I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Love Your Hair

Amanda Bell
Don’t Touch My Hair, by Emma Dabiri Allen Lane, 256 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-0241308349 “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” began as a blog entry posted by British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge in 2014. She wrote it out of frustration with the failure of white people to “accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms” – the result of “living a life oblivious to the fact that their skin colour is the norm and all others deviate from it”. Between the publication of the blog and her multi-award-winning book of the same name in 2017, there has, she says, “been a renaissance of black critical thought and culture”. Recent discourse has opened up a broader understanding of structural racism and intersectional feminism, but Ireland – with its relatively recent experience of immigration – has a lot to catch up on; this makes Don’t Touch My Hair a timely and important read. Emma Dabiri, born in the US of Irish and Nigerian parentage, was brought up in Dublin – one of very few black people visible in the country at that time. Her new book sets out to educate a readership coming late to multiracialism. African hair provides the spine of her wide-ranging study, which sweeps from pre-colonial Africa to the Harlem Renaissance and Black Power; from concepts of time to theories of mathematics; and delves into the problematic issues of cultural appropriation and black hair capitalism. Everything you have been taught about Africa is a lie, a story designed to justify the continent’s exploitation. African classical sophistication is not acknowledged. African culture and its descendants are not lauded – rather they are dismissed as barbaric at worst, or ghetto at best. Meanwhile, we are taught that certain European art forms, often far less ancient yet far more dated, are what constitute the canon. Traditional African hairstyles are subject to this treatment. The title of the book is taken from a hit-single on Solange Knowles’s Number 1 album A Seat at the Table, which is indicative of how hot a topic hair is in popular culture. Indeed hair – rather than skin colour – as the principal signifier of race has the power to confer classification as black or not, and is therefore highly politically charged. Don’t Touch My Hair melds sociological and historical research with personal testimony; vernacular interjection sometimes creates an uneven narrative tone, but reminds the reader that…

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