I’m still convinced that comedian Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary, Good Hair, did way more damage than good. In an attempt to shed light on an ultra-sensitive subject that haunts Black women with a “specific grade of hair,” Rock ended up righteously exploiting the motives of those who despite not creating the drama, have to ultimately suffer the consequences.
But there was no way a Black man with celebrity status, was ever going to get it right. Of course his angle would almost demonize the habitual need of Black women to spend more money than they can afford on “creamy crack” or luxurious hair extensions from the temples of India, all in an effort to compete with more desirable non-Black women.
The film basically showcased a slew of Black men from all walks of life, who were employed to validate the narrative of how Black women take this hair stuff way to seriously! And the famous women of color who were recruited by Rock, didn’t add any measure of seriousness to a heavy topic of discussion, that obviously goes way beyond the very pricey and endless search for “perfect hair.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Good Hair was inexplicably chosen for the Special Jury Prize Documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and I can only conclude that it was hard for the judges to neglect a Black movie about Black women and their hair woes, by a well-respected Black comedian.
When it comes to diversity and the products that are celebrated as adequate representatives — White Hollywood never fails to choose the suckier versions.
Fast forward to a decade later, and the debate over whether or not Black women are permitted to wear their hair in its natural state is still active, and it’s not just Black girls that have to suffer, as evidenced in the deplorable actions taken by a so-called Christian school in the gangster state of Florida — where an impressionable six-year-old boy had to endure the worst case scenario that could occur on your first day in a classroom.
Clinton Stanley Jr. committed the great sin of showing up to class with dreadlocks. We’ve been taught to admire ethnic hairstyles on White kids, but when a Black boy allows his locs to thrive, White women officially lose their shit, and demand his removal from the premises.
The poor boy looked horrified in the viral video that incensed tons of viewers, and apparently made the school administrator’s life a living hell with death threats from angered callers, who needed to know why it’s considered “un-Christian” to lock your hair.
The good news is that the Black boy who was shamed for his dreads is now enrolled in an institution that isn’t at all concerned with the way he grooms his hair, as long as the presentation is neat and tidy.
The bad news is that the nightmarish encounter he had with racists posing as school officials, isn’t an unusual occurrence because Black kids are routinely harassed by White teachers about the distracting hairstyles, that are deemed inappropriate because of their uniqueness.
My hair was always a source of stress from an early age, and it continued into adulthood, when I was also privy to the weightiness of figuring out how to style my hair in order to secure the fancy corporate job, or comfortably compete with counterparts sporting the ideal texture that guys can easily run their fingers through in the heat of passion.
My mother formally introduced me to the concept of caring for my very thick and cumbersome tresses on the days that were set aside to wash, detangle, condition and plait, and the process wore us both out. To be fair, being her only daughter allowed my energetic mama to relish those planned bonding sessions times.
I wasn’t that psyched about the heavy-duty comb raking through the sheets of jet-black strands because it didn’t feel pleasant. I also didn’t look forward to the part where my squeaky clean hair would be converted into plaits after drying. The glistening blue or green hair pomades in the glass jars didn’t really do very much to soften or tame. They were only good for oiling the scalp and keeping dandruff away, but if only SheaMoisture had been a thing!
When young adulthood tasked me with the responsibility of grooming my crown of glory without the interference of parents or evil boarding school housemistresses, there was the immediate need to settle on styles that didn’t cost more than I could handle, especially since I made the rash decision to move to NYC.
But like most young Black women, the experimental phase was adventurous and unavoidably expensive. And since I sucked at relaxing my hair at home without assistance, the only option was the hair salon. That worked out for an extended period of time, but by the early 2000s, the urgency to embrace my natural roots was hard to resist.
This method of styling wasn’t as cost-effective as I had hoped, since natural hair salons were few and far between, and the winning location was one of the best around, which meant that the bill presented after my robust twists were ready for their city debut, always made me hate myself for not being unable to perfect the look without dipping into the bank account.
