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Written work

Shane

When I was younger age about 10 yr old, I had very long hair and it meant a lot to me as my mother looked after it, it was always washed and greased and well looked after. One day I went to the park with my older sister. We was playing and I went down a slide but on my way down my hair was plated and it got caught in the slide, the slide was broken and had a crack in it. As I came of the slide I then realised my plat was in the crack of the slide, I had a square missing my plat had been ripped out. I started to cry I went home and told my mum. I also gave the plat to my mum, up to this day she still has it.

I’m proud to be black because us black people are different. We ain’t all the same, not all of us cut, have the same hair, talk the same, for e.g. I am black but I am mixed with Indian which means my hair is curly. People don’t understand what it is called. It’s true what people say about black people we may all be the same colour but people should not judge, coz not all black people talk the same and dress, I know black people that talk posh like a white person and black people that dress smart all the time.

Being black has and hasn’t been easy I use to go to a white area and get people looking at me calling out ‘oi you black boy’. I use to think ‘wow, why are they being rude’, is it coz I’m not the same colour as then and I don’t dress like them.

My mother also told me there are people that ain’t gonna like the way we look, talk and dress. Why? Because we are not the same colour.

Male, UK, 40s

It’s rather ironic that we now see the afro comb displayed in British Museums. As a black man in his 40s I grew up using Afro combs, at the same time I was constantly harassed by the London Met Police for carrying “an offensive weapon”. How we have so moved forward with time.

Male, 57, UK

I recall my first day in the army in 1971. We were lined up in alphabetical order and my name begins with a ‘B’. Despite being mixed heritage (English and Nigerian) my hair was tight curled and I had an abundance of it. The barber was not happy because my hair tangled up the new electrical clippers. When he had future haircuts he insisted the Africans and half-casts (as the likes of me were called in those days) were to queue at the end in case his clippers got tangled up again!

Male, 55, UK

Grew up in 70s during Black Panther movement in America. I remember every afro combs and picks (I had several). They were a symbol of Black pride.

Male, 54, UK

I do not need a comb, I have no hair!

Male, 47, UK

As a child, being sat on my mother’s lap and having my hair combed felt like a spiritual connection, feeling strength and nature flow through my locks as the comb/brush went through my hair. Made me feel part of my roots and culture.

Male 44

Made combs when I was younger. Still use some forms of combs. Electro-static electricity from plastic combs picked up by the radio. Splinters from the wooden comb would create moments of pain to be remembered for a long time. Nostalgia.

Male, 44, UK

Being born in the 70s my earliest memories of my parents were their afros and clothing. As African American children of the 70s my sibling and I all either wore our hair braided or in the afro style. Afro combs were always around the house. The ones I remember are the plastic comb, afro pick comb with clenched fist and my favourite was the foldable pick comb with the red and green handle.

Male, 43, UK

Thank you for at last letting the truth be told that there is indeed more to black history than just the slave trade. Fascinating thanks!

Male, 28, UK

Until me early teens I always used and Afro comb but then I chemically straightened it and stopped. The regular combs are too small to go through my natural hair. Now I’m natural again and I’ve gone back to the afro comb. It is part of my heritage and I believe all black people should own one even if they don’t have hair. It is a physical object that the Diaspora can have to remember where we are from and who we are and have pride in ourselves.

Male, 24, UK

I remember my mother combing my hair for school when I was in Jamaica and I used to cry. I used to run off or hide in the morning, then end up getting dragged up by my mum on some joke thing. Eventually as I got older I started combing it more regularly and oiling it. The problem now is the ingrown hair in my beard and I end up combing and brushing my beard more than my head. What can I say … Black man problems.

Male, 23, UK

When I was younger I had long hair and every time I think back to getting it plaited, it hurt a lot. When my mum used to part my hair was the worst even though I had nice hair I had to have it cut when I was 5 or 6 years old, but it’s an experience I look back on and laugh.

