Thursday, August 27, 2009

New York Times: "Black Hair, Still Tangled in Politics"

As the discussion around black women's hair grows around the blogosphere and now in the cinema, it was only a matter of time before the issues we seem chat about only in selected company made it to the mainstream print media.

Today's New York Times features a story by Catherine Saint Louis, exploring the tangled politics surrounding the hair of black women. Saint Louis writes:
In the face of cultural pressure, the thinking goes, conformists relax their hair, and rebels have the courage not to. In some corners, relaxing one’s hair is even seen as wishing to be white.

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?
The article, for all intents and purposes, is essentially an explainer of all the discussions that we, as black women, have had for years, packaged for an audience who may very well be completely oblivious to the politics of black hair. But it also adds a layer to the conversation -- in these days, the choice to be natural or to straighten your hair isn't so cut-and-dry. Not every woman with a perm is trying to "look white." Not every sista with a coil is trying to be "down for the cause." There are times when I personally wonder, "Are we doing this to ourselves? No one else seems to care how black people wear their hair."

And while Saint Louis mentions the sheer ugliness thrown at Malia Obama when a picture of her twisted hair showed up on conservative blogs, I couldn't help but feel, well... indifferent. I do agree that it was disgusting the way some people hurled insults at a child, but personally, Internet bigots aren't the kind of people I want to impress anyway. (People with an insipid, hardline way of looking at the world do not concern me and don't affect my life path. But that's just me.) I will say that in my experience, any negative reaction to my natural locks (and there have been many) has been from within my own race. As Nia Long is quoted as saying in "Good Hair":

“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.’ ”

Key words: 'Pressure within the black community.'

It doesn't mean the mainstream in totally absolved of alienating women who wear their natural coils. The Times article closes with an experience of one Howard alum (pictured above):
Shayna Y. Rudd, of Washington, wore a past-her-shoulders weave to have a better shot at the Miss America title. She said an adviser gave her two choices: imitate BeyoncĂ©’s long luscious look or Jada Pinkett Smith’s flowing mane. “I couldn’t be who God wanted me to be,” Ms. Rudd, 24, said ruefully. “I didn’t win. My spirit was crushed.”

She has since sworn off relaxers and extensions; instead, she occasionally presses her tight-curled hair and slicks it into a bun, which is what she did earlier this month when she won the title Miss Black USA. (She bested 28 other contestants, only 3 of whom wore their hair natural.)

“Don’t buy into anyone else’s standard, set your own,” Ms. Rudd said.
And at the end of the day, after all the films and television reports and newspaper features about what we do to our hair -- it's up to you to have the last word.


ktc said...

I mean you don't have to live your life choosing to wear your hair a certain way due to other people's potential biases, but that doesn't mean they won't be there. Also, I bet the degree of acceptance may vary due to geographical or generational variables as well.

Aron Ranen said...

Please take a moment to check out my documentary film BLACK HAIR

It is free at youtube. 6 parts including an update from London, England.

It explores the Korean Take-over of the Black Beauty Supply and Hair biz..

The current situation makes it hard to believe that Madame C.J. Walker once ran the whole thing.

I am not a hater, I am a motivator.

Plus I am a White guy who stumbled upon this, and felt it was so wrong I had to make a film about it.

self-funded film, made from the heart.

Can it be taken back?


Lion-ess said...

very interesting.. I'm going to read the full article

AMIT said...

Interesting.Is it a racial matter?

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