Celebrity Interview - South Africa's Very Own Lebo Mashile

By . - Friday, March 30, 2012

I had the privilege of sitting down with Ms. Lebo Mashile earlier this month. She is a prolific poet, humble humanitarian and definitely a friend in my head. Check out what she had to say about hair and everything in between.
Lebo Mashile - Good Hair Diaries

Kavuli Nyali-Binase: Lebo, thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me and do this interview for Good Hair Diaries

Lebo Mashile: Thank you for asking me to interview.

KNB: One of the reasons why I asked you to interview with me is because I caught you on Great Expectations one day, and I did a complete double take. I am loving this blonde short fro you are rocking. It’s so dope!

LM: Thank you! I’m loving it as well.

KNB: It’s so cute and it really brings out your features, but I noticed that not everyone is feeling this new look of yours. A couple of people on Twitter had some...

LM: ...Some hate tweets! (lol) Thankfully the trolls rarely direct anything at me, so it must happen in some category of Twitter that I don’t see.

KNB: I watch a lot of celebrities on Twitter get mangled by some of these trolls. I don’t think that I would be strong enough to handle the hate. How do you deal with the hate? Do you reply to these people?

LM:  No, I don’t! My strategy is, “Oh, that’s you over there?” BLOCK! I just block them all. I’ve learned the hard way with rare exceptions. I don’t do Google searches of myself because you are going to find some random really, really nasty shit. I don’t mind people who challenge me or healthy provocation. I like being questioned and I like pushing my head space, but I noticed that most people that are going to say things about you blindly, you really don’t want to read that stuff.

KNB: So you would rather that someone say to you directly, “ Lebo, I think your hair looks like __”, and then you could tell them where to get off?

LM: Exactly! I actually have no business knowing something that someone doesn’t have the balls to say to my face.

KNB: Enough about the haters. I think you did a really good job getting the right shade of blonde for yourself. I see a lot of black women who don’t quite get it right. How did you decide to go blonde?

LM:  I was in Sandton and I had a gig the following day, so I was shopping for shoes. It’s actually the shoes I’m wearing right now. Anyway, they didn’t have my size in that particular store and I was getting frustrated. I wanted a change so I went directly above to Carltons and it was 5pm and they were about to close. I begged them to let me be their last appointment because I needed to dye my hair. I wanted a drastic change! We picked a bunch of colours because I originally wanted a light brown with blonde highlights on the ends. The colourist did the highlights first and the colour was so amazing that we left it as is. It was the first time in a long time that I felt that tingle of chemicals on my scalp.

KNB: It took you back to your relaxer days, huh?

LM: Yes! So she was treating my hair and shaping the hair, and I didn’t get it at first cause I had the apron on still. I started to think that I had made a mistake, but once I took the apron off and saw myself, I thought it was amazing.

KNB: Do you recommend that people go to a salon when it comes to colour, or should we just pick up a box of colour from a chemist?

LM: I do think people should go to a salon to get colour. I am fortunate that in my line of work I have someone do my make-up and hair weekly at E-TV, so I had a long conversation with professionals about how to maintain the look. They all agreed that I did the right thing going to a salon.
Lebo Mashile - Good Hair Diaries
Source - Google Images

KNB: I recall this huge fro you used to rock. Your hair was dark and it was so pretty. What happened to that?

LM: I had a huge fro from 1998 to about 2001, which was my first fro. Then I had another one from 2002 to 2009. When my career blew up that was my definitive look, but I got tired of being the chick with the fro. Every question was about my hair, and the politics of my hair became such a big thing. I recall a journalists asking me why I wear my hair natural, and I said to her, “ If my hair was long and blonde would you ask me that question?”. She never published the question or answer in the end. So I felt that if I cut my hair off I could avoid the hair questions, and struss bob no one has asked about my hair in the past 3 years.

KNB: You found yourself singing Ms India Arie’s song “I am not my hair”!

LM: Exactly! Or I had just blown my hair out and couldn’t deal with steam, because it would ruin the style. How am I going to go to the gym? How am I going to do this and that? So I just woke up one day and said enough, because I wanted to see my features again. Also, with my lifestyle and having a small child, going very short turned out to be the best decision I ever made.

