African-American females and the having "Good hair/Bad hair" controversy
by Robert Randle 10/27/2009 / Writing
On the 'TYRA' show, airing Monday, October 26, 2009, KSTW/CW11 from Seattle, WA was an hour-long segment of what is considered "good hair" in the Black community. This is actually an ongoing dilemma and source of discomfort as well as embarrassment among African-Americans, but it is usually not played out before a national audience as it was on today. Without going into all the viewpoints that were discussed by the invited guests and Tyra's culturally referenced explanation based on her experiences as a person-of-color to her White audience members who, for the most part, really didn't get it or understand what all the fuss is about. Even comedian Chris Rock did a two-year documentary on this very subject after his young daughter asked him why she didn't have 'good' hair. It is not easy to explain something that even the most distinguished Social Scientists, Historians, and Mental Health experts are not in total agreement as to the cause of this perspective.
One could attribute it to psychological enslavement, imperialism, or economic exploitation by the dominant culture, because that might just be a little bit too simplistic and shortsighted. It is more than a young, little Black girl identifying with "HANNAH MONTANA" some "WALT DISNEY" character or even among adults with the mantra, long-haired "Blondes Have More Fun," but rather it is about having good role models, self-esteem and a positive body image that you can relate to instead of embracing substitutes. It is about a historical narrative that probably reaches back into prehistoric Egypt, among other places of antiquity. Styling hair is a custom that has been around for eons as well as grooming techniques, implements, and oils and pomades, etc. Beauty standards, social status, and access to political or economic power are doubtless contingent to a certain extent on physical appearance. What makes this so difficult for Blacks is not just the experience during "chattel slavery" in America or under-representation in popular mainstream broadcast and print media, but, as it may be a surprise to some, in interracial or mixed race marriages.
One reason that many Black men impregnate and marry White females (mostly) is not necessarily because they are more supportive, understanding, sexier, less demanding, less retaliatory when they are abused, or more attractive than a Black female, but simply that the child(ren) of the couple will have physical characteristics (esp. lighter skin complexion, hair texture) that appear to evoke a sense of satisfaction or pride based upon these criteria as 'better' and more valued than generally what is usually the case accompanying a child whose parents are both African-American. It is of course not unusual even when both parents are persons of color to have a child or children whose features are closer to the accepted standard of White, but this may be attributable to either miscegenation during slavery where the slave master impregnated some of his African female slaves, or it could be DNA and genetic mutations passed down throughout millennia from the migrations out of Africa into Europe as early as 20,000 to 100,000 years ago, or more; according to Anthropologists and Geneticists.
Be that as it may, the issue is deeper than just the 'hair' but inclusive of a range of other sociological or psychological factors. Noted Black Psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint and Drs. Nathan & Julia Hare sounded the alarm over thirty years ago about the internal damage done to Black children without the proper cultural images, and the negative social scripts they tend to act out is perhaps indicative of some type of mental disorientation, impairment or disease. The emphasis on hair is a symptom of what is hidden, repressed or suppressed, and the root is not located on the scalp but it is found in the very core of a person's being, spirit, or self that is in pain, hurting, and crying out for help; but the victim is in a self-deluding state of denial. This is why the White shock Jock Don Imus' tongue-in-cheek comment about the Rutgers Girls Basketball team were a bunch of "nappy-headed ho's" received such blistering condemnation and outrage is because it hit a 'nerve' by bringing to the surface what many Black girls are taught to hide, namely, pride in who they are; especially those who are dark-skinned, with full lips, big butts, small ankles, skinny (chicken) legs, pigeon-toed, knock-kneed, and whose skin is not creamy smooth, and whose noses are not small, and their pupils are not blue or green, and instead of having straight, long and flowing hair, the hair is short or doesn't usually flow along the shoulders and down the back to the waist, and doesn't blow in the wind, but is curly, coiffed, kinky, frizzy, or nappy.
Even Daytime talk show hosts Tyra Banks, Wendy Williams, and the Queen of Confessionals, Oprah Winfrey like to flaunt their professionally-styled and chemically-treated hair or wearing wigs which do not represent what they are culturally or ethnically. As a matter of fact, when was the last time any person of color really publicly defied the status quo to assimilate; but then again, that person would not be seen in any kind of privately-owned and corporate-sponsored media source (TV, magazine, movie, etc.). Even President of the United States, Barack Obama is not immune to this problem and doubtless he is considered by quite a few of those in the Black community as having a 'good' grade of hair. It is more than teaching little girls of color not to play with Barbie dolls, or about any or all dolls because none of them are accurately and culturally representative; even including 'Barbie' herself because no White woman has those physical proportions.
Author Toni Morrison's first bestseller, "The Bluest Eye" is a very honest portrayal of the ugliness one internalizes in favor of the beauty that one sees through the eyes of someone wanting to be other than the race of which they were born. As long as the dominant culture in America and Western Europe as well is predicated upon a particular set of values and physical norms which inundate us at almost every turn, and even Black sit-coms like "The Game," "Half and Half," "Everybody Hates Chris," "Desperate Housewives of Atlanta," and a few others do not draw the same kind of interest, viewer responses and demographics of "One Tree Hill," "Melrose Place," "90210," "Gossip Girl," "Laguna Beach," "Smallville" and the more recent "Vampire Diaries."
In the 1960's, along with the "Black is Beautiful" and "Black Power Movement" it seems that young people of color were finally breaking the shackles of their forbearers who were categorized as COLORED and NEGROES, and rebelled by wearing their hair (Afros) and clothing style (Dashikis, apparel made from 'Kinte' cloth) in such a way as to attest proudly and give witness to their pride in establishing their own norms of beauty and acceptance; but it didn't last but a generation. Black females started to wear green or blue contact lenses in addition to wearing straight hair wigs which were longer than their normal hair length in some instances as well as getting the blonde streaks in their hair or even having their hair chemically-tinted to Auburn, Redhead, or Brunette at the local Black Beauty Salon. Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a 'Fashionista' or appeasing the 'Glam Squad' because nearly everyone wants to be contemporary and in style or vogue, but not at the price and nonsense of trying to escape from the reality of your race. There are people, when they are asked as to what ethnicity they are either refuse to answer, evasive or say they are a mixed race (two or more) and will even go as far as to recount as many as five; when it is simply, what is your father and what is your mother? In truth, if one can go unnoticed as being a member of the Black race or African-American, one will do so as long as possible until discovered because to identify with this group is to be vicariously imbued with all the distorted and misrepresented negative stereotypes within the Black community when the successes, good works and triumphs are barely mentioned or known.
So, the answer then is to find who and what you are, in spite of what your parents, friends, co-workers, and what society tells you or tries to impose upon you. You have to be strong, courageous, defiant, and unwilling to let others define you. It does mean overcoming your fears and self-loathing and being open to improving yourself as well as learning from positive people with some real knowledge to impart; and it also means avoiding as much as possible those who are negative, the drama queens, provocateurs, the haters, social parasites, and those who are phony and are just playing games. It means accepting who you are naturally and loving your beautiful Black self, and not needing anyone to approve or validate who you are or to complete you because you are a whole person as you are; just like the Creator made you and as we all know, God doesn't make a mistake.