Friday, November 13, 2009

Black Women and "Good Hair"


By Tonya L Jones

I am not my hair

I am not this skin

I am not your expectations

I am not my hair

I am not this skin

I am soul that lives within

I love these lyrics from India. Arie’s song “I Am Not My Hair.” The song’s powerful message is that she will not allow society to define who she is, as a black woman, by how she wears her hair or by her skin color. These days, it is imperative that black women be bold like India. Arie, and resist the media’s narrow definition of what is black womanhood. I believe the recent obsession with black women's hair, bodies, and well—everything, is due to the emergence of The First Lady, Michelle Obama. The last ten years have not been kind to the black woman’s image. We have been stereotyped as “hoochies” “ghetto,” “baby mamas,” and that we have “attitudes.” Our society has grown comfortable with the caricatures of black women, so when a Michelle Obama appeared on the scene, folks did not know what to do with her. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Michelle Obama’s life defies the stereotypes. And because her image is the antithesis of what people have come to believe about black women, she has been under attack.

Over the summer, articles popped up in newspapers and on blogs, dissecting The First Lady’s hair, behind, and arms. By constantly placing Michelle Obama under a microscope, it was an attempt by the media to put “her in her place.” Black women aren’t supposed to feel comfortable in their own skin, and Mrs. Obama exudes confidence. The media seeks to undermine this rare positive image of black womanhood, to continue the annihilation of the black woman’s image. So it is no coincidence, that comedian Chris Rock’s film “Good Hair,” was recently released in theaters. The documentary (or should be more appropriately called “mockumentary”) chronicles the hair issues of black women. I have not seen the film and have no intentions to do so.

Of course, people have asked me how I can criticize the movie if I have not seen it. I have viewed enough clips from the movie to be able to gauge that the film is offensive to black women. To be honest, I have a problem with Chris Rock, anyway. I feel his comedy routines have an underlying contempt for black women. I couldn’t believe when he had a whole routine on why a black woman would make a terrible First Lady, just at the time when we were about to have the “first” First Black Lady, during the past Presidential election.

Chris Rock: “I don’t think a black woman can be first lady of the United States. Yeah, I said it! A black woman can be president, no problem. First lady? Can’t do it. You know why? Because a black woman cannot play the background of a relationship. Just imagine telling your black wife that you’re president? ‘Honey, I did it! I won! I’m the president.’ ‘No, we the president! And I want my girlfriends in the Cabinet! I want Kiki to be secretary of state! She can fight!”

I know some people will say, it’s just comedy, lighten up. But we always have to be aware of who the media decides to promote, as representatives of our communities. They generally tend to be people who are not a threat to the status quo, and who (knowingly or not) uphold the media’s agenda of normalizing oppression. Chris Rock fits this role perfectly.

In the film “Good Hair,” Rock depicts black women going to extremes to achieve long, flowing hair with weaves and relaxers (a chemical treatment that straightens out kinky hair). It is stated in the film, many black women have forgone paying their rent, to spend thousands on a weave! I am actually a natural-haired black woman. I cut off my relaxed hair and started growing out a little Afro, almost five years ago. I used to frequent the salon to get my hair relaxed and to have a ponytail attached (a long, fake extension) and yes, sometimes it could get expensive, but I can honestly say I never thought about not paying my rent just to get my hair done! And I know of no black woman who has ever done this either! That statement reinforces the stereotype that black women are irresponsible and require high-maintenance (I read a review that stated perhaps that’s why some black men prefer to date white women because they won’t be as expensive as a black woman!).

I have viewed a clip from the movie, when Rock travels to India to visit a Hindi temple, where the women shave their heads for a traditional ceremony. Often, the hair from the Indian women is used to make weaves. Rock interviews an Indian woman and proceeds to tell her to “run if you ever see a black woman coming.” The idea that black women are so desperate for “good hair,” they would yank it right off the head of an Indian woman, is insulating. Rock’s approach to the topic of black women’s hair reeks of misogyny. At one point in the film, he is shown trying to sell “kinky” black hair and is rejected. He goes on to say it seems black hair is only good for packing boxes.

I have read that Rock’s movie was an attempt to answer his daughter’s question, “What is good hair?” He hoped to give insight, as to why, black women rely so heavily on weaves and relaxers. The problem though, is that he tends to degrade natural hair too. Black women are viewed as being vain and even “silly” for the way they alter their hair, but he doesn’t seem to have a positive view about natural hair, either. It is interesting that natural-haired black women and the growing natural hair movement of many black women, was not discussed in the film (Rock interviewed one natural-haired black woman).

