When I was at the airport a few months ago, someone stopped me and asked what the “thing” I was wearing on my head is called. I told him it has a lot of different names but in Kinyarwnda, my native language, we call it Igitambaro to which he followed with the term, “Tignon. Where I’m from, we call it Tignon”. I had never heard of the term so, naturally, I asked him what the history behind the name was and here is what I learned…
During slavery, a law was enforced in the state of Louisiana that required all black women to wear a Tignon. Due to the rise of interracial reproduction, some black women’s skin tone was so light that they were sometimes mistaken for white. So, as a way for society to distinguish who was black and who was white– for reasons we all know too well– the culture of wearing a Tignon was born.
Today, black women wear head wraps as a fashion accessory for bad hair days, self expression and we do it with pride. Pride of our heritage, pride of the freedom to express ourselves however we choose, while Africans back then had no choice in the matter, it was yet another shackle, another label that made it okay for us to be treated as second class citizens.
Meanwhile, back in the motherland, in most countries, head wraps were and have always been part of the African woman’s attire in some shape or form. It’s part of a heritage, a societal norm if you will. While I’m sure for most of us, there is pride in the way we choose to express ourselves through attire, wearing a gitenge didn’t necessarily translate into African women holding their fists up in demonstration of the pride they had for being who they were– Africans.
As I grow older, I’m starting to see more and more how some of the very minute things about who we are as Africans, black people, have been used historically to plant small, but promising seeds of self hate. Today, a black woman who wears a head wrap is labeled “pro- black”, an advocate of African heritage, the “Erykah Baddu type”, the list goes on and on, you get the gist. I’d be lying if I said that there haven’t been times when I’ve worn one as a rebellion of the status quo but when all is said and done, I can’t help but feel like in some ways we’ve been conditioned to thinking that being US is an act of being conscious.