Social Issues

Defending afro hair, a form of activism against racism in Venezuela

By Héctor Pereira

Caracas, Jan 23 (EFE).- In the space of three years Rulos de Venezuela has grown from a personal Instagram account offering afro hair care tips to a virtual community of more than 20,000 people who use it as a space to discuss discrimination, racism, and female empowerment.

Founder Paulette Abdallah said she started the page when she lived abroad and let her afro grow out — partly by choice but also because hair care services were lacking.

While she offered tips on how to maintain an afro hairstyle, she also came to realize just how little the look featured in Venezuela’s collective imagery.

Nowadays she sports her hairstyle with pride back in her native Venezuela, where for her it is a celebration of mestizo heritage as well as an anti-racist symbol.

“More people started to join, the account grew a lot, we started to talk about labor discrimination (…) important things that were not being talked about in Venezuela,” she tells Efe.

When she returned to her country, she found “so many people asking the same questions” she decided to do community workshops on hair care, a project that has taken her to coastal towns where the Black population is predominant.

“I didn’t think of doing activism and even less activism at this level, but one thing has been leading me to the other, things have happened by themselves.”

Paulette says that in Venezuela there is “a very specific beauty stereotype” that casts afro hairstyles in a negative light.

The issue is addressed in the Venezuelan film Pelo Malo, by director Mariana Rondón.

To fight against these prejudices, Paulette meets with small groups of girls and adolescents and teaches them that the type of hair they have speaks of their culture and ancestry.

She encourages them to cultivate the “seed of belonging” and not to be “slaves to the (hair straightening) iron.”

Paulette says that racism in Venezuela is a ceiling that prevents the free development of the Black population and notes the absence of people with afro hairstyles on local television and in advertising.

To teach her daughter to value her own beauty, Andrea Rebolledo took her to one of the Rulos Venezuela workshops in the neighborhood of Catia, where little Brianni met girls like her and heard positive stories about her hair.

Her mother, 21, says she leaves feeling grateful for learning how to speak with her four-year-old daughter about her hair and other things to lift her spirits when she is feeling blue. EFE


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