Ask the Black woman: 'Good Hair' edition

Diverse City
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  October 14, 2009

Time to don the official robe and mantle of Black Representative, and answer a question of "blackness."

I'VE BEEN HEARING A LITTLE ABOUT THAT CHRIS ROCK DOCUMENTARYGOOD HAIR AND I RECALL THAT YOU WROTE ONCE OR TWICE ABOUT BEING BUGGED WHEN PEOPLE WANT TO TOUCH YOUR HAIR. SO, WHAT IS IT ABOUT BLACK WOMEN AND THEIR HAIR?

The reason I (and many Black women) dislike the hair-touching is because it's uncomfortable to be an exotic specimen for people to poke and prod. I know that many people (and they've all been white) who ask to touch my hair — or worse, those who simply touch it without asking, or ask and then touch without waiting for an answer — don't have evil, racist intentions. It's a genuine curiosity, because Black hair is texturally very different. They see an afro or some locs (dreadlocks, to some of you), and they want to know what it feels like.

Also, they want to ask questions, like "How do you get it to do that?"

It's not that I'm mad that they think locs are braids. Or assume sometimes that whatever my hair is doing must be artificial extensions. Or even that they don't realize that locs (and afros for that matter) are the natural ways that Black hair grows.

What bugs me truly is that they don't think twice about invading my personal space. I don't see White people touching the hair of White strangers or Asian strangers or Latino strangers. They touch Blacks. And personally, I don't want any strangers just touching me at will.

Hell, I don't even like public displays of affection with my husband. Just ask him. He needs a shoulder to cry on about that.

AND WHAT ABOUT THAT "GOOD HAIR" THING?

Well, it's like this. Black women are, typically speaking, not seen as attractive. Oh, I know. Naomi Campbell, Halle Berry, etc. But truly dark skin is rarely highlighted or portrayed as sexy in media. And natural, kinky hair styles are rarely portrayed thus. And God forbid a Black woman has a modestly wide nose or thick lips, because that instantly takes off points for attractiveness, no matter how natural those features may be among Black women.

On the glamour ladder, Black women get placed awfully low. I won't go so far as to proclaim they are placed at the bottom, but they're pretty close, even if they aren't dead last.

So, huge numbers of Black women go to hair salons to have some of the harshest chemicals known to hair used to straighten those strands to American/Eurocentric standards of female beauty. This, already, is just plain wrong. They are willing to subject themselves to chemicals that sometimes cause their hairlines to be permanently receded, or blister their scalps, just to look "beautiful" by White standards.

Worse, Black folks themselves will rate each other based on their hair. If someone has enough White genes that have gained predominance on the old scalp, and their hair isn't as kinky as the average Black woman, they are said to have "good hair." If they have very kinky hair, more in line with their African heritage, they have "bad hair."

Too rarely do Black folks simply accept the hair of their children or fellow adults as simply their "natural hair." It has long been a cycle of self-hate and misplaced racial shame. So powerful, in fact, that some parents will subject their four- or five-year-old girls to those harsh, toxic straightening chemicals.

I'm in favor of raising kids to be proud of who they are, and not ashamed of what God (or nature, depending on your faith structure or lack thereof) gave them.

Shay Stewart-Bouley can be reached at diversecity_phoenix@yahoo.com.

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