Male, 23, UK

I remember my hair being tuff and being sat in between my mum’s legs with my head being ragged about and get conked in my head for moaning and moving my head when getting it canerowed. I can remember teeth breaking in my hair or the iron comb burning my scalp or ears. I can remember relaxing my hair to strengthen my hair to smoothen. The pain when combing my hair out and I remember ripping knots out the end of my braids and I can remember my hair being cornrowed too tight and it hurting. And I couldn’t sleep and when it’s too tight it leaves bumps on the back of your head.

Male, 22, UK

Maintenance. No pain No gain. Anxiety to get a style done.

Male, 22, UK

As a child before church my uncle used to trap me between his legs so he could comb my hair. I was always the last to get my hair combed because I didn’t like to get it done. I used to watch my cousins and brother get theirs done and think how come the comb just glides through theirs. And the comb was metal.

Male, 11, UK

I really enjoyed how you merged ancient and contemporary combs together, which made it an explosive exhibition.

Kingsley

My name is Kingsley, I cannot say how/why I started growing my locks, but around 2000 I was plaiting cornroll and for some reason or other I started my locks. It has been almost 12 years now, long to my stomach/chest level. Maybe since my secondary school days at 11 years old I had the nickname Rasmoo by one of my senior’s at school. I have for the past years I have been keen about my hair, making sure I use the best shampoos, conditioners and hair products, up until July 2013, when I was imprisoned.

My hair is my pride which I cherish as my natural hair and I look at it and sometimes can recall my stages in life; my troubles, heartaches, joy, happiness, fatherhood and all life brings. I usually wash it every 3 weeks, and retwist it again, which keeps the bottom strong and grows the hair in its richness, niceness and length.

It’s always good and nice to hear the comments I get about my hair from friends, strangers who admire what I have worked for in years. My good and nice moments also are my little children as babies and toddlers pulling my long hair and playing with daddy’s hair always. I must say it hurts but I do enjoy it.

For the first time in months in prison at the salon I had it washed, dried and creamed the salon way and I am grateful about that. It felt so nice even to know the salon’s tutor’s first experience with locks and I must say she did it well and to the best of her ability. I admire her dedication to her work and as a stylist she took time to know how my locks is always done on the outside. Even with few products and lack of bee wax cream she did a good job. My respect to her and all the salon staff. Jah guide and bless.

Jonathan

As a mixed-race adopted child, I grew up in the 50s and 60s with very little contact with other black people, despite my 50% African genetic inheritance. This started to change in the early 70s, and I remember the day when I came across three black girls in my teacher-training college. I didn’t know them as they weren’t on the same course as me, but it seemed natural for us to greet each other. Almost immediately, one of the girls said “You don’t comb your hair, do you?” and before long they had given me my first Afro pick (they also recommended a hairdresser specialising in African hair, which I used once or twice).

In a way, the moment I received that first Afro comb marked my welcome into the ranks of the African diaspora – and not just because I started going out with the sister of one of the girls for a while. It was more that I now had a sense of belonging: without denying my European side, I now started to embrace the African side of my identity, sporting a big Afro (or ‘natural’) hairstyle at a time when black consciousness was rising, with slogans like ‘Black is beautiful’ and songs like ‘Young, Gifted and Black’.

Since then I have bought several more Afro combs, both wooden and plastic, and had other wooden combs given to me. Sadly I have lost most of these along the way, but I still have a small collection besides the plastic ones which serve for everyday use. Even though my hair is thinning now and the widely-spaced teeth of the Afro comb are not so crucial, I will never go back to the English combs I had to suffer as a boy.

Jonathan (Born 1949)

Female, 89, UK

My mother used to say: “You look as if you have been through a hedge backwards!”

Female, 8, USA

My grandmother cornrows my hair and sometimes braids my hair.

Female, 73, UK

I first bought an Afro comb in the USA in the early 1970s as I had an Afro-perm in support of Angela Davis and because it looked great. I have used an Afro comb ever since – though I no longer have a perm!

Female, 70, Australia

My mother used to heat a pan of curling tongs on the oil heater, try them on the ‘Radio Times’ and then attack my hair with them – horrid. Often I came away with a singed ear and horrible looking hair!

