56% of Americans want the First Lady to have straight hair? Say no to “Afro”?
Well, it’s a web poll, but it has struck a nerve for a number of black women and, of course little “Lamestream Media” coverage except by the sole black women professor actually on it — Melissa Harris-Perry. She devoted four segments of her past Sunday show to the untrivial subject of black women’s hair.
The poll wasn’t the sole reason for the focus; it was mainly prompted by the fact that her own hair (braided) regularly features in how she is judged. Yes, judged. She gets letters, some of which are so nice they make her tear up.
Harris-Perry points out that black women’s hair has always had its politics. Even the fact that Obama’s daughter Malia has braids is making a silent statement. As Nikita Stewart puts it of Malia on The Root:
When I looked at her, I felt as if she was proclaiming, I am confident and comfortable. This is my hair.
This is like the now famous picture of five-year-old Jakob Philadelphia, who wanted to touch the President’s hair and the simple statement that made, but unlike the 1960s “Black Power” movement — think Angela Davis’ huge and defiant Afro, referenced of course in the infamous 2008 New Yorker cover (pictured) of Michelle Obama with an Afro. Today it is instead more, writes Cassandra Jackson for HuffPost, about “self-acceptance, freedom, health, and spiritual growth.”
Jackson writes that we are definitely seeing a “movement” — sales of black women’s hair products like relaxer are on the decline, and sales of “natural” hair products are on the rise — and a good one that Jackson endorses, even if it does mean a decline for the empowerment that comes from the women’s space that is the beauty shop.
It’s also a health issue. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin said last year that black women were using their hair as an excuse not to do any exercise.
Harris-Perry spoke with four women — all with “natural styles,” as 36% of black women have — Broadway actress Nicole Ari Parker, Curly Nikki blogger Nikki Walton, University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler, and cultural critic Joan Morgan.
First, Harris-Perry explains black women’s hair for the rest of us, like the other meaning of “the kitchen,” plus in which direction you should rub the head of a black man with a “fade”:
Then we get into the “obvious” politics, “transitioning” and the meaning of that New Yorker drawing of Michelle Obama and why black women’s hair choices aren’t political but more about going to the beach:
In this fascinating (for me, white gay man here!) discussion I learned a lot, like a new word — “textured” — and who gets buy-in from saying that (shock!) black women are “vain” and why people are robbing stores for extension hair.
Finally they talk “Great Moments in Black Hair” and the meaning of another photo, that of a white father braiding his black daughter’s hair:
Is the MHP Show discussing this subject with and about black women a hit? Well, here’s Treva R. Martin-Scott writing on madamenoire.com:
Somewhere there is a little black girl swinging a towel on her head trying to pretend that she is white because she does not like her hair. Or a high school student who wants to know if she can wear her natural hair to a college interview. Or a college student who wants to know if she can wear her dreads to her first job interview. Or that brother who is looking for that extra bit of confidence in the corporate arena and needs to know that he is not alone in wearing his lockes.
So yes, we do need to talk, and talk, and talk, and keep talking about this because, no, we have not moved on just yet. But it’s OK that you have. You blaze that trail for the rest of us and we will look to you. We need more trailblazers. You go girls!
Oh, and here are those sweet photos of Emory professor Clifton Green braiding his adopted daughter’s hair.
Click through for more “Great Moments in Black Hair” >>
Possibly the most famous black women’s hair is Angela Davis’ Afro, seen here in a painting by Shephard Fairey, who created the most iconic poster of Barack Obama, which is ironic given that Davis herself has said:
It is both humiliating and humbling to discover that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I am remembered as a hairdo.
Picture by takomabibelot
Diana Ross is well known for her fabulous hair; so well known that this is how little girls see her (and looking for a photo to share with you I came across lots of little girls showing off their class project on her). She’s also done the Afro in the 1960s.
On a website dedicated to “transitioning,” Sharlyn Pierre explains why Ross is her heroine:
With a simple hair flip, you knew she was shaking off naysayers. Before a boss was a “bawse,” there was Ms. Diana Ross.
Picture by Roberta W.B.
The hair of Beyonce’s sister Solange is the subject of fierce debate. After “transitioning,” she now has an “Afro,” which critics have called “unkempt” and “dry as heck.”
One person posted:
Sure, it’s ‘natural’, but when homeless becomes a look, I don’t want nuttin ta do wit it!
Solange said that she decided to stop straightening in a bid to discourage her two children Ripley and Nico from feeling insecure about their natural curls. She said:
I didn’t want my daughters to judge their beautiful curls.
Picture: Youtube screengrab
America’s favorite black lesbian comedian, Wanda Sykes, says:
Just prior to “Wanda Does It” … I decided I was done with perms. They control your life, and honestly, especially when you’re with somebody, you just don’t feel sexy- you have to go to bed with your hair all wrapped up, and you’re all crinkly in the shower with your plastic cap on. You go on vacation and people are like ‘hey, let’s jump in the pool’…nope, can’t jump in the pool. It was just so controlling and one of the main reasons I cut it short and went natural.
I’m not going back to relaxers. Straight one day, curly the next. Especially now with the kids and my wife. She’s white and the three of them just jump in the pool without a second thought … so now I jump my ass in the pool too! No worries! It’s cool- I love the freedom. We recently went on a trip to Brazil. My wife was like, ‘let’s get in the water … let’s go on a hike… hey there’s a water fall, let’s walk underneath it’. I was game! When I was relaxed I couldn’t do those things. I have friends who are relaxed, I’m talking die hards, and they’ve actually canceled dinner on me a couple of times because it was drizzling outside. Seriously. But we’ve all been there.
Picture by Fritz Liess