Let me start by saying that I’m not going to comment at all on Chris Rock’s film Good Hair. The world has about mutilated that dead horse, right? This isn’t about “Straight and Nappy” from Spike Lee’s classic School Daze, either (although it’s playing in my head right now, high kicks and all). Instead, let me tell you a story.
A woman of a certain age was once describing to me the hair textures of three biracial women she knew. One of them, she said, had hair the most like “black people’s hair,” more on the kinky side of things. Another had hair that was “like good black people’s hair—but better—like a Latina,” and the third had “good hair,” which I assumed meant naturally wavy or straight hair. I smiled and nodded, but I was struck—and slightly saddened—by the enduring idea that a black woman’s hair is bad or somehow lesser. The uses of good and better here imply that a black woman’s hair is naturally bad. And in my experience, it’s not just women of a certain age who use and believe in this idea.
There are women out there who believe the natural texture of their hair is bad for the simple fact that it’s kinky. That’s it. It’s not that it’s damaged or falling out; it’s just nappy hair! There’s a historical dimension to this sense of shame, partly rooted in very old racist ideas about beauty and partly linked with long-standing fashion trends. Both are hard to contend with, but this leads me to wonder: when my sisters look at their nappy roots in the mirror, what runs through their minds?
Back when I used to straighten my hair (never had chemicals), new growth meant, Dangit! I have to straighten my hair again?! After a while, I realized that I didn’t have to do anything, so I stopped straightening my hair. It was intermittent for a while—I might straighten it; I might not—but after a few years it became a firm decision. I noticed that I liked the things my hair did on its own. If my hair didn’t want to stay straightened and downright refused to do so, who was I to try to force it? A very liberating experience.
It’s been an interesting ride. Family and friends alike have ridiculed me, sometimes in the spirit of fun and sometimes in the spirit of flat-out dislike. Here’s one of my personal faves: “What happened to your hair?” I went from having “good” and “pretty” hair—hair that fell mid-back when straightened—to “wild” and “big” hair. (Compare the pics: 2004 with straightened hair and 2008 with hair doing its own thing.) Some people like it, and some don’t, but I’m glad that I got to the point where I don’t care what others think about my hair. It’s healthy and reasonably well taken care of. ;-)
Of course, I don’t expect all sisters to do what I did. Different strokes for different folks. Some people tell me, “Oh, well, you don’t need a perm.” Who does need one? Some women choose to straighten/perm their hair because it’s what they’ve always done. Some do it because they have comb-breaking hair–I broke several combs as a child!—and just don’t have the time and/or desire (in some cases, the ability) to deal with it. For some it’s just more convenient to perm it or wear wigs and weaves. To each her own, but I would encourage my sisters not to base these decisions on notions of “good and bad” hair. If women can be born with “bad” hair, hair that needs to be “fixed” from jump, then countless little girls are coming into the world with a completely messed up sense of beauty. They’re born lacking something because their hair coils up. That can’t be the case; I just don’t believe that’s true. But how many women do believe it’s true?
I love a t-shirt one of my dear friends owns. It reads, “Good hair is healthy hair.” If your hair doesn’t constantly break off or shed a thousand strands a day, then you have good hair, whether it’s nappy, wavy or straight, long, medium-length or short. Wash it, condition it, and trim those split ends. Whatever else you do, consider canning the idea of “good and bad” hair. It’s so passé. Look around: slowly but surely, the world is changing.
About this Blog
The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.