‘Good Hair’ on C.P. Time.

another day, another abandoned weave

Balloon Juice points to ellaesther, who finally got a chance to peep Chris Rock‘s documentary Good Hair, and left the experience pretty disheartened.

It was like watching beautiful women talk about their lifetime of dieting, their tricks for dressing to look thinner, their methods for cutting calories during the holidays, smiling broadly over their successes and also kind of (a little bit) laughing at themselves for the obsession, while yet maintaining and feeding the obsession. Like watching mothers tell their little girls not to eat, that they won’t get what they want if they allow their bodies to be something other than slim, while at the same time hearing their men complain about not being able to just eat a damn dessert now and then.

Both sides feeding into a self-destructive, self-denying, self-loathing system that neither side fully recognizes but which each side plays a part in perpetuating. The women serving as their own police force — as any oppressed society does — leaving the men to be baffled by something that ultimately serves their needs and their position of (relative) power.

This seemed to be the reaction that Rock was nudging the audience toward, even as he seemed to assiduously avoid taking an explicit stance. We watch as a principal ingredient in hair relaxer eats through a metal can, before cutting to a little girl of about three or four who has already started getting her hair permed — the opening night audience in Brooklyn gasped loudly and tut-tutted at this — before seeing how the hair used to make expensive weaves sold stateside is literally shorn from the heads of poor people in South Asia as part of a religious ritual. (Some of the charges leveled against weave-wearers seemed gratuitous, like when Al Sharpton says that some people go into debt to finance their weaves, as if that’s not true for some percentage of folks looking to purchase any expensive consumer good.) “I want [my daughter] to know it doesn’t matter what’s on her head,” he says at the film’s close, “but what’s in it.”* It’s a frustrating cop-out, as he spends two hours outlining exactly why what his daughter wears atop her head matters a whole lot, and to a whole lot of people in a whole lot of complicated ways.

Hair also oddly doesn’t spend much time on women who eschew all that stuff and decide to go natural. There’s a scene in which a group of high school students are talking about hair, and the one sporting a fro comes in for some criticism. Her hair, the others think, might hurt her career prospects by hindering folks’ capacities to take her see her as professional. But if you’ll allow me a completely irresponsible generalization, I’d guess that college-educated, professional women are way, way more likely to have natural hair than women who are not. (Say it with me: social location matters.) I’m not sure what the purpose of that scene was, other than to show us the discomfort some people have with natural hair, but since that sentiment was being voiced by teenagers — not exactly a cohort known for its foresight and its embrace of difference — their observations about The Way The World Works probably aren’t really that useful. That seems all the more reason to have more women who went natural represented in some way.

Aside: the hair show stuff that was spliced throughout could have been a standalone documentary by itself. I found the whole subculture of that fascinating.

*Not the direct quote, but close enough.

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Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs about race and ethnicity for National Public Radio. He is a native of South Philly and reads and writes and runs and rants. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook.

7 comments to ‘Good Hair’ on C.P. Time.

  • Naima

    Hair does certainly fall short.But its failings also remind me of the expository essays on issues of “good hair” that I read at Howard University my first year…and how thoroughly disappointed I was when i realized reading about the history of why some hair is deemed “good” and some “bad” was ignored-covered up w/more sow-ins @HU than I could possibly count…seemed like even when given the information about that european standard of beauty and how it relates to self-loathing and hair just went out the window.

    but I would like to say it is so much easier for a man to say “women be without your weaves” but than reinforce the old hair stereotypes by choosing to lets say date women with natural hair that happens to also be wavy, loosely curled or straight.

    I notice my hair means different things to different people too. White people love to grab at it and I find it useful to sport at interviews so I’m remembered (curly hair does well at interviews idk why),when I am in my Dominican circles I get chastised for wearing my hair curly and have plenty of “Tia’s” who have offered their salon services to me…of course with the best intentions.Among my black brethren there seems to be no real agreement-some love it, others think I should straighten it more often for a more “sophisticated” look, some think I have it easier than most etc etc…

    What Rock tries to do is assert that black women have grown past the traditional reasoning behind desiring hair other than their natural locks-going for different looks, easier to manage, less cumbersome…and he, well fails and he, like us all, has been thoroughly conditioned.

    • hmmm.

      What Rock tries to do is assert that black women have grown past the traditional reasoning behind desiring hair other than their natural locks-going for different looks, easier to manage, less cumbersome…and he, well fails and he, like us all, has been thoroughly conditioned.

      do you think he fails to make this argument just out of ineffectiveness as a filmmaker, or because that argument is impossible to make?

  • Ash

    I felt the exact same way about the film. It’s like he had a certain idea he wanted to get out there, but didn’t want to offend anyone. For me, the fact that he couldn’t commit to a message, defeated the purpose of the film.

  • is it wrong to worry more about the poor women in south india who do not get paid for their hair–poor women in a poor country rather than poor women in a rich one? I have female relatives who have gone to that temple and offered their hair as sacrifice. Thankfully, they live in rich countries and are not struggling.

  • lilkunta

    ““I want [my daughter] to know it doesn’t matter what’s on her head,” he says at the film’s close, “but what’s in it.”* ”

    IF this were tru Chris would START @ HOME. His wife Malaack wears long weaves down her *ss. Their 2 daughtrs see that, and THAT is why they want long bond hair; not bc of Hannah Montana.

    I get that Malaack is a business women. She has to look neat & presentable. She can and should do that with a style that wont give their 2 daughters a complex. Perhaps switch between braid extensions sometimes. If she must wear a weave, wear a shoulder length one, not 1 down her *ss. Very few AfrAm women have hair down their *ss that is the texture of an Indian womans!

    • ““I want [my daughter] to know it doesn’t matter what’s on her head,” he says at the film’s close, “but what’s in it.”* ”

      IF this were tru Chris would START @ HOME. His wife Malaack wears long weaves down her *ss. Their 2 daughtrs see that, and THAT is why they want long bond hair; not bc of Hannah Montana.

      how is Rock’s statement not “true” because his wife’s hair is straightened?

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