I also find it strange Rock’s film makes no mention of white racism and oppression of black women’s hair. Black women didn’t just wake up out of the blue gluing weave to their hair. There has been a systematic attempt to make black women feel bad about their natural hair texture. It goes back to slavery, when black women were forced to cover up their “kinky” hair with handkerchiefs, so as not offend their white slave masters. There have been black women forced to sue their employers who wanted them to take out their braided hairstyles or locks. The black women celebrated by the media uphold white hair beauty standards. The most popular black female celebrity today is the singer Beyonce, who frequently wears blonde weaves. There are no alternative images celebrating black women’s natural hair. It is not surprising many black women have normalized straight hair as the “appropriate” way to style their hair.

I recently watched Chris Rock promoting his film on the Oprah show. At one point, a black woman stood up and nervously stated she felt Rock’s film degraded black women. Rock looked surprised. He and Oprah then proceeded to tag team the woman, trying to shut down her genuine concern of what she felt was stereotypical images of black women in his film. The black woman went on to say that a white woman in the audience said her hair was pretty, but was it real? The black woman said she was hurt and insulted by that comment, and as a professional black woman, that was the type of nonsense she had to deal with in corporate America. She felt Rock’s film was just giving white people (particularly white women) more fodder to be bolder in their interactions with black women. The fact that a white woman felt she had the right to a black woman’s body and demand that she tell her if her hair was real or not. It feeds into the idea of black women as Other.

We live in a society that upholds white women as the pinnacle of womanhood. Women of color (and especially black women), have historically been used as what is not feminine, as a way to maintain white women as the standard of beauty. Rock’s film feeds into some white women’s superiority complex that black women are spending “thousands” of dollars to be beautiful “just like them.” It doesn’t help that Rock often mentions that he loved when he dated white women and was able to “run his hands through their hair without his fingers getting stuck.” This is the mentality of Chris Rock, and most likely helped frame his mocking attitude towards black women’s hair dilemmas in “Good Hair.” I have read reviews by black women about this movie, and many noted they felt Rock lacked compassion for black women’s struggles with their hair.

While I personally would love to see more black women embrace their natural hair and just say no to weaves and relaxers, I understand why many black women don’t. The societal pressures to conform and be seen as “presentable” at work and in the public are enormous. The journey to accepting “kinky” hair can be a long one and it’s up to black women to individually decide when/if they are ready to do so. The root of the problem isn’t with black women, but with white racism and the marginalization of black women’s bodies. The fear and even loathsome attitudes towards blackness and kinky hair needs to be addressed. Now that is a documentary I would pay to go see.

Twilight and its abusive propaganda

by Talia Jae

So I wrote a very long blog all about this and then it got deleted.
After recovering from angst over this I am going to write another version of what I said.

Nick and I rented Twilight last night. I knew I wouldn't like it and
probably be offended by most of the content but I had no idea. The relationship in the movie is a self proclaimed, "dangerous version of the classic star-crossed lovers" and i supposed in a sad way they are right. Although, probably not in the way they intended.

Between banter about his inability to control his rage and lust for
her blood and her growing love for this dangerous boy, it seems that the whole relationship is one torrid love affair sprinkled with abuse and control. Its a perfect example of how media influences the way we expect relationships to go when we are in one.

She loves him more and more as he pushes and pulls her, stalks her,
watches her sleep, violently expresses how dangerous he is, threatens to suck her blood and boasts about how he can kill her with one bite. Yes this is fantasy, no it is not new. But hell, she begs him to kill her in the end so they can live eternally together. The more possessive he is, the more she attaches to him and loses herself in order to be with a boy.

It makes me sad for young girls who see this movie. I would never let my girls see it. It is the best example of an abusive relationship I have seen in any recent movie. We wonder why women get into abusive relationships and why they stay. One huge part of it is the way the media portrays "Love". It is shoved in our faces every day. The man is strong, aggressive, explosive, possessive, unable to control his desire and rage. The woman is meek, submissive, available, dependent and weak. We are shown that true love is passion and rage to the extreme and the more a man controls the relationship and us women, the more he loves us.

This is a toxic combination. Every day, three women are killed by intimate
partners. Every minute a woman is abused. Every day shelters put women and children on waiting lists because they are busting at the seams with women escaping domestic violence and a man threatening their lives.

