Hair Politics

Erin Aubry Kaplan writes a very good column in the LA Times about the racial politics of hair. Her point is fairly simple:

Denial is still at the core of black hair fashion, which in turn is at the still-unstable core of black identity and acceptability in the United States in 2006. Although braids, dreadlocks and other natural black hairstyles have become more visible, perms, weaves and extensions for black women have become ubiquitous.

In short, the debate about the best choices for “black hair,” always charged, is flaring up again. A Louisiana sheriff said last week that anyone on the streets in dreadlocks “can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff’s deputy” because a murder suspect answering that description remained at large. In April, Susan L. Taylor, the iconic editorial director of Essence magazine, canceled a campus speech when she discovered the college forbids its students to wear “unusual” hairstyles — including braids, which are Taylor’s signature look. This was noteworthy because the college was Hampton University, one of the nation’s oldest historically black campuses. Then it was discovered that Black Enterprise magazine had a similar ban for student interns.

The message is clear. If blacks want to have a chance in the increasingly unforgiving corporate world, they will have to shave off their edges — starting with their hair. To Taylor and to many others, including me, such a message implies a false choice between assimilation and self-affirmation. What looks like practicality is, in fact, more denial.

What’s troubling is that, by being forced to change their hair, black people once again are being forced to shoulder the burden of proof: We’re not as fearsome as we look. It’s up to us to mitigate our dark skin and ethnic features by framing them with hair that’s as neat and unethnic as possible.

Read her whole op/ed. The most interesting thing, though, has been to see how white people respond to her fairly reasonable assertions. Via punkassblog, we find these comments over at Kevin Drum’s place:

It’s up to us to mitigate our dark skin and ethnic features by framing them with hair that’s as neat and unethnic as possible.

And what’s wrong with that? Companies are just requiring them to look like normal people and not look like weirdos. It’s absolutely appropropriate for companies to require their employees to look normal. This is no different than companies requiring men to wear suits and women to wear skirts to work. This is just proper business attire. If you wish to work in the business world, you can’t just look any way you want to. If you want to look and dress like a hippie, you shouldn’t expect businesses to conform to your decision. You have to look normal and respectable and not look like a weirdo if you want a good job.

Because “normal” = “white.”

Naive question, I’ll admit: How do you keep dreadlocks clean? Can you shampoo daily with those little beads on? If not, how often can you take them off and clean the hair? And how do you clean (or do you?) the matted, knotted hairstyle that Rastafarians wear?

As a bald guy, I’m just curious. I hope nobody’s offended.

Duh, they aren’t cleaned. This is because people of color are dirty. But don’t worry, no offense taken!

Kev, I guess I don’t really understand what your point is. Do you agree or disagree with her? For the record, I’m a white man who had long hair in college and short hair now. When I had long hair people frequently made comments that I looked like a stoner, a hippie, etc. I don’t think race has much to do with it; there are certain hairstyles that will attract negative attention, and it’s up to each individual to decide whether the negative attention is worth the desire to express oneself.

Of course it’s not racism when we’re targeting hairstyles worn disproportionately by black people, and insisting that they take time-consuming and expensive steps to make their hair more like “white” hair.

I am confident that black women feel discontent because they can imagine better hair than theirs, but how much of that is due to racism and how much of that is the discontent that all women have with their particular hair?

See, it’s just because black women are sad because their hair is bad. Fantastic.

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47 comments for “Hair Politics

  1. July 13, 2006 at 7:14 am

    Dude, I totally have been planning the awesomest post ever about this topic. Now I’ll have to write it in the next 24 hours to keep up with Feministe! Curses! I’ve been scooped again!

  2. frumiousb
    July 13, 2006 at 8:59 am

    I’ve always found it pretty interesting that the top black models have long, smooth hair (and narrow noses and small butts, but the post is about hair).

    The problem with professional standards goes beyond “normal”=”white”. “normal” also equals “upper or middle class white”. Visible tatoos are a no-no, piercings except one per ear for women are a no-no, looking Goth is big no-no… what any of this has to do with one’s brain is beyond me.

