Musings on Black Hair in White America

I was all set to rogue out on my neighbors, until I watched NBC’s The Marriage Ref last night.  Today, I’ll rogue out on black people.  Why?  Because they apparently hate their own hair!

The Marriage Ref brings in celebrities to judge who’s right or wrong in marital spats.  Last night, a black woman and her white husband argued over how to manage their biracial daughter’s hair.  The wife, who obviously wore a relaxer, wanted it “tamed.”  The husband wanted it to flow naturally.  He even asked his wife why she wouldn’t wear her hair natural too (as opposed to chemically relaxed).  The celebrity panel consisted of Alexandra Wentworth, Bill Maher, and Patti LaBelle.

The first cringe-worthy thing Patti said was “That child’s hair is NAPPY! You gotta tame it!”  Bill and Alexandra were careful not to say too much, but Bill at least suggested that there was nothing wrong with Black people wearing their hair the way it naturally grows out of their heads.  Patti, who was wearing a wig, couldn’t let that go of course and snapped back that he “aint a black woman.”  She went on about the uses of “grease” for the hair, for the black ashy knees, etc.  Cringe!

Well I am a black woman, so I hope Patti would allow me to speak on the subject . . . .  I wear my hair in a natural style.  Not just because it’s easier to maintain.  I do it because it just seems wrong for black women to want their hair to be straight and silky–a white ideal–in order to feel beautiful.  I think that they feel this way thanks to years of oppression and rejection from whites.  So now it’s just second nature.

Chris Rock tried to address this in his documentary, Good Hair.  The title referenced an age-old black preference for soft, wavy hair (good hair) over nappy or kinky hair (bad hair).  Typically, the women with “good hair” were also fair-skinned, another preference that has fortunately gone by the wayside a bit.   The “good hair” preference persists to this day, even though those who perpetuate it don’t really connect it or the skin-color preference to their origins:  slave rape and/or miscegenation.  In other words, black Americans who descended from slaves would all have kinky hair like their ancesters did BUT FOR the mixing of their blood with non-blacks.  Or through hair straightening products like relaxers.

I also find the argument that black women need to straighten their hair to “look more professional,” particularly in white corporate America, tiresome.  Interestingly, when I moved to white suburbia, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the few blacks I encountered who live in and around my neighborhood ALL wear their hair naturally.  Yes, some are housewives.  But some are professors, lawyers, and engineers.   In other words, they live and work in the white world.  Yet, they don’t feel the need to relax their hair to make it more palatable for themselves, their neighbors, or corporate America.

Please know that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in predominantly black middle class neighborhoods.  I grew up in one and have numerous friends who live in such neighborhoods.  These black women often wear their hair relaxed.  They do other things they believe are commensurate with their middle class lifestyle, like send their daughters to ballet class.  My black neighbors, on the other hand, send their daughters to African dance classes.

Strange world indeed where you get to be more yourself by living among others who do not look like you.

Pictured at top:  Claudia Gordon, attorney at U.S. Dept. of Labor;  Constance White, former style director at eBay & current editor-in-chief at Essence magazine;  Ursula Burns, CEO at Xerox.

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One response to “Musings on Black Hair in White America

  1. Pingback: Flying While Natural | A Rogue Housewife

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