Then we turn on the TV and this abuse is glorified and desired in the
name of love. No thank you. I had a prince Eric. He left me with a baby, no home, and emotionally and mentally beaten. Our relationship was that of Edward and Bella's. These stories are not happy endings and to expose young women to them is to warp their views of their own self worth and the way a relationship should be.

Inspire the women of tomorrow to stand up and fight off these images instead of embarrassing them.

Men do not lose control and abuse, they use control to abuse.

An objective look at gay marriage

By Talia Jae

This is a paper I wrote for a writing class. Its purely objective so
it does not have my personal opinion in it (although I'm sure you can
guess what it is). I don't agree with most of the opposition to gay
marriage but for the paper's sake I had to include it.

The idea of coming out as gay, lesbian, or queer is a very scary thing
for most homosexuals. In society today there is much controversy
surrounding the idea of men and women being attracted to anyone other
than the opposite sex. Families and communities are torn because of
this issue and many times ostracize individuals who dare to be
themselves. This leads into the issue of not only recognizing the idea
of different sexualities, but also recognizing the partnerships
between these people. Some feel that it is unnatural and immoral to be
homosexual, while others feel that everyone has a right to be
attracted and partnered to any person of any sex. Because of this, the
idea of gay marriage is a very charged issue.

There is a huge stigma around the idea of acknowledging these
partnerships and allowing them to have the same right to marry as a
straight couple does. Currently, there are only four states that
recognize same sex marriage and a few more that have repealed laws
allowing same sex marriage. One large factor that is influencing these
laws is the idea that same sex partners threaten the sanctity of
traditional marriage. The religious community feels that it will be
detrimental to society. Others believe that the love and commitment
between two people, gay or straight, has no effect on anyone else but
those two partners. The greater issue here is the idea of equality
between people of all sexualities.

The idea of equal rights for homosexuals has been supported and fought
for by people in the gay community as well as their allies. Those in
support of gay marriage rights have been fighting to pass laws in all
states that will allow gay couples to legally marry just as straight
couples have. They feel that someone should not have their rights as a
human taken away because of the person they are partnered with. If a
gay couple can legally be married then it gives them the right to make
medical decisions on behalf of each other. It will also allow them to
collect life insurance or pensions that one partner may have through a
career. The opposing side does not agree.

Some people in society don’t agree with the idea of gay marriage and
gay rights. They believe that gay marriage threatens the idea of
marriage as a holy union between a man and a woman. There is a belief
that allowing homosexuals to marry will dilute the sacred union and
create more divorces. They feel that more people of any sexuality
being allowed to marry will create an idea of commitments being taken
less serious and cause more polygamy. This idea causes some to feel
that homosexuality promotes multiple partners versus a lifelong

With this idea in mind, gay marriage also challenges the model of the
nuclear family. Supporters of gay marriage believe that same sex
partners should have equal rights to raise children, this being one
partner’s biological child or a mutually adopted child. Not having the
right to legally marry affects a same sex couple’s ability to adopt
children. As of now, a small percentage of states legally support gay
couples adopting a child. Some states have made it illegal and others
are undecided. Communities in support of gay families adopting feel
that it would not be detrimental to the children adopted and that same
sex couples are just as capable of parenting as straight couples. They
also would argue that with the extremely high rate of divorced parents
and single parent households, society should not be concerned with a
same sex couple parenting children, married or not.

With the high rate of divorce, other communities believe that same sex
partners would only add to the strife of children growing up in broken
households. Their concern is that the rate of children being born or
adopted into single parent or unmarried households would destroy the
idea of a child needing a mother and father in the home. Marriage has
been slowly changing from a lifelong commitment to an expendable
commodity; divorce rates have steadily soared and unmarried parents
have become much more common. The opposing party feels that adding gay
parents to the list of changes would only harm children growing up in
these households. Keeping homosexuals from marrying and parenting
seems to be a good option in their opinion.

Marriage has drastically changed over the last 50 years. Divorce rates
are higher and children living in single parent households are more
common. People of all sexualities are fighting for their right to be
recognized as equal. The idea of one person taking another’s rights
away because of the person they choose to love seems unreasonable, yet
some feel it is what will save marriage and commitment. The issue here
is who is really affected by same sex partners and is it really
detrimental to society. Marriage and divorce is not new and neither is
homosexuality. It is not society’s place to tell someone who they can
and cannot love. There may never be a real answer as to who is right
and who is wrong but equality for all is undeniably necessary for all.
Both sides of this argument have one strong belief in common: They are
doing what they believe is right and best for society today.