Female, 67, United States of America & Mexico

I was born in 1945 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Throughout my growing-up years, I tried to make my curly/kinky hair straight using brush rollers at night, or a clothes iron, or tape to tape down my bangs or ‘spit curls’. I always hated damp, humid weather since, by the time I got to school, my hair would be all frizzy again – not the popular style at all. Finally, in the 60s I grew my hair into an Afro style, using combs like those in the exhibit. I am a Caucasian Jew and my curly hair (natural) is now gray.

Female, 60, USA

When I was seven yrs old my mom took me to the hairdresser fort he 1st time. I was so excited. I got my hair washed and pressed. The hairdresser had to part my hair and comb it out in small sections.

Female, 57, UK

Very interesting exhibition. I needed to make sure I chose my afro comb carefully, It mustn’t be too flimsy, too wide, flexible but not too much so. The last thing I wanted was for the comb to break, not be able to com bout all the knots, or that I would have to spend too long combing if the teeth/prongs were too wide. This has brought back all those memories.

Female, 56, UK

My husband had dreadlocks for many years. When he cut them, people viewed him in a very different way (and this was in London!). People still make certain assumptions.

Female, 54, USA

Get the comb and brush’ was a regular announcement in my home. Sitting between the legs of the most beautiful woman I knew, I gathered the supplies along with a cup of water and Dryer Peach to ease the pain of the tangled knots. I felt special sharing my own private time with her. ‘Girl, you get prettier every day’. ‘Let me fix your crown and glory. Thin and long, just can’t escape slavery.’ She teased and puffed until I got a teased and puffed Afro.

Female, 54, UK

As a child I could not brush my hair, or comb it. I couldn’t bear to have it brushed, and the idea of my mother combing it was torture. As a teenager I alternated between very short cut hair or a mass of matted dreadlocks. As far as I know there is no African blood in my family. My dad has quite tight curly hair, my mum’s was wavy.

Female, 53, UK

When I was 14 years old my best friend used to let me afro comb her hair (she was of Jamaican descent). I was always surprised how dry her hair could get and I still remember the smell of the coconut oil she would use to condition her hair before combing. I particularly remember her having an afro comb with folding handles which I thought was very cool.

Female, 52, UK

I am a white woman and I recently found a plastic Black Fist comb while travelling on a London bus. I didn’t properly understand its significance until I visited this exhibition. Thank you.

Female, 50, USA

My mother when I was about 12 years old, she put a product on my hair called an uncurl because my hair was very thick, long and wavy in texture. I remember I had these huge rollers in my hair that looked like this. I could not wear an Afro because it will part in the middle so I wore Afro puffs that look like this. My comb looked like this.

Female, 50, UK

I often hear people say that it’s not what’s on your hair; it’s what’s underneath it. E.G. your brain. However, from this exhibition I’ve been fortunate to learn that what is in your hair can be a powerful symbol of fighting oppression and freedom!

Female, 40, UK

I have always struggled with how to wear my afro hair. I alternate between plaits, hair extensions and wigs as a means to be presentable as well as socially acceptable. I find that when my hair is ‘straight’ I am ‘sexy’ to white males (as well as black) but when ‘natural’ I am an undesirable… It is an identity crisis on a daily basis!!! I wear my hair to feel good not for others!

Female, 39, UK

Thank you. The exhibition makes me more proud of who I am and where I come from. Some of the most beautiful hair combs I’ve ever seen and believe me I’ve seen them. Love to Jamaican combs and also the Mozambique ones. God Bless sweet Africa.

Female, 39, UK

I have 3 children. One with long straight hair – she likes her hair being combed. One with short(ish) hair – long for a boy – he hates his hair combed. 3yr old with curly hair – looks like bad hair.

Female, 31, UK

If I’d come to an exhibition like this as a 10yr old I wouldn’t have hated my hair so much. I remember having a wet perm (aka a Jheri curl). Thank you for not recording the existence of the wet perm in this exhibition. It was a dark part of our history.

