Monday, August 3, 2009

Good Hair?

From etonline.com:

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.

17 comments:

Assertive Wit said...

I honestly believe that there is ALWAYS going to be a group of Black people who read far too much into what they see on television and in the media. You can form an argument out of just about anything if you form a personal bias to it.

So, as far as the "good/bad hair" thing goes, that argument is usually sustained and supported by people who are measuring their "blackness" against things that REALLY don't matter. Just like SOME Black people have manageable and seemingly unmanageable hair, so do other cultures/nationalities. WE aren't the only ones "afflicted" with this "issue" but WE seem to always find a way to make something out of nothing when it comes to this...

I think people who define themselves and/or let others define them by things like this really need to look inside themselves and think about who THEY are as a person. Personally, whether my hair is in it's natural state or relaxed, I believe in not looking a hot ass mess. That is what I will teach my daughter; to always be presentable, not how to attract the opposite sex through a hairstyle. If I allow her to think that because she MIGHT be able to throw some water on her hair, pull it in a ponytail and go, that makes her "better" than someone else of her own race, I need to be slapped as a parent and she needs to be slapped for buying into it. THIS is what India Arie was talking about when she said "I am not my hair". There should be more to a person than how their hair looks or "behaves".

Aimee said...

Sigh . . .

Or, you know, don't think about it. I know this is a subject that raises some strong emotion for BW that many would like to pretend isn't there, so it's fine with me if others feel some things are better left unsaid. No harm, no foul.

DB said...

I want to see the film. And I have also wondered how some black men reconcile their personal choices and preferences/relationship patterns with the fact that their daughters' features may be very different. Parents send so many signals to their children about what is and isn't attractive and desirable. For example, even though I am clearly on the lighter side of the black skin color spectrum, my mother was much darker--my mother, my first concept of beauty (and she was and still is GORGEOUS) deeply influenced me--so I didn't have any of this "lighter is better/prettier" thing.

I also used to be a member of the site you mentioned and still chronicle my hair progress in a Fotki online photo album and my blog. I think most of the women, if there is an agenda at all, really want to prove that black women, once you strip away ignorance and misinformation, can achieve their hair goals--whether natural or relaxed and regardless of hair type/texture, but I can understand criticisms too. Full disclosure: I think I'm not quite as dedicated as some, having had long, thick hair most of my life--and my mother has hovered between mid-back length and waist-length hair all my life. So I received quite the education--I didn't realize how deep it was for so many black women.

Aimee said...

Hi, DB!

I'm kind of torn about LHC.com. On one hand, I think they provide great information, and I just love any site where BW are being positive and supportive towards one another. I also respect the creativity and affection that's displayed toward our hair.

But some of the statements sistas make about their natural hair there are just plain appalling. I'm not making a value judgment about how they choose to wear it, because I've worn my hair every which way plus loose, and I benefitted from growing up in a family that dealt very honestly and proudly with color and beauty issues.

I definitely understand the discomfort a lot of people still struggle with; but another generation of little black girls getting a non-answer to "why don't I have good hair?" and coping with taunts of "darkbutt" and "redbone" without any preparation at all is really inexcusable. So sad . . .

PioneerValleyWoman said...

How have I seen the issue of "good hair"?

All hair is "good," in that there is something good to be found in all hair, regardless of texture.

So I was never caught up in that whole good hair/bad hair thing, although it might have showed up in a different way. When I was younger, I had a perm--a typical right of passage for many black girls, being told that it is easier to manage once straightened, or it is "prettier". If anything, that points to ignorance of how to do natural hair well.

Assertive Wit said...

It isn't that this issue hasn't crossed my mind OR that other Black people haven't brought it up to where I was forced to listen to it...I just think my energy is better spent on something else other than the texture of my hair versus someone elses.

It's your blog so you're free to talk about whatever you like it just seems like most people who have a BIG issue with the "good/bad hair" thing have an issue with THEIR hair and others; personally, I don't. It's a free country; wear it natural or wear it relaxed. It doesn't lessen how Black OR make someone more Black should they choose to have a consistent hairstyle different than the one they were born with.

daphne said...

Candor alert!

I grew up in a small city in a working class family. Although I knew girls in my neighborhood or school who never had chemically processed or heat-straightened hair, in my home, hair in its natural texture was perceived as bad. I remember my mom using a hot comb from the stove to straighten my hair when I was 4 or 5. I've not worn my hair in its unprocessed state since I was a little girl, and currently wear it relaxed.

As a young adult, I had to come to terms with my hair, what it means to have good hair, etc. I've never held disdain for other women and their hair, whether it was natural, pressed, relaxed, etc. It was none of my business, and I respected their choices.

Thinking about the black blogosphere, particularly among the intelligentsia, there's been strong subtext and sometimes direct statements about one's level of blackness and self-respect, as well as black beauty, tied to how you view or wear your hair. Understandable as it is to reject the notion of unprocessed hair being a negative, it's just one myopic view being replaced by another.