    I’m white, so I guess my hair is ok. I have nose ring, though, which is only ok b/c I am an engineer. If I were a lawyer, that ring would be unacceptable even though it’s so small some people don’t even notice it.

  3. July 13, 2006 at 9:06 am

    It’s sad that people are still being judged by anything except the content of their character (that goes for body art, hair, dress, etc.).

    And though I disagree with keeping anyone down for any hair choice, it’s especially nasty when the hair in question is not one of specific cultural defiance, for lack of a better term. (That is, a guy with blue and orange hair shouldn’t face prejudice, but it’s even worse when a black woman with braids faces it.)

    Please no one tell me that their blue and orange hair choice isn’t about defiance. I know. I just couldn’t think of a pithy way to say that it’s different from the braid thing.

    [But I do give some of those commentors a little more benefit of the doubt. For example, I don’t read a guy asking how to keep dreadlocks clean as his saying that people of color are dirty.]

  4. zuzu
    July 13, 2006 at 9:08 am

    Of course it’s not racism when we’re targeting hairstyles worn disproportionately by black people, and insisting that they take time-consuming and expensive steps to make their hair more like “white” hair.

    Not to mention dangerous. The chemicals used can burn the scalp.

  5. Christopher
    July 13, 2006 at 9:09 am

    Maybe I’m just an idiot, but how are braids unusal or unprofessional?

    I mean, a mohawk or liberty spikes, I can kind of see not allowing them, but braids seem so conventional and neat.

    Dreadlocks I guess fall under the taboo of “No long hair on men” but that strikes me as a pretty silly taboo, in an office setting at least. What, are you going to get your hair caught in a fast-moving quarterly report?

  6. little cabbage
    July 13, 2006 at 9:24 am

    This might sound strange, but the first thing I thought of when I read this post was Kimberley Locke, who came in third on American Idol the season that Clay and Ruben both kinda won. Remember her? She was this gorgeous biracial girl with the most amazing head of curly, foofy, luxurious hair.

    She got hassled about her hair for a while, and then, in one of the last five or six rounds, she straightened it completely and made it look like “white hair”. Oh, the compliments she got! I think she actually got a significant jump in votes, too. And from then on, I don’t think she wore her hair natural again on the show, ever.

    It made me so sad that she had to look more “white” if she wanted to get ahead. Pissed me the hell off.

  7. July 13, 2006 at 9:30 am

    I was curious enough to look up that thing about the sheriff who is under fire for the comment about men with dreadlocks getting a visit from deputies.

    I don’t know how many Katrina refugees went to his parish, but as of the 2000 census, the whole place had fewer than 200,000 people, and there are evidently about 6,000 black men between the ages of 18 and 65 (I looked up the census data).

    I don’t know how common dreadlocks are, but my general impression from experience is that they are a fairly uncommon hairstyle. If one percent have dreads, which is probably overcounting, then we are talking about 60 men, which is a relatively small pool of suspects for what is evidently a quarduple homicide. And in reality, I bet the number is smaller.

    “Black men with dreadlocks” is a lot more precise a pool of suspects than “black men,” and in a parish with 6000 black men, that might be a reasonable group to take a look at, even if it would be too broad in New York or New Orleans.

  8. Marian
    July 13, 2006 at 9:42 am

    I read a book on bullying–I think it’s called “Odd Girl Out”–where they discuss the fact that while weight is the major beauty concern for white women, hair is the equivalent for black women. Black girls will often bully each other for having hair that is too “African” or “nappy,” much the way white girls call each other “fat” in order to bully. It’s an interesting dynamic to study, really–mostly due to the fact that to look “too African” is considered–not only by employers but by many blacks–to look “bad” (internalized racism?)

    But I think it’s REALLY sad if employers are holding those standards as well.

    I am as blonde and white as they come, but I do darken my eyebrows a little bit to bring them out. When I went for a job interview for an administrative position, I was told “They don’t like dark eyebrows. Can you wash that stuff off, it’s not in?” “They don’t like thick eyelashes. Can you go easy on the mascara?” “They don’t like curly hair–don’t curl it that day”, etc.

