Saturday, April 25, 2009
The Racial Politics With Black Women's Hair
So Oprah mentioned two things at the end of her show Friday that enquiring minds wanted to know. One answered whether she actually sends her own messages on Twitter or if they're delegated to a producer or assistant. It's all her baby! She said that's why we see so few - she doesn't have much time to spend. She did include a link from musical guest Robin Thicke's performance of Lost Without You that wasn't included in the broadcast here.
The second reply was much more loaded. She let the world know that she does not wear a hair weave. While the speculation on the length and texture of Ms. Winfrey's hair can be put to rest it begs the question of why it even matters. Despite the fact that many women wear hair pieces, extensions, wigs and weaves there's this extra fascination with how black women in particular style their hair. Updated with video courtesy of TMZ (yuk I know).
Where does the assumption that it's mostly black women come from? I'm not talking about non-blacks being so invested either, though at times there's this "visiting the zoo" fascination. I'm referring to the dirty little secret of racism amongst blacks. I blame it all the term "good" hair and the mentality behind it. It's the cousin of skin shade racism where the preferred status of black women is to look racially ambiguous (lighter skin tone, longer hair, European features). This has been reinforced by many black men and the more prominent or famous he has been allowed to engage in that practice unchallenged. This isn't a recent phenomena either.
Let's be clear, this isn't about preferences. This is about choices. This is also about the promotion of those choices as the only standard which if you watch the average R&B or hip-hop music video has been made clear. It has also been expressed by certain men in public as they discuss why they specifically want a white-skinned woman. It is reinforced by other women and has left those of us who don't fit into a Euro-based model for appearance feeling unloved and undesired.
Fortunately, we can reclaim our unique and individual beauty by recognizing we've been purposely devalued by other people for the promotion of their interests. We don't have to let someone else's preferences define us. We can seek out people who like and accept us as we are. We can find a beauty regime that brings out the best of our features.
Oprah has a team of professional stylists so why wouldn't the quality of her care be anything but top notch? There are plenty of black women with prominent African features who have long hair and don't use hair pieces. It's just too bad that some women feel embattled and think they can't do anything with their hair except to alter its texture. Or cover it in the finest Yaki - but that doesn't empower us to learn how to care for it. Hair grows 1/2 inch per month and the issue with shorter hair has to do with keeping the length not whether length can be attained. Chemical processing, use of products and styling choices will affect how much hair we keep on our heads. That's why so many are advocates of not altering our fragile hair texture with relaxers. It's all about choices and the freedom to exercise all of our options.