Female, 31, UK

I am known for changing my hair. In July 2013 – I went Montreal- cut my hair and probably going to keep it short. Before I used to spend £ 1500+ a year on my hair. Now I expect to spend £ 80-90 a year. I never hated my afro – just love trying new styles – which can be achieved with afro for less the cost.

Female, 30, UK

I had no idea that the Afro comb has such a long and fascinating history! I was amazed to see the Fitzwilliam was doing an exhibition of them; I have used only Afro combs for my hair for many years as it is thick and wavy and goes very ‘frizzy’ if brushed! My current collection of combs includes a Cameroonian comb (bought in Cameroon by my sister for me in 2001) and a Malawian one (from Cape Maclear, on lake Malawi, designed for me in 2011) and 2 plastic ones, one of which was bought in Dunaújváros, Hungary. I will think of my combs’ 5000-6000 year old ancestors now when I use them!

Female, 30, UK

When visiting Cameroon in 2001 I bought a wooden Afro comb for my sister. She is Scottish but has curly thick auburn hair and has always used Afro combs. 12 years later she still uses it; we visited the exhibition today and brought it with us for photos!

Female, 28, UK

My mother used this comb for my hair as a child. Here I am now an adult with children and I am still using this comb. I don’t go without one on my dressing table.

Female, 27, UK

If I had to choose it would be a wide-tooth shave comb. However, as a person with mixed hair and very disorderly curls I prefer to use a Denman hairbrush (7 or 9 rows).

Female, 27, UK

One summer when I was about 13 years old I decided to cut my own fringe. Big mistake! I just could not get it to go straight, so ended up cutting it off at the root. I had to wear a hat all through the summer holidays until my hair grew back long enough for me to pin.

Female, 27, UK

I grew up mainly in London, in a predominantly white area, and have had a long journey with my hair. My mother’s English, my father’s Ugandan. A lot of tears, pain, boldness, experimenting, accepting, and fun! I think I’m still a long way off really understanding how all of God’s hair creations are equally beautiful. In honesty I still struggle against that old lie the more European your hair is, the more beautiful it is. Still on that journey. So much to say on this topic I want to write a book one day! Fabulous exhibition, thank you!!

Female, 26, UK

My hair is very curly (blond Caucasian) and was always frizzy until I started using an afro comb and curly hair oils and products. When I was sixteen I was allowed to have my hair braided at an Afro-Caribbean barber’s in Birmingham. It took 6-8 hours to braid and afterwards I had so much extra hair in it I struggled to tie it back at all! I had a fantastic summer with the braids, enjoying not having to comb then just spraying them with oil based spray that smell – delicious!

Female, 26, UK

I used to have relaxer in my hair and was very nervous about stopping this because it’s all I knew! Furthermore, it wasn’t entirely ‘popular’ and people said I shouldn’t be able to get a comb through it! I’ve been relaxer free for 2½ years now and I love it! I love the diversity of Afro hair and just experimenting with what is natural to me. I use a wide-tooth comb, does the trick!

Female, 26, Canada

I recently cut all my hair which was a gigantic afro I’ve worn for years. Though much effort using picks, oils, and many wide tooth combs to get out the tangles I reached the state of “controlled messiness” everyone praised. Cutting all that hair gave me the impression I was free of the afro identity, my hair could not define me. Joke’s on me. It did – still does, but I love the process of growing my hair from scratch (sans chemicals). Getting it back to my version of controlled messiness.

Female, 25, UK

My fingers are my favourite hair combs because: 1. They don’t hurt me when going through my African hair. 2. These are the tools nature gave me and combs to some extent have been modelled on. 3. They are soft and manufacture free from birth. 4. I can lend them to comb others’ hair.

Female, 21, UK

Growing up I wished my hair was long and straight, I cried about it. I thought extensions were the best thing ever. Since my teens I’ve learnt to love my hair. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love my bouncy curls.

Female, 21, UK

I grew up with very long very thick hair and I relaxed my hair for a very long time. Recently, (1 ½ years ago) I chopped my hair off and went natural, and I feel much happier and healthier, because I hated relaxing my hair. My new mission is learning more about my hair, and teaching others about it as well. Understanding is the key to progress.