    Fortunately, I have the right complexion that I can just “wash all that stuff off” and “not curl it.” Makes me wonder what their standards are for people who have naturally dark eyebrows, thick eyelashes, and curly hair? :P

  9. TQL
    July 13, 2006 at 10:30 am

    Marian, you hit the nail on the head. Hair, for black women, is an incredibly sensitive topic. Hairstyles make statements and elicit judgement. As sad as it is, it doesn’t surprise me that Hamptom and BE have such a policy on “unusual” hairstyles — all kinds of internalized racism and classism going on there.

    As a black woman with locs (i dislike the term “dreads”), the most complaints and comments i have received about my hair were from other BLACK WOMEN. Professionally, when I first started my locs, I worked for the feds and my immediate managers were black women. Almost all of them gave me sideways looks when I first started them until they started looking more “neat”. Personally, I was asked to “do something” with my hair for a friend’s wedding when I first started wearing my hair natural.

    I’m used to it now and over the years, the negative comments and judgements have subsided. Locs, I think are a little more acceptable, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t get sideways glances from folks from time to time.

  10. July 13, 2006 at 11:03 am

    The whole “do you wash them? are they clean?” thing strikes me as so goddamned disengenous. You know, ol’ boy typed this on the internet, and I’ll bet if he ran a goddamned Google or Wiki search on his own he wouldn’t have had to solicit this information several times on the same thread like he was making some kind of point.

    Yes, you wash them. Yes, they are clean. I think locs are lovely when they are well-cared for, and the bonus in this is that they tend to be very easy to take care of.

    RUN A FUCKING SEARCH, TOOLBAG. It ain’t that hard.

  11. Em
    July 13, 2006 at 11:06 am

    I guess this is an area where I am ignorant of common employer practice. I really cannot think of a single reason why dreads or locks or natural black hair would be dangerous or disruptive or unprofessional in the work environment, barring the one instance of jobs with physical hazards where big natural hair could get caught up in things. And of the black people I know well enough for them to talk hair with me, it seems like white hair styles are very hard and painful to achieve and just from observation, I can tell it is very bad for a person’s hair to do all that to it. sigh.

  12. zuzu
    July 13, 2006 at 11:09 am

    The NYPD allows officers to have dreadlocks and braids. They just have to wear larger hats.

  13. July 13, 2006 at 11:19 am

    I attended two different private schools when I was in high school and “unnatural” hairstyles were prohibited at both. Including mohawks, “unnatural” colors, dreadlocks, braids, etc. Perms and “normal” haircolors weren’t prohibited, even though those weren’t “natural” god-given hair on the head. A girl with black and platinum blond streaks was forced to change her hair, even though kids with black hair were ok, and kids with blonde hair were ok. All this bit about assimilation and image just kills me.

    I work for a very conservative Fortune 500 corporation, but there are no rules about hair or tattoos, for which I am very glad.

    The ignorance of the “how do you clean the dreadlocks” comment appalls me. Like Lauren said, Google it. Reminds me of a post I read a few weeks ago where a white woman had asked a black woman “do you get hotter in the sun? you know, since your skin is black and black attracts heat?”

    Do people think AT ALL before they speak?

  14. July 13, 2006 at 11:34 am

    The whole “do you wash them? are they clean?” thing strikes me as so goddamned disengenous.

    Or when complete strangers walk up to you and ask if they can touch your hair. Ugh.

  15. July 13, 2006 at 11:48 am

    Well, Kevin, I do have to admit that whenever I see locs I really want to touch them. They have such great texture.

    Born with the straightest hair you can imagine, I have the urge to put my hands in the hair of anybody with curl, body, and texture. Call it a really unfortunate weakness that I have so far been able to stave off. Also, I hear perms have improved since the 80s, and I won’t lie when I say I’ve been tempted to try one out.

  16. Cassandra
    July 13, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    Oy don’t get me started on Kimberley Locke (whom I loved). Simon also nagged her about her weight till she went on a diet, yet never said a word to Ruben who outweighed her by a good hundred pounds, probably. Talk about double standards.

