[9 September 2009]
Anything for straight hair. The first lady of the nation and the first lady of Hip-Hop all have straightened hair. “Just to get those kinks out.” Every girl in my family has gone through this, and I wonder why we really need to get our hair “done.” Rough. Abusive? What about charges? Haven’t we all already abandoned her, anyway. We’ve already told her that she ain’t no body unless your hair gets done! Why can’t we be nappy, kinky, happy some-bodies! People regularly talk as if nappy hair was the most negative thing on the planet. We won’t feel good about ourselves with this intact. We’ve long since abandoned this girl.
Nappy ass hair … Broke ass kitchen
If we are to be honest about who we are, white America needs to know the pains MOST black girls go through in order to arrive at an acceptable—let alone respectable—place in this nation. Indeed, all our black icons straighten their hair. Most, like the mother in this video.
Self-hate amongst the formerly enslaved runs deep, and no amount of denial can mask black Americans’ attempts to not be so damn black. Consider this video circulating on YouTube each time you view Beyoncé on stage, hopping and hollering, gallivanting and hair shaking.
“Now, some online viewers were so disturbed by this that they have even started their own investigations, trying to trace the little girl and the woman so that they could file abuse charges with authorities, but this has prompted a great deal of debate online and a lot of soul-searching among African-Americans,” says NPR’s Tell Me More host Michel Martin, who (notoriously) wears her hair naturally nappy.
“Everybody wants hair that moves,” my mother says. Sure, whites tan, spending hours and major cash on bronzing tools to look like they are not white! Yet, the power equation is wholly different for the oppressed. Whites can flip on any channel, open any glossy, or page through any journal and see all sorts of images that show the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.
“Nappy head girl,” the adult woman says, straddling the small child down on the floor, briskly combing out her hair. The clear statement here is that your ‘nappy ass hair’ is just plain WRONG. Another young girl can be heard commenting in the background. She is perhaps the videographer, capturing a ritual to which she is probably already numbed, as are many reading these words. Straightened nappy hair is the primary way that most are exposed to nappy hair.
My charcoal-skin little cousin has but few resources that remind her that she’s not just “dark, but beautiful”, as people have said, as if to excuse her for being so damn dark. Yet, none of her teachers in school remind her, none of the glossies we buy tell her, none of the channel surfing we do on cable, and none of the music on the radio convinces her that black is beautiful.
That’s why “I’m Black and I’m proud” is political. And for those few years when James Brown was between his conk, for the few years that the Godfather of Soul wore his own natural hair, he made it a statement. He picked his nappy hair out, releasing all but a few of those kinks, to form an afro—a hairstyle that requires much ado about nothing. (Though admittedly it was much, much more than the legacy of the nation’s first female and first Black millionaire had done.)
Madam C. J. Walker made millions helping black people get rid of those naps. Have we felt any freer? Years later, the wealthiest (self-made) woman in America is black. And no place does she go with her won natural hair. It’s damn straight. She’s got her own TV network, and save for her roles in The Color Purple and Beloved, her kinks are long gone.