Female, 21, UK

When I was 4 my mom relaxed my hair and I never knew what natural hair felt like until I was 18. This was when I cut my hair and decided to go natural and this has been the most liberating thing I’ve done. Growing up, however, I always wished to have hair that white people have because of the pain involved in combing black hair. For this reason, I think our parents need to teach us more about combing our hair and knowing how to groom it.

Female, 20, UK

Once I got my hairbrush stuck in my hair because I tried to back comb it. It really hurt and my mum had to get the hairbrush out of my hair. I cried. From then on I have never back combed my hair.

Female, 20, UK

I am half Ghanaian, but lived with my English mother who after 35 years of long blond tresses suddenly had to master tight African curls. It was so painful combing every week I used to do my homework to get out of it! If I wanted plaits she’d send me to Auntie Matilda up the road for 6 hours as a time. One day I wondered what would happen if I washed it and then just left it without braids – and I’ve had an afro for 6 years since, but I still haven’t learnt to braid…

Female, 20, UK

When I was 6, I saw this L’Oreal advertisement about a children’s shampoo. I begged and begged my mum to buy it for me, anticipating that if I used it, my hair could come out like the blond girl’s in the ad. It didn’t. And I cried the whole time my mum blow dried it and braided it. “It” being my hair- I no longer refer to my hair this way.

Female, 19, UK

Comments about my hair in the last 12 months. “Can I touch it?” “Hey soul sister!” “It looks unprofessional, afros are intimidating” “How do you get it to stand up like that?” “If feels so weird!” “You have beautiful hair” “You look like a 70s crime fighter!” “Wow that hair is crazy” “I wish my hair was that interesting” “So when are you going to braid your hair?” “I wish I was brave enough to go natural too”.

Female, 19, UK

My hair was initially natural up until about 6, 7, 8, then it got relaxed. Then I stopped to ensure that my hair is healthy.

Female, 17, UK

For me, hair has always been an experiment. My mum had to learn to do my hair. So I’ve had a range of styles but I have never relaxed. “Hair days” were very painful! Recently, I have learnt more about my hair and especially the politics of it.

Female, 15, UK

People at school constantly ask me if I am ‘fully black’ or Indian because they say I have ‘Good Hair’ and think I am ‘Coolie’. What is Good hair? And what is a coolie?

Female, 14, UK

As a child my hair was very thick, and I broke a lot of combs. So my mother bought me an afro comb, which was able to comb through my hair. Fast forward 10 years I am beautiful.

Female, 14, UK

Well, I usually Plait my hair naturally. But on occasions I use extensions, I like having my hair out, because it gives me confidence. It makes me proud of my heritage and background.

Female, 14, UK

Well when I was young my hair was actually breaking and my mother had to shave it off. After when it was growing I wanted to perm my hair and it kind of helps my hair grow bit by bit.

Female, 14, UK

I can recall being sat in the chair as the hairdresser started the long labouring process of thermally straightening it. They always say it will take an hour tops and then I unleash my hair and they discover the layers and layers underneath. Because of this there’s usually a break where a black woman will not adhere to the stereotype and will eat a lot of chicken and chips before starting back on my hair. There’s usually several places of my skin that are burned but I can’t move because then their hand will slip.

Female, 13, UK

I like having afro hair. I can do lots of things to it. It is very hard to manage, but I love it!

Female, 12, UK

I am always asked questions about my hair. For example ‘Can I touch your hair?’, ‘Do you have to wash your hair?’ and ‘Is it easy to look after?’. People ask these questions out of ignorance, but I still don’t waste my time answering them.

Anonymous

I am deaf and there were no subtitles on your videos.

Ali

Proud to be black and African. Growing up from a very cultural family background I’ve learnt to appreciate and accept that I’m different. As a teenager growing up I had kids from high school saying I’m not black, I’m Arab because of the softness of my hair and because I’m Somalian which is stupidness. So I’ve decided to write I’m ‘100% black African and proud’ on the back of my jacket which used to attract lots of attention.

Ali, 23, UK

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