    They only people I go up to and ask if I can touch their hair are good friends of mine. Either they have very soft hair that is fun to play with, or they just got a buzz cut and I am amused by the fuzzy feeling (ditty goes for facial hair). But like I said I only do that with good friends.

  17. William Dyer
    July 13, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    I do not not know what it is like to be black or have black hair, but for about a decade I dealt with people expecting a professional look from me all through my undergrad and grad school days. I was the punkiest punk I could be: mohawk, bondage pants, and all. Yea, I colored my hair, but no it was not really defiance, as much as I saw the color in the bottle at the store and I thought it would look neat in 9 inch spikes on my head.

    After shopping with a friend who was a minority, he commented it was the first time he was not the one in the group who always received the worse treatment from sales staff. That comment really helped me understand I did not have to do anything to get the perfered treatment, but others did. For every person that was cool with me being me, there was about 3 who would do anything from snide comments to outright threatening behavior towards me.

    The whole thing of it was I would probably had far less trouble if I just shaved off the spikes and used some of those Old Navy bargins to fill out my wardrobe. My choices definalty caused much of what I dealt with in school. The thing is most people who look at others and wonder about why they chose to do things from hairstyle to clothes to how they talk, and yet they will never once question themselves about their reactions or feelings towards what they observe.

    There are lot of people who really have very little comprehention of how much the “norm” or the what is “expected” of one is taken for granted. I understand better why the local newspaper received comments all across the board on this picture of me.

  18. Kim
    July 13, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    With Black women, the hair thing is so tied up in sexuality, it’s not even funny. I went through a time in my life where I was not interested in putting chemicals in my hair: I wore braids or a natural ‘fro. It seemed silly to me that I was 17 years old and didn’t know a thing about my actual hair texture, as it had always been hot combed straight when I was a little and then chemically relaxed when I got older. Everyone around me freaked out. Surely I couldn’t go to church like that? Surely I couldn’t expect to have a boyfriend like that? (Actually, I DID have a boyfriend at the time– but he was white, and that was just one more thing for them to freak out about.)

    Currently I’m be-weaved, and there’s definitely a difference in how you get treated. A foot and a half of yaky and suddenly I’m too sexy for my shirt.

    The thing I find really interesting though is that I found white men to be a lot more tolerant of my natural hair than black men. Generally, if I got positive feedback on my ‘fro from Black men, it was in a fight-the-power political sense (and they tended to be dating a non-nappy woman, so go fig). White men with positive feedback thought it was “exotic.” Huh.

  19. Morfydd
    July 13, 2006 at 12:40 pm

    Huh. When I was in college in Baltimore 15 years ago, I saw lots of black women in professional positions with *wild* hairstyles. They were usually very slick and sculpted, so looked very… um, tidy, which is the only concern one should have for hair, really. I find it disappointing to hear that people’s idea of black hair has *regressed* since then.

    Does it look clean and well-groomed? Does it look like it’s not going to shed, fall into heavy machinery, or take tons of maintenance time on the job? It should be fine, then.

    As someone whose (blonde, dead-straight) hair tangles so badly and quickly I used to get pulled out of class by the principal to brush my hair, I think braids (and well-controlled dreads) look amazingly elegant and sensible.

  20. July 13, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    William, that is an awesome picture.

    I’ve had hair every color of the rainbow (sometimes all at once), and I would recommend it to everyone for the learning experience on how people treat those who are “different”. Seriously, everyone should have green hair at least once in their life.

    I’m an artist and have been lucky enough to first go to art school where no one cared about the color of your hair, and then to work at animation companies where nobody cared.

    I once shorted out a baby’s brain in a Wal-Mart. The kid did a double take at my bright green hair, made a little squeak, and tilted his head and just stared. (I did apologize to the kid’s dad, who thought it was the funniest thing).

    I’ve also had people move away from me on the bus, people that I was somewhat afraid of because they looked like the stereotypical scary black young men with the hoods up and the dark sunglasses and the headphones blaring. And they moved away from me and gave me weird looks because my hair was green. That’s when it really hit home just how stupid judging people by their looks is; and along with that was the realization that I also had the luxury as a white person of being able to easily change my hair to be accepted, whereas they had no choice about their skin color.