KNB: I’d like to quote your Twitter account if your don’t mind. Approximately 7 months ago you had the following to say: “We woman put in fake hair i.e. braids, weaves, etc for each other. I’ve never heard a man say they like them. These dudes just laugh.” Please elaborate on this quote, because my partner also laughed when I read this to him.

LM: You see! (lol) I’ve never been with a man who has liked any kind of extension in my hair. I’ve really only ever done braids, and no matter what kind of braids that I had, they always got a negative response.

KNB: Why do you think they got a negative response?

LM:  I’ve heard men say that they don’t know how to engage with them. If my hair is my hair then my man can touch my hair or brush my hair, but as soon as there is an extension on, it becomes as if your hair is almost an ornament. How do you engage with it? How do you touch it? Guys have also told me that the hair almost becomes its own character.  Someone once said to me that when I have my own hair, I am beautiful because I am me, but when I have an extension it’s as if I am beautiful because of the extension, and that’s problematic. And just nje, every brother whether he is the most super conscious brother or the main stream brother, they all diss the stuff! They diss it to the floor! I’ve heard poets right about it and comedians joke about it, “Nice from the back because of her weave, but when you look at her face it’s something else”. So there this thing with black women trying to make ourselves beautiful by becoming something else, which in a perfect world isn’t really a bad thing. I think that one of the best things about black hair is its versatility. You can rock a afro one day and then have your hair in knots, braids, twists or whatever. It’s really only our texture of hair that can do that. It’s a blessing! I just worry about the whole planet aspiring to one aesthetic. What’s that about? If the men who love us don’t particularly care for it, what are we doing?! Who are we doing it for? So when I think about the people who complimented me when I had extensions, I realize that it was only other women. “ Oh, I love that hair piece! Where did you get it?” It becomes a whole sisterhood with women. Hair is the ultimate ice breaker for conversations.
Lebo Mashile - Good Hair Diaries
Source - Google Images

KNB: I have another quote from about 6 months ago. “ “My hair is unmanageable” “Natural hair is aggressive”  “ It’s just too much work” are masks for “my hair isn’t good enough”” Please elaborate more on this. What does “Good Hair” mean to you?

LM: Growing up in the United States, I realized that hair consciousness is really low over there. I was there in the 80’s and it was completely unacceptable to be natural. I grew up in a house where mom always had short hair, except for one brief really dodgy period where she rocked a Jheri Curl (lol). As soon as I started “big school” I begged for a relaxer, and finally my parents gave in. I didn’t stop relaxing for 14 years. New growth was my enemy! My own natural hair was something that I fought vigilantly against. By the time I was about 14 or 15 years of age, I was relaxing my own hair. I had three different curling irons and it became my religion. I would wake up at 5am to tong my hair before school and I would wrap it up at night. I worshipped the temple of my hair. Growth was my enemy! I think there is something in the consciousness of black women that says who we are fundamentally is wrong, and hair is the final frontier when it comes to that. I do believe that the world is mostly white supremacist, and there is a reason why the wealthiest or most successful women we see in the media have weaves down to here. There is a fundamental agenda. It’s not that women with natural hair are less talented or less prolific artistically, it’s just that they don’t get the endorsements or the main stream access. They don’t get the opportunities! It becomes a survival thing. As much as passing for another race became a survival thing, so has changing your hair in order to continue doing what you love.

KNB: What did you think about the recent Vogue Italia article regarding natural hair? Is natural hair a trend?

LM: How can my blackness be a trend? What does that mean? So it’s in fashion now to rock an afro, will it be out of fashion one day? That’s horrible, disgusting, horrendous, cruel and white supremacists. When I say stuff like this people say that I’m too sensitive, too loud and that I talk too much. But it’s the truth!  I say this because I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning, see my hair in the mirror and think to myself that this is wrong!  As I am, the way God made me, I am wrong! What is that?!
Source - Google Images

KNB: What do you want to teach your little boy and your future children about their hair?

LM: I think that I am going to go very conservative with it. My kids are not going to be allowed to do anything chemically to their head until they are 18 years old, and they will do it with their own money, not mine.

KNB: What will you say when they remind you that their granny allowed you to relax your hair at a young age?