#BlackGirlMagic and the #naturalhairmovement was still more than a decade away, and so the climate didn’t lend itself to the awe-struck reception that presently greets natural hairstyles that are considered Insta-worthy.
Back then, my overly-bushy Afro didn’t invite praise-worship, but rather distant glares, and uncomplimentary responses from family and friends, who couldn’t figure out why I had given up on this thing called life.
So naturally, a part of me is resentful about the scheming of trends, and how the very thing I championed as a lone soldier, is now the heralded lifestyle choice that’s here to stay. .
The other aspect of it, is the frustrating realization that proves how Black people who share my hair type, have to constantly wait for the climate to shift in our favor or for the laws to be amicably amended, in order to freely indulge in our Afro-centricity.
When Kim Kardashian West rocks her homage to “Bo Derek” on the red carpet, beauty editors can’t get enough of her varied palette, that somehow looks more polished and edgier on a White woman who is succeeding in her quest to evolve into the more acceptable form of a Black woman.
But Black women can’t even sport braids or locs in certain environments without getting systemically shamed or threatened.
How many times have we heard about Black women in the military being consistently harassed for wearing natural styles.
And after a lot of noise was made over those biased standards, new laws have been slowly implemented to return the dignity and respect back to Black servicewomen who don’t deserve the unfair treatment that demeans their appearance and derails what they signed up for.
My reluctance to be regulated by the standard default, that exalts the viability of the White aesthetic, permitted the ability to showcase my natural tresses with unapologetic candor. That explains why the older White woman at the temp agency wasn’t able to convince me that my job prospects would increase if I “tamed my hair” accordingly.
And now with the recent upgrade from the New York Commission on Human Rights that has executed the mandate that “bans discrimination by employers, schools and other public places, based upon hairstyle,” there’s the belief that these much-needed revisions will help to curtail the number of incidences that leave Black children mentally-wrecked.
But even more vital, is the comprehensive need to permanently release the systemic hatred for natural hair without the compulsoriness of laws that force those humane tendencies.
The incredibly disturbing case of the high school wrestler, who was emotionally abused by a White referee, who insisted that the dreadlocks had to be recklessly shorn before the teenager could compete, drew plenty of ire from observers, who were pained by the visual of the White blonde-haired girl, butchering Andrew Johnson’s gorgeous locs — in full view of gawking adults.
Those instances of systemic abuse are revolting to behold, but the depth of the violence is embedded in the extreme hatred that we harbor for anything or anyone that doesn’t meet the standards of viability, that is inspired by the superiorness assigned to White features.
This inflexible state of mind is also flourishing in Black households, where children are aware of the value or lack thereof when it comes to hair texture, and how “good hair” resembles less-kink, and defined curls without much manipulation, while “bad hair” is full of dry kinks that require a lot of exertion to unearth weak curl patterns that are tragically undefined.
Even the daughter of Jay and Bey isn’t immune to the disapproving comments of online trolls who shamelessly insulted Blue Ivy’s “unkempt” tresses, that revealed a grade of hair that was considered the curse of looking more like daddy.
But the recent images that showcased the ample results of allowing strands to breathe without the layers of gel that suffocate pores, permitted the very same trolls to declare the miraculous makeover of a child, who was just as beautiful then as she is now.
The war against White supremacy is never-ending, and the only path to victory lies in the global mobilization of Black folks, with the ammunition of rejecting the deadly symptoms of colorism, and the self-betrayal of buying the untruths of how prominent Black features like the darkest of hues and the nappiest of hairs have to be bleached and straightened out to guarantee our self-worth.
White people use our gorgeous hair texture and the hairstyles that are borne from it, as the weaponized agency that’s meant to attack our self-esteem and wealth of being the ordained originators, and this method of abuse is also assigned to Black children — and that fact is unforgivable.
We shouldn’t have to wait for the laws of the land to dictate how White people should rightfully treat Black people, and if that’s still a thing — then we have to reclaim the power that arms us with the tools to fight back.