  21. Rhiannon
    July 13, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    1. There is no such thing as “unnatural” because everything comes from nature.
    2. There is no such thing as “normal” because it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

  22. ECinDC
    July 13, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    i’m white, but this cultural attitute has always struck me as so wrong and sad. it’s terrible that black women are made to feel ashamed about the hair they were born with, and spend so much time and effort to make their hair look “white” because that is the only hair considered beautiful. movies and tv will almost never show a black woman without straightened hair, unless she is some sort of black panther stereotype.

    i think “natural” black hairstyles look really good and i’m always glad to see women wearing them, in the same empowering, “stick it to the man” way i love seeing any woman publicly defying patriarchal beauty standards.

  23. Tak, the Hideous New Girl
    July 13, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    To William Dyer:

    How *you* doin’?

    Tak (who is very sad that she can’t dye her hair Manic Panic’s Vampire Red) because of “The Man.”

  24. Lorelei
    July 13, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Not to mention dangerous. The chemicals used can burn the scalp.

    I’m white, but I ‘naturally’ have curly, unmanageable hair that totally did not suit me. I began chemically straightening my hair with ‘black perming’ products.

    That shit really does a number on your hair, let me tell you something. It does chemically burn your scalp, and a lot of times your hair will fall out in particularly burned parts (I’ve also burned my face once when I was being sloppy about it). It can fuck up your hair so much that it begins breaking when you brush it wet. To fix how straw-like it feels, you have to continually condition it with an army of moisturizing products for at least two weeks, and mix up some sort of concoction (you know, egg white and avocado or whatever) to stick on your head.

    I’m not complaining — I do this out of my own accord. But I can’t imagine going through all that trouble just to appear ‘more white,’ or ‘more acceptable.’ Especially because these women have beautiful hair, they shouldn’t have to destroy it to these chemicals for the sake of society! It’s really, truly unnecessary, and it *is* dangerous… the fumes can make you sick.

  25. July 13, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    If businesses are so hung up on “professionalism,” then they can mandate that their black employees restrict themselves to well-kempt ‘fros or braids. Both hairstyles are perfectly respectable, and pretty damn attractive. I don’t understand why a black woman has to have Condi Rice’s helmet hair to get a job.

  26. July 13, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    Well, Kevin, I do have to admit that whenever I see locs I really want to touch them. They have such great texture.

    Born with the straightest hair you can imagine, I have the urge to put my hands in the hair of anybody with curl, body, and texture. Call it a really unfortunate weakness that I have so far been able to stave off. Also, I hear perms have improved since the 80s, and I won’t lie when I say I’ve been tempted to try one out.

    I appreciate your honesty, Lauren. I also appreciate that you recognize that it is a violation of space when strangers are involved. If a White person that I know on a personal level said to me, “look, this may be going too far, but I’d love to touch your hair ’cause I want to know what it feels like,” I’d more than likely give them the benefit of the doubt and say, OK. But it’s when complete strangers walk up to me (this usually happens in bars–alcohol encourages people to be rude) and want to touch my hair that I get pissed. Black people with natural hair are not here for the entertainment of White folk, y’know.

  27. July 13, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    There was a series of articles a while back in the NY Times (including a book review and an Magazine article by the author of said book) about how, e.g., while it is now “ok” so to speak to be a professional who is gay, it is still not ok to be a gay professional — while heterosexuals are allowed to flaunt their heterosexualness, gays are still told to keep it to themselves and not to allow their professional interests to correspond to closely to their sexuality (e.g. a gay professor will face more discrimination if he studies gay related matters). A Catholic friend of mine has noted that there is still a similar sort of discrimination in academe against Catholics.

    On the other hand, in certain quarters, you are accepted more if you don’t challenge people’s stereotypes about your identity: I call this the Homer Simpson effect based on Homer Simpson’s line “I like my beer cold, my TV loud and my homosexuals flaming” — e.g. in the political sphere the same people who personally feel that Catholics are Papists and Jews are Christ-Killers would rather vote for a Catholic who seems to be a foot soldier for the Pope over a more liberal Catholic and would rather vote for a very “Jewy-Jew” than for someone less stereotypical in affect.


