Ebony, black is beautiful, black and shine, dark and lovely.
Those were the phrases I grew accustomed to as a child. Being from Nigeria, the most populated black nation in the world, my blackness never stood out. It was never a topic of discussion. To me, being African was just… normal. But then, colonization rained heavily over Africa, and with it came the trend of looking whiter.
I remember fervently up to the time I moved to the U.S., that my hair was religiously permed once a month. It was a ritual I never questioned, nor did I ever think it to be dangerous. In fact, I thought perming was the best thing for my hair. I was so ignorant of the European standards beneath the rough edges of my well permed hair. Right after moving to the U.S., the natural hair trend was all over social media and I decided to give it try. When I did, the glorious shade of black and perfect curls I never knew existed emerged. My natural hair journey was one of the most freeing experiences and suddenly, I knew that I had been released from the shackles of white beauty. After time, I was bored of my hair’s inability to create an Instagram wonder, so I decided to get a fade haircut.
My desire to look beautiful was there and so was my desire to be a successful broadcaster. My journey through West Chester University was beyond amazing. I met people who encouraged me and motivated me to be my best. I rocked my fade and aced my classes while praying to God for the strength to fulfill my dreams. I applied for an internship at a notable local TV station with the hope of getting my foot in door and being in the same environment with established broadcasters. On the day of my interview, I asked the recruiter if she would employ me if I were applying for a news reporter position. She replied no because, according to her “I didn’t have the style she was looking for.” Thinking it had to do with my accent, I asked why her reply was negative. She said my accent was not a problem as I was easy to understand, and I could get a dialect coach, but my “style” was not for local TV.
Immediately, I knew she was referring to my beautiful fade and my strong African facial features. The European beauty standards I had done away with were once again staring at me in the face, urging a fight or flight response. I have chosen to fight, and I will till the very end.
My life as an African-American has been good to me so far. I was born in Manhattan, New York and later raised for four years in Brooklyn, New York. Once I moved to Pennsylvania, I knew my life would be different. I went to three different schools in Pennsylvania and Delaware until graduating high school.
I love my roots so much and it became surreal for me once I was traveling back to Nigeria for the first time in 2011. Anxious and eager to see both of my parents’ sides of the family, my immediate family and I drove to New York and later sat on the plane for over 12 hours heading to Nigeria. It was amazing, but the second I landed, the intense amount of heat swiftly grazed my face and I was taken aback. While there, I traveled to see where my parents grew up, visited well-known beaches and malls, but that was nothing compared to the electricity crisis. I saw how the electricity company took light from thousands of families with no concern for when they would receive it again. They used backup generators to compensate for the constant loss of light. Although the electric epidemic continues to reign in Nigeria, I enjoyed and appreciated my time there. The one thing I took away from it was to always be grateful for what you have and never lose sight of it.
I came back into the U.S. and wondered for years what I could do to better myself for my people. I remember seeing all of my cousins and family members with their permed hair, but still glowing. They continued to embrace themselves, but it was evident that the beauty norm was to have straight hair with little to no kinks or curls; I wanted to change all of that.
In 2016, I went up against several women in a pageant to represent my Nigerian roots and to deface the stereotypes associated with Nigerians. I stood proud and announced my full name, which consists of over four names, so everyone could know who I am. My hair at the time was very short and I wasn’t sure how I would fit into the normality of being a beautiful lady with short hair. I knew many people in the crowd were shocked at the fact that I said I was a Nigerian girl taking on journalism in college. You see, many Nigerians have the mentality of only being successful by pursuing an interest into three careers: a doctor, lawyer or an engineer. So, to them, I already came off as different. I watched how everyone around me got their hair done in perfect curls, while I showed off just my kinks. Similarly to Victoria, my hair was permed all the time until I was able to take care of my hair in the 7th grade. At that point, I finally reached a stage in my life where I just wanted to break out and be free from my hair.
After years of watching reporters and anchors on TV, I saw how many women had to conform into wearing sew ins, wigs or just straight hair, but I wondered: why is that? Why is it that you cannot embrace your natural hair on TV unless wearing it straight? Why is it that we must conform to the societal view of beautiful and successful on TV? I seriously don’t understand it. As ambitious as I am to enter into the professional world and become a news reporter, I look at the hard truth of life and wonder what can I expect if I receive a job that tells me my looks aren’t ideal for the position. Despite it all, I will continue to stand strong and embrace my strong facial features with my natural hair.
As Nigerians with natural hair, both Victoria and I continue to shine bright and defy the odds of not being the typical news reporter that everyone sees on TV. As we walk across the graduation stage on May 13, we aim to enter into the broadcast industry as reporters with an ambitious goal: to excel in anything that we put our minds to.
Jennifer Odiatu is a fourth-year student majoring in communications studies with a minor in journalism. ✉: JO820471@wcupa.edu.
Victoria Molumo is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in international business. ✉: VM859943@wcupa.edu.