LM: Well, my mother was tripping at the time...lol. I do believe that my mother felt that the best thing that she could be was a living example for me, and she was that. Now I have a reference of a woman, that for the vast majority of my life, had short natural hair. That means a lot to me. My mother did her best to not make me feel like an outsider, and she knew that there were certain battles that she wasn’t going to win. For me, I find it absolutely fundamental that my kids know their hair. They must know, love and understand their texture. My son will either have a chiskop or dreads. The same thing goes if God ever blesses me with a little girl. Short hair, afro or braids...done! I’ve been doing work with the Film and Publication board for 3 years now. I’ve been going around to schools with them to talk about cyber safety and the Say No to Child Pornography Campaign. I find myself in different kinds of schools and environments. We went to a couple of schools in KZN that absolutely blew my mind. These were township schools with under privileged students, but the level of discipline, leadership and respect was amazing! You see these characteristics translate in the way these little girls wear their hair. The best disciplined black township schools always had little girls with braids or short hair. We spoke to one principle from the Grouteville High School right outside of Durban about his hair policies and he said, “ I don’t want sugar daddies standing outside my gate. If I allow weaves on the students I don’t feel there would be respect at the school because the students would be competing with the teachers! A child should not have the same hairstyle as the teacher. Secondly, this is a poor community. These parents don’t even have money for fees, so who is paying for these weaves? It means grown men are going to be parked outside of my school all day long.” So children walk down the street looking like children. Men can no longer use the excuse of the child looking too grown for their age.

KNB: Do you think that women who wear weaves are less African than those who don’t?

LM: Hair is such a personal and political issue, and it’s a part of you. It’s almost as if people become disembodied when it comes to their hair. Women think about the look instead of it being a living and breathing  thing. Black female image is a political and historical mind field. People have too much of an opinion about our image. I believe that all of us, in our  own special way, are a bit like Sarah Baartman with people around us staring at us and asking, “Why does this look this way, and why does this look that way? Why does she make these hair choices.” It’s a really messed up way of fetishizing black women. White women wear weaves as well. Does anyone say they are less woman or less white because that can’t grow their hair long?

KNB:  I would like to read a portion from your poem entitled “Tomorrow’s Daughters.

“I want to write a poem about pretty black girls who don’t relax and lie their dreams away.
Voices that curl the straight edges of history.
Hair thin slices of a movement turning the world kinky”

What were you thinking about when you wrote this poem?

LM: I was sitting in my bedroom in Yeoville looking out my window, and I saw these two girls walking up the street. They were being fly and cute in the way that little girls are cute. All of sudden this guy turned the corner, and their body language just changed. Everything about them changed, and they became aware of the fact that they were being observed. They became aware that a man was present and they needed to now react to this man’s presence. I just thought “Why does this need to happen?” These girls must have been between 12 and 14 years old, they were young. I kept thinking, My God, already at this age we know that you must adjust yourself and change for a man? I was also at a place in my life where I was still just a couple of years into the natural hair journey. People were always going on about my hair and this afro that I wore. It was always a point of reference, the first point of reference. People would become fixated on this and kind of peel you back like a banana to see what other layers you had and turn you into some sort of freak. I had all these things running through my mind and this poem is what came out.

Lebo Mashile - Good Hair Diaries
Source - Google Images

KNB: If your hair had a voice what would it sound like and what would it say?

LM: It would sound like Chaka Khan and Busi Mhlongo and it would say, “ I am everyone woman!”

KNB: What colour is your afro pick?

LM: Oh, wow! I have all sorts!  I’ve got a yellow one, a pink one and a cream/white one. I have different afro picks that live in different bags as well.

KNB: I always imagined you with the black afro pick  with the balled up fist as the handle.

LM: I would love that! Where does one get that?

KNB: I’ll have to find one for you and send it. This was fun Lebo. Thank you for hanging with me and letting the world know what you think about hair.

LM: Thank you! It was my pleasure.
Do you want to hear more from Ms. Lebo Mashile? Follow her on Twitter...twitter.com/@LeboMashile and get your fix!

Are you interested in learning more about the Say No To Child Pornography Campaign? Visit http://www.fpbprochild.org.za/Home.aspx protect our children. Report child pornography!

Have a Good Hair Day!!! 

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  1. Awesome awesome interview!!! Loved this! I was not allowed to "relax" my hair till i was 16 - le trng I only did it cos I was in matrci and had to look "pretty" for my matric farewell! ..lol.. jah neh..thanks for this!


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