On a trip home to the country of her origin for a family birthday, Nigerian-American YouTuber, Seun Okimi found herself intrigued by the manner in which Nigerians used relaxers to condition their hair. Interested in digging into this culture, she sought out to create documentary digging into its use using some of her nearest and dearest like her grandmother and mother as conduits for her story telling.
We asked Okimi some questions about her experience.
Hair is something that has taken very political connotations. In documenting this story, what were the statements you found people trying to make?
I found that people I talked to were not trying to make any political statements with their hair at all. The general feeling towards hair was that it was about choice. People often alluded to this choice being influenced by what other Nigerians around them their age were doing at the time.
You talk about the differences in the perception of relaxed hair in the diaspora and in Nigeria. What do you find is responsible for this?
The differences are likely the result of race not being something that is consciously thought of daily in Nigeria where everyone is black and does not necessarily have to fight to be accepted as black. Natural hair can often be used as a tool to stand against white power or standards, but in the absence of racial tensions in places like Nigeria, these discussions take place on a much smaller scale or don’t exist at all.
You have an academic background in Chemistry. How has that influenced your understanding of Hair trends?
As mentioned in the documentary, people are becoming more conscious of the ingredients they are putting in their hair in both America and Nigeria! I don’t think it necessarily takes a degree in chemistry to understand this shift. Relaxers are often done incorrectly and many end up with burned scalps and broken hair pushing them to go natural or turn to weaves and wigs in place of chemically straightening their own hair.
In the documentary, you suggest that relaxers becoming absorbed culturally within Nigerian culture without any critical discourse around it. Why do you think this is?
I believe this is because many people tend to follow trends and try to fit in with what is being done around them. I don’t think it goes much deeper than that and being about a style for many.
What has the response been like since the release of the documentary?
The response has been very positive. People like to hear of different perspectives on black hair and learn about Nigerian ways and culture in general, which was ultimately the goal of the documentary.