What defines 'Good Hair'? Chris Rock explores this sociological phenomenon from the African-American point of view with hilarious results in his new movie . . . In theaters October 9, 'Good Hair' finds Rock traveling all across America and even to India to find out why we do what we do to look our best -- or stand out from the crowd. Rock visits beauty salons, barbershops, conventions, scientific laboratories and Indian temples to explore the way hairstyles impact the activities, pocketbooks, sexual relationships and self-esteem of the black community.
Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven-Symone, Maya Angelou, Salt-n-Pepa, Eve and Reverend Al Sharpton all share their candid points of view for this raucous expose, prompted by Rock’s 5-year old daughter, Lola, who asked him, “Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?”
News of this movie prompted some interesting reflections on my part—first, how Rock, like most conventionally successful black men, married “light with long hair,” and how, like many such men (for some reason, Eddie Murphy is always the first that comes to my mind) he has a daughter(s) who more closely resemble him in color, facial features and hair texture. I’ve often wondered what do such BM say to their daughters? How do they reassure them of their beauty, when their own choices make fairly clear what they consider beautiful? Maybe I think of Rock and Murphy because I’m familiar with the communities that Murphy formerly lived in (and Rock still does) in Northern NJ, and the schools that their children would attend, and it gives me pause to think about their little black daughters with their full lips and not “good” hair in these rigidly materialistic, overwhelmingly white environments, where all the other girls and mommies---including their own—are lighter-skinned and looser-haired than they, and where all the boys—including their own brothers—will likely be pursuing those other girls. There is very little flexibility in what is considered pretty for a young woman in towns like Alpine and Saddle River.
But I’ve also been thinking about the way that BW themselves perpetuate these beliefs about “good” and “bad” hair, as well the way that BW perpetuate colorism more generally. Whether it is the almost worshipful tone with which BW talk about the beauty of performers like Rhianna and Beyonce (I remember my aunts laughing about how my grandparents would argue about who was more beautiful: Dorothy Dandridge or Lena Horna—the more things change . . .), to our complete silence as visibly BW are literally blacklisted from black-controlled media, to the genuine self-loathing often found at sites like the longhaircareforum.com, where BW speak with awe about the beauty of white, Asian and Hispanic friends while berating their own hair, BW ourselves have all too often adopted the very color prejudices that are so regularly turned against us. I’m hardly advocating the kind of hostility and bitterness based on color and hair texture so often used to divide BW from each other, since those divisions are so utterly false considering our common interests—consider the “video vixen” conundrum for instance, which first began with the exclusion of darker BW, and now increasingly excludes BW altogether--a circumstance that arose because BW were encouraged to focus on resenting each other instead of challenging the “brothas” doing the casting and, above all, turning off the degrading imagery.
What I argue for instead is that we step back and think a little about the way we ourselves look at color, features and hair. However you choose to wear your hair, how do you feel about it in its natural state? How do feel about other women’s natural hair? How do you feel about your nose, your skin, your eyes, your body shape, everything about yourself that denotes “blackness”? Have you allowed yourself to be manipulated into silence on these issues by others, who’ve encouraged you to believe that neither their, nor your own, colorism is relevant, and that any acknowledgment of such on your part is sign of “jealousy” or “low self-esteem”? Have you ever watched a program like “106 & Park” and saw something wrong with dozens of black girls wildly cheering images of BM romancing white and Latina women, images where they don’t exist accept as an audience? Suppressed your irritation as Will Smith lustily pursues Eva Mendes, while his wife plays a female eunuch on TV? Think about it.