Before I relocated to another state, I was in the middle of transitioning from relaxed to unprocessed hair. My stylist was all kinds of awesome, and if I didn't have to move to Florida for a new job, I would have continued the transition. Alas, once the relocation was set, I had 3 options: maintain it myself and try to find a comparable stylist, cut the relaxed part off, or relax the new growth. I chose option # 3, lol. My hair is rather long, and trying to maintain two textures on my own, I believe, would have damaged my hair. Also, I'm not suited for the TWA, at least for now.

As much as it seems like cognitive dissonance, I believe it's entirely possible not to wallow in self-hatred and still struggle with hair texture. I also believe the issues predated mainstream media - it didn't come out of nowhere. The previous generations passed that mentality on to a large degree, at least in the United States.

Interestingly enough, with regards to my other body parts, I've never had a problem. I believe the combination of my physical markers of blackness make me attractive. That said, I understand other women who have challenges with this, based on what they've been told or what they see.

Ultimately, black women deserve the space to express themselves about hair and colorism. What concerns me is the retaliatory views about black beauty that are just as unproductive and damaging.

Anonymous said...

This issue needs to be talked about for the sake of our little Black girls. They need to understand what is going on with the hair issue for Black females, and how to combat it and learn that we and our natural hair texture are indeed beautiful and special no matter what Black female haters Black or White have to say about it. That said, I will not be watching this because Chris Rick is the typical DBRBM who doesn't give a damn about Black females and is a hipocrite to boot.

DB said...

"Thinking about the black blogosphere, particularly among the intelligentsia, there's been strong subtext and sometimes direct statements about one's level of blackness and self-respect, as well as black beauty, tied to how you view or wear your hair. Understandable as it is to reject the notion of unprocessed hair being a negative, it's just one myopic view being replaced by another."

Very well-stated.

Lorraine said...

Excellent Post Aimee!

Taylor-Sara said...

welcome back Aimee!

Clarice said...

Every woman on the planet has problems with their hair, at some point or another but most do not let it define them or their lives. I daresay there isn't a woman who has not said at some point I wish my hair would or was longer, shorter, straighter, lighter, darker, curlier or I wish it would lay flat, stop frizzing in this weather, not go limp, hold a curl etc. Most folks just roll on do what it takes to make it work and get on with their lives. As my grandmom used to say any hair that is on top of your head is good - so make what you've got do ya and move on. She would always remind me that it did not matter which way your hair was turning as long as it is not turning loose i.e. falling out. Women collectively need to just accept themselves as beautiful for who they are and be taught to love and value themselves for who they are as people.

Excellent post

Anonymous said...

Clarice said...
Every woman on the planet has problems with their hair, at some point or another but most do not let it define them or their lives. I daresay there isn't a woman who has not said at some point I wish my hair would or was longer, shorter, straighter, lighter, darker, curlier or I wish it would lay flat, stop frizzing in this weather, not go limp, hold a curl etc. Most folks just roll on do what it takes to make it work and get on with their lives. As my grandmom used to say any hair that is on top of your head is good - so make what you've got do ya and move on. She would always remind me that it did not matter which way your hair was turning as long as it is not turning loose i.e. falling out. Women collectively need to just accept themselves as beautiful for who they are and be taught to love and value themselves for who they are as people.

Excellent post


No, you CANNOT compare the situation of Black females to these other races of women and their ahem, "problems" with their looks or hair! Our situation is unique to say the least!

Anonymous said...

No, you CANNOT compare the situation of Black females to these other races of women and their ahem, "problems" with their looks or hair! Our situation is unique to say the least!


DAMN STRAIGHT!

Honestly, Black women who think like that need to read up on how White women used and betrayed us with that feminism mess!

Clarice said...

I am well aware that BW have been and are continuing to be betrayed and exploited by feminists, the media and others - make no mistake about it. Here is an example from today, despite all the real progress that has been made and there has been some but the betrayal and exploitation continue.

http://www.womanist-musings.com/2009/09/whats-little-nudity-between-friends.html

That is precisely why regardless as to how it was perceived I advocate BW especially accepting and celebrating their hair in what ever form they choose that works for them and moving on to deal with the on-going issues above and beyond hair.

It just seems to me that so much time is wasted on this issue - it seems to have been going on forever and it seems rather diversionary and divisive to focus so much energy on this issue. That was the point I was trying to make.

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Anonymous said...

Well, I have also done the relaxers, weaves, braids, etc. I finally got tired of all the crap and deecided to dreadlock my hair. Best decision I ever made in my life. Honestly people, it really IS just hair. At some point we will move past this silliness. And yes, there will always be a sehment of the black population that will persist in the self hatred that we have been taught and that now is a self-perpetuating prophecy. The funniest thing about locking my hair is I have finally got the hair I wanted...long, flowing hair that looks good wet, dry, or on high humidity days. And without the chemicals, expense, or time wasted in a hair salon, and definitely not limiting my activities because I don't want my hair to " go back "