    Meanwhile, one of my best friends occassional complains about the time and money required to put her hair in braids with extensions, yet when it is suggested (i.e. by me) that she just let her hair grow naturally into a ‘fro (I’ve seen her with her extensions out and her hair unbraided — she looks quite different, but very cute, actually, FWIW) she winces. And my girlfriend seems to consider it some sort of threat (although I am not sure whom she is threatening or how I get involved) when she says “I’m tired of dealing with my hair, I’m just going to let it lock! How would you like a girlfriend who has her hair in dreadlocks?” — even though frankly, I don’t care whether she has locks or straightens her hair or lets it grow into a ‘fro — I love her, not her hair-style (oh that didn’t come out right — but y’all know what I mean).

  28. July 13, 2006 at 5:13 pm

    Black people with natural hair are not here for the entertainment of White folk, y’know. – Kevin

    But us redheads are here for the entertainment of you non-gingers.

    Growing up as a redhead (especially having both parents with non-red hair, although my mom’s hair is somewhat reddish), I resented all the attention I got for my hair. But at some point I got (too) used to being the center of attention and now, if you cannot tell from my posting style, I revel in it.

    Do others with “different” or “exotic” hair, looks, etc., find that being the center of attention becomes psychologically distorting?

  29. July 13, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    Oh, DAS, I knew a redhead whose parents took her to Egypt on, I don’t know, a working vacation?, when she was a young kid. The phrase she learned immediately in local Arabic was “Please don’t touch my hair.” I imagine her saying it an about the tone Seven of Nine used for “Unacceptable!”

    Hell, I get that hair-touching thing myself, and I’m an old ugly woman with dishwater-blond hair. It’s long, but what’s the deal? I look like a haystack, get used to it.

    Aside: Today I saw the best hair I’ve seen in years. Young woman with scapula-length pale blond hair that sort of went into loose points at the bottom — not a dread (or even locs) but the way blond hair sometimes goes. She’d dyed the tips scarlet, with a little bit of yellow just above, so they looked like upside-down flames or like feathers tied into her hair. I’m kicking myself that I was too bashful to ask if I could take a picture.

  30. July 13, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    Ick, hair.

    My hair is naturally blonde. I dye it a “natural-looking” red. I was so sick of being presumed stupid, that I got sick of it.

    I would LOVE to try some different color-combinations, however, I know that it would not be acceptable in my career field (aviation). This to me is sad: self-expression is being restricted.

  31. Sara
    July 14, 2006 at 1:55 am

    Some of the comments from this thread make me a sad panda:

    there are many popular “black” hairstyles that are simply unfitting to a workplace. the style of tiny braids sticking up all over for example, it is NOT professional. Fro’s, like all long hair, are unsanitary, no matter how clean you keep it, your customer will no doubt be upset to find a long stringy hair in their soup, or new SUV.

  32. July 14, 2006 at 2:23 am

    I’m white, so I guess my hair is ok. I have nose ring, though, which is only ok b/c I am an engineer. If I were a lawyer, that ring would be unacceptable even though it’s so small some people don’t even notice it.

    Uh oh, I’m in trouble…

  33. bmc90
    July 14, 2006 at 10:52 am

    The ‘bald’ truth is that as a woman lawyer serving big business, I have to make sure no one ever “sees” my hair or “sees” my clothes. To make yourself invisible like that you have to conform. If I wanted to have dreadlocks or green hair, at a minimium I’d have to be a differnet kind of lawyer, and even then, I practice in a state where another lawyer was fameously admonished for wearing a pastel colored jacket in court. It’s a sea of grey and blue, baby. You can say this is wrong, but there’s one rule in law, you gotta have clients, and you can’t waste your client’s money having the court send you home to change clothes. To be similarly “invisible” as a person of color, I’m sorry to say that anything appearing remotely non-white would disqualify you from representing the Foutune 500, at least in these courts. You just would not get hired by the right firms, or the clients would object to you. I’d love to change the “rules,