Hair Talk Returns With The Diaspora Diva

Monday, June 16, 2014

It's been a while since I've dedicated space on Natural Belle to the Hair Talk segment, I got a little tired of asking the same formulaic questions, so I decided to set up a series of email interviews, talking to natural women from across the globe who have something interesting to bring to the natural hair debate. I was honoured that my first interview was with the beautiful Emma Dabiri AKA The Diaspora Diva. We met at Curlvolution as we both spoke on the panel with Taren Guy. The panel was great fun but we both agreed that more time was needed to get into things. So this is an introduction to a UK blogger you may not know, as well a chance to ask a few more questions of Emma....Enjoy!

Introduce yourself, what do you do? 

My name is Emma Dabiri, I am a PhD researcher in Goldsmiths. I also teach African Studies at The School of Oriental African Studies. I blog and write as The Diaspora Diva. You can find me @TheDiasporaDiva and

How long have you worn your hair in it's natural state? 

Since 2012

What prompted your choice to return to your natural state? 

At first it was political actually. I know for many people it isn't, but for me it was. I was tired of trying to be something I'm not. I hoped that I would eventually grow to like it aesthetically but that took time. A few weeks after I got the big chop I actually rocked a couple of weaves. It was mainly the shock of
having my hair so short. I hadn't had a relaxer in about 1.5 years when I finally chopped so it wasn't even short in a cool way, but was a horrible inbetween length that really didn't suit me! I also didn't know how to style my hair at the time. If it was that length now I could totally work it.

What was the turning point when it came to caring for your hair in it's natural Texture?

Probably after about a year of refamiliarising myself with it, I felt like I could look after it properly and get it looking the way I wanted, but to be honest I'm still learning.

What are your go to products?  

I'm very low maintenance. For me that’s one of the beauty's of natural hair, the fact that I can be. But I do need lots of organic shea butter and extra virgin coconut oil. They are must haves! At the moment I am using Shea moisture shampoo and conditioner and they seem to be doing what they should!

How has your choice impacted your life? 

If I am wearing it out in a huge Afro I can feel really conspicuous in certain spaces . People might like it but it can still feel like its almost a performance in someway. I don't always feel like that, but I do sometimes and I sometimes wish people were just more used to seeing Afro textured hair. I work occasionally as a commercial model and my hair really dictates whether I work or not. If I have it set and looking like its straight I get a lot more work than if I just rock up with my 'fro. That being said I can get booked if its in its natural texture but styled in a certain way. I wear a lot of braided styles.

Do you feel their is fair representation of natural hair or women of colour in the commercial modelling industry, do you feel a certain type of look is sought after?

 There is very little representation, particularly of natural hair. You do regularly enough see maybe, one mixed-race model with a group of white models in a commercial. 9 times out of 10 they will have loose curly hair, maybe with blonde highlights, that seems a popular look!
If the model has type 4 hair she will most likely have a weave. You do occasionally see kinkier textures but I think that is still considered very niche or seen as being explicitly 'unconventional' or 'retro'.

Have you come up against any kind of texture discrimination in regards to your hair type?

Absolutely, I don't have the typical curls associated with being 'mixed'. If my hair had been more curly I probably never would have relaxed it in the first place. In-fact I probably preferred curly hair to the relaxed look. I used to relax and then sit for hours under the dryer with literally hundreds of curly perm rollers in my hair to achieve that look. It was funny because after all that work and processing, everybody would assume that was my 'natural' texture. I heard Karyn Parsons-Rockwell (Hilary Banks from the Fresh Prince saying something similar). Buy anyway my hair has a more kinky texture.
That being said when I went back to natural I discovered that my hair has about three different textures and I do in-fact have some curls. Id say my hair is kinky-curly. I almost felt like some kind of traitor when I discovered my curls ha ha

I had the opportunity  to meet you on a natural hair panel, do you think it's still important to talk about natural hair or black women's hair as a whole? 

Yes, I do think its a conversation that needs to be had. Afro hair remains stigmatized and largely invisible. Its still a highly emotive subject and when you talk about it tensions can rise. I've been surprised by the extent to which they can in-fact.
But what I really want is to just want normalize Afro hair and get it to the point  where we don't have to think about whether or not wearing our hair natural in its will effect our  employment prospects or not . Where there is no longer a debate about whether or not it is political.

A lot if the discussions surrounding afro hair is based weave V natural Debate ending in the diplomatic conclusion that we have choice, do you feel the decision to wear your hair in weaves, relaxed or natural is that clear cut? 

No nothing is ever that neat really. Ideally a woman would be able to make full use of all the versatility that black hair styling has to offer without it being seen as revealing something fundamental about who she is, but I think we are still a long way off that. People continue to make -often inaccurate- judgements based on hair style.

What do you think of the emerging natural hair scene in the UK? 

It's good that that community is there and that women are connecting and supporting each other. Hopefully the growing presence will help to normalise afro textured hair.


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