Jamaica Kin Teet
with Joan Andrea Hutchinson|
About Joan Andrea Hutchinson
NUBIAN KNOTS Dat bumpy head gal!
Manifestations of African culture caused an uproar in JAMAICA when a sister hosted a live TV discussion programme with her hair in "Nubian Knots".
Angry viewers called the station demanding that that "Dutty Gal" be taken off and one lady even advised "If my helper turned up to work like that, I'd send her home, she would have to go home. For such an intelligent and well spoken person, how could she come out much less appear on TV like that?"
The more intelligent viewers correctly observed that it was about time Jamaicans stand up and promote their own culture.
Joan Andrea Hutchinson tells her own story....
The programme I hosted is called Tuesday Forum, a weekly current affairs programme focussing on issues of national importance. These run the gamut from political, to medical to social to educational to economic. The regular host Elaine Wint was not available and I was asked to host a programme dealing with motivating teenagers to take control of their lives.
Tuesday Forum is broadcast live every Tuesday night. The Producer / Director is Alphanso Walker. The programme is sponsored most of the time by corporate groups. I wore my hair in Nubian Knots because I like it. I have been wearing natural hairstyles for the past six years. Sometimes it is braided with or without extensions, sometimes pulled back in one, sometimes twisted or plaited, sometimes in Nubian Knots. It just happened to have been how I wanted to wear it at that point in time. I think it shows up my best facial features and I wear it with pride to formal and casual occasions.
The hairstyle offended some persons because it did not concord with their stereotype of what a decent, intelligent, articulate, good enough for television individual should look like. Sadly there is in some quarters still a correlation between colour and perceived intelligence levels. People hearing me read news and host programmes on the radio often on meeting me are surprised. When I ask about their perception from having heard me I am often told "light skinned, long hair, slim and very fashionable". According to their stereotype, someone who looks like me should be a creole speaker, not particularly well educated and struggling with the english language.
Prior to the start of the show I jokingly said to the panelists that maybe by the next day people would be calling the station to ask them why they had this girl on TV with her hair like that. I did expect that there would have been some level of criticism from a few quarters. I know for example that there are very few offices in Jamaica that would embrace me wearing my hair this way, or twisted or plaited to work. If you look around most offices, especially in corporate Jamaica, ninety percent of the women have their hair straightened. But the this is country where some women still bleach their skin in an effort to feel more acceptable. Many schools still do not accept children wearing dreadlocks, and certainly most offices do not.
A wide cross section persons were offended, most of them traditionalist who help to preserve the status quo and who are not enough of risk takers to dare to attempt to change it. During the programme the station was bombarded with calls from angry men and women old and young using very harsh language telling them to "teck that gyal, that street looking gyal off the air". The calls continued at least for the next five days.
One woman even called me at my office (a call which I recorded) and told me that she had always been impressed with me as a newsreader but now that she had seen me she was disappointed. She said I am a disgrace, I should be ashamed of myself and asked what is the country coming to. She said she had switched off her television and knew several others who had done so. Finally she commanded me not to ever go back on television looking like that with them "bump thing" in my hair and ended by calling me "dirt".
So, Were the reactions more severe or in any way different from what you anticipated?
No. Nor have I been particularly perturbed. In fact people have been amazed at how I have dealt with the whole issue. You see I believe that at this stage of my life I dance to the beat of my own drum and it is I and my Creator who set parameters and rules for my life, not society. As I keep telling people my hair is clean, it is healthy, it is neat and it is beautiful so wherein lies the problem. But in a society preoccupied with trappings it is more acceptable to spend a quarter of the salary straightening and treating the straightened hair each month. And for many, straightened hair in any form is more acceptable than natural negroid hair. Natural hair if it is semi-caucasoid, semi-indian, semi-chinese or mixed in any way is good. Natural negroid hair is regarded as tuff and course and not beautiful.
The reaction is common especially among the unenlightened. Yes many women do have problems especially those who work in corporate offices. There is a lot of pressure on women who cut off their hair and wear an afro, or braid it. They are often told that they do not have the corporate image. In fact I heard one of the trainers telling the finalists in a beauty contest a few years ago that "braids" is not a formal hairstyle and must not / cannot be worn formally. I knew of a woman who was involved with a man for three years and the week before the wedding he asked her if she was not going to do something decent with her hair for the wedding, such as straighten it.
The issue did the rounds on all the talk shows with the talk show hosts and most of the callers being supportive of me. The initial critics I believe were surprised at the stance most people took and have crawled back into the woodwork. This issue of loving ourselves as black people, using my experience has been talked about from the pulpit, from the stage, in the classroom just about everywhere. Hot on the heels of my situation, Farrakan came to Jamaica and so the discussions on racial issues continued.
The outpouring of love and support from the Jamaican people has been overwhelming. Daily people either call or stop me in the streets, the policemen, the peanut vendor, the doctor, the politician, congratulating me on my stance and on my recently produced audio cassette "Dat Bumpy Head Gal". People come up to me in the street with comments like "Meck di whole a dem lef yu yu hear chile, you look good and mi proud of yu"
A lot of women have now taken the plunge and done what they wanted to do for years, cut off their hair as my appearance on television has legitimized their action. It is now more difficult for a manager to criticize employees who are black and natural as the Joan Andrea Hutchinson story is used as a reference point.
This has only served to boost my public image and career prospects. That I was daring enough to do something which caused so much controversy and that I have handled it with so much style, has increased public appreciation of me as an individual and my work. I am quick to point out that individuals have choice and must exercise those options. I am not telling any woman that they should wear their hair the way I wear mine. However if this is my choice, get on with your life because this does not affect you, and if it does, then you need some assessment. I tell people that though it is unlikely, if I choose to get up tomorrow morning and straighten my hair, it will be my prerogative.
I had been preparing the dialect poems and stories for my first book when the situation occurred and I derailed the process and produced an audio cassette called "Dat Bumpy Head Gal" sixty minutes of the best of Jamaican comedy. In addition to the very funny situations played out in the pieces a specially written poem, the title track, has been receiving rave reviews.There is also a poster called Dat Bumpy Head Gal, with a big photo of me in my nubian knots and the poem down one side.
The cassette and the poster have taken off like wildfire. I am very much in demand for live performances and sales are doing very well. Driving in traffic I hear a number of people playing the casseette in their cars, it is played a lot on the radio, and the posters are up in a number of offices and homes.
I am also doing far more speaking engagements geared towards helping people accept and love themselves. I am most times introduced as "Dat Bumpy Head Gal". Ironically, it is not a curse phrase but a positive identification which I like and people seem to warm to. Someone once asked if I don't find it degrading to be called a gal. I responded by saying there are many men who call their women queen and treat them very badly. I would rather be respected gal than an underfoot queen.
Dat Bumpy Head Gal by Joan Andrea Hutchinson
Tell me how me no good enough fi yu TV screen
Cuss me how me is a bootoo an me no have no class
Yu say me hairstyle disgusting chacka chacka an tan bad
Yu see, di truth is me no afraid of me owna self
Me like her thick nappy hair an her broad face
But serious, when yu a go fall in love wid you
For ef it kinky or straight, ef we black or white
But ef all yu kyan do is criticise di Father work
So galang, call me black an bumpy head ef yu want
- Joan Andrea Hutchinson 96