Umoja Conference

On the 19th of April 2014, we drove to St Olaf for the Umoja conference. The theme of the conference was moving forward. The 2014 Umoja conference was one of the greatest conferences I had ever attended while at Luther. Umoja is about the people of African origin coming together to celebrate their culture and discuss about how to move forward.

One of the sessions that stood out for me was about hair in our societies. Hair can be styled in many ways, and some hair styles are a form of identity. For instance, in most cases Rastas identify themselves with dreadlocks. Sometimes the way hair styles are perceived in societies affect the way we style our hair. For instance, in some business, having an afro is considered unprofessional while in others it is accepted. I know sisters who have to put chemicals in their hair in order to look beautiful and professional. On the other hand, some sisters put chemicals in their hair because it is easy to maintain. Similarly, some males keep their hair shot because it is easy to maintain. Even though in some cases society has a huge influence on our hair styles, some people want an easy way to maintain their hair while others find part of their identity in their hair.

 Moreover, I was exhilarated to learn that in some African communities, people used to organize competitions for the best hair stylist. As an economist, I know that competition encourages creativity. So, the competition would force people to parade their skills in designing and creating hair styles. I am curious about the variety of hair styles that existed before colonization in African communities.

My favourite lesson about hair was about how African-Americans used their hair as a protesting tool during the civil right movement. They let their hair grow naturally thus deviating from what the society of that time deemed acceptable or norms. This resulted to an increase production of diverse combs to cater for the different type of hair and styles. I find it hard to believe the power tool that hair became during the civil right movement.

Learning about hair made me question the way we move forward; as when we move forward, what should we take and how do we know we need what we are taking? Should I change my hair styles so that I look professional or I fit in?   

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