What 'Good Hair' Hath Wrought.


Slb’s analysis of the natural hair discussion being a “constantly warmed over narrative” might actually be on point. Chris Rock does a movie on black women’s hair, and suddenly we have to read about the politics of it in the New York Times:

Although legions of black women in America straighten their hair (including Michelle Obama), hair salons specializing in natural styles have proliferated, and more black women are working with their virgin hair. Many wear their twists, locks or teenie-weenie Afros (known as TWAs) with an attitude — proud to have not given in to the pressure to straighten hair. In “Good Hair,” Nia Long, the actress, describes the conventional wisdom that straightened hair is more desirable: “There’s always a sort of pressure within the black community, like ‘Oh, if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears an Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle.’ ”

For some, the battle lines are drawn.

But in recent interviews, a number of people of color expressed a weariness with the debate. They asked, essentially: Why can’t hair just be hair? Must an Afro peg a woman as the political heir to Angela Davis? Is a fashionista who replicates the first lady’s clean-cut bob really being untrue to herself?

While I am looking forward to the film, I find that stories like this (and I’ve seen more than a dozen in the last few years) leave me cold. They break no new ground. What I learned from this article is that some black women believe that they have to straighten their hair to be accepted in society.* Some wear their hair natural as a statement. Some think that hair is just hair. Some change their hair monthly.

All of this means just one thing: black women have differing opinions on the same subject. Hmm, I guess that is newsworthy.

The ending, which quotes Shayna Y. Rudd (pictured above), my classmate from HU and truly one of the loveliest women I’ve ever met, is a bit better. Shay, who was a contestant for Miss America, concludes that we should set our own standards. And she’s right. But author Catherine Saint Louis brought us to that conclusion in the most boring way possible.

Oh, and another thing. Waaaaay too many comments on that story were some variation of “well, I’m a white woman with really kinky curly hair and I’ve always hated it. I don’t mean to diminish how black women feel, but isn’t the problem that ALL women dislike their natural appearance?” No. No, that’s not the problem at all. The hatred of nappy hair doesn’t exist in a vacuum. (It’s a little over the top, but watch some of 400 Years Without a Comb and get back to me on that.)

*The article makes no mention of (often low-level) jobs that have regulations against locs or braids — two very popular options for black women who don’t straighten their hair.

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  • thank you for this review. the article didn’t leave me with anything new, either. though i feel any talk about the politics of black hair is perhaps some progress..?

  • wow. she’s purty.

  • I felt just the same way. I’m talking about different aspects of black hair weekly at my blog and it never occured to me that the issue at hand could EVER be the obvious and trite “black womens acceptance somewhat hinges on hair” (and likewise, an disproportionate number of comments did come from white people with curly hair who dont get the difference between that and what hair means in the black community). Its troubling because these discussions in the MSM never take that next step and talk about why natural hair is not accepted any how it could be that that attitude itself is accepted – its like they’re always backing away from a hard discussion just when it gets good. NYT, and before it CNN, is like “hey everyone, black people have more issues that you should burden yourselves with, but dont think *too* hard about it, ok?” But hey the MSM has to be good for something right?

  • Oh and kudos for pointing out that trending conclusion that black women/people aren’t some thought monolith. I have to say, its almost to the point where 90% of the MSM’s investigations into black America reach this same ‘surpising’ conclusion.

  • “All of this means just one thing: black women have differing opinions on the same subject. Hmm, I guess that is newsworthy.”


    It’s sad but true. Back during the election I got really tired of hearing about “the women’s vote” as though all women voted for the same things or for the same reasons, or even that all women placed the same importance on voting.

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