also, I didn’t have the vocabulary to make a good excuse. It’s fine, I said to myself. This would be an opportunity for me to try something new, right? I quietened my apprehensive subconscious. Khair, inshallah…
I arrive at midday the next day, as agreed. I meekly step into the crowded shop, offering a tentative ‘Bonjour…’
An aunty with hands deep in a customer’s locs looks at me expectantly over her mask. Uh oh… The Evelyn I agreed to meet yesterday is nowhere to be seen…
A few words of tongue-tied french later, I am seated, and told to wait. There are a few moments of silence before said aunty - who I later find out is named Ester - begins to yell at Evelyn (who it turns out was across the room with another customer). Her voice is incensed, the stream of fury in loud French punctuated by the occasional ‘Jesus Christ!’. As I strain to pick up any words, to try to understand the cause of the argument, I hear ‘Anglais’, and notice copious gestures and glares in my direction. Somehow the argument is about me? Oh la la.
Reader, I still have no idea what happened, or what I did to elicit such a strong reaction. I just sat quietly in my pleather chair and smiled vacantly, trying to be as nonthreatening and genial as possible. 20 minutes later, I was in Ester’s chair, being told my hair was tough (oui, c’est vrai) and trying not to wince.
In the end, I got the hairdo I wanted, and the knowledge that African matriarchs are terrifying in any language. And even though I fancy myself an ‘aunty’, truth be told, I have a way to go yet!
The week feels like it’s flown by, I can’t quite believe tomorrow is International Women’s Day. The symbolism is grotesquely timely, given current headlines: the Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan, cases of sexual assault at the highest levels of Australian Government, Switzerland projected to vote to ban the burka today. Gosh, being a woman is exhausting at times, isn’t it? It is tiring for those who are princesses, let alone those who face structural, cultural and geopolitical barriers so deeply entrenched, we can barely imagine a world without them.
I don’t know how I feel about IWD. Should it exist? Yes, I don’t see why not. Do I feel passionate about it? Not particularly. Which wouldn’t be much of a problem, if I weren’t surrounded my messaging that said I should.
IWD has always felt like it was for other people, perhaps because I didn’t grow up considering gender my primary method of marginalisation. It’s an amplifier of it, for sure, but it has never been the main lens through which I understood my place in the world. Arguably, intersectionality might contend that living at the confluence of various structures of marginalisation and identity mean that it isn’t possible to have only one ‘main’ lens… but realistically, we do, right?
Or maybe we don’t. Sometimes I find my preferred lens is so specific - diasporan, African heritage, Muslim, woman - as to be almost unhelpful. It’s a bit too niche to be useful for a movement, right? But is ‘women’ is too broad?
As I write this, I am struck by how the primary value for me in naming a contestable identity - womanhood, blackness, Muslimness - is in identifying the structure and method of marginalisation that occurs because of it. But that can’t be right, can it? There’s got to be a point to claiming an identity beyond the desire to point to a historical or structural inequality, right?
Wow. I don’t know. Thinking about my identity as a net positive, on it’s own terms, instead of as a response or reaction to the world around it feels important, but also impossible.
What’s the point of identity anyway, if not to place oneself in context?
As always, more questions than answers…
What I’m reading this week: I started Zadie Smith’s White Teeth this week! Oh damn, she’s so good it’s a little overwhelming. I found this piece on the book a lovely reflection.
What I am watching this week: I finished the first season of a French show called ‘Black Spot’ on Netflix… but I wouldn’t recommend it (unless you like scary weird supernatural French things?). Thinking of starting ‘Huge in France’ - looks trés drôle. Running out of French TV to watch though, so please do let me know if you have any recommendations!
What I am listening to this week: My friend Alex Leon created this fantastic French playlist for me! I am loving it, and you should too.
What about you? What’s been catching your eye this week?
PS - LISTEN LAYLA is out! Click here if you’d like to check out the book or buy a copy. I would be most grateful. My next adult non-fiction book has also been announced! It’ll be called ‘Talking About A Revolution’… stay tuned, inshallah!
Thanks for subscribing and reading this week’s edition of Diasporan Diaries. Please, comment with thoughts, questions, critiques…and share if it resonated. I have been loving all your comments and emails!
Much love, strength and safety to you all.
Really enjoy your writing - such a pleasure to read. Coincidentally, I have also just started reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith this week!
I really enjoy reading these weekly installments Yassmin xx you always pose such good questions, appreciating the food for thought on many levels xx ps glad the haircut was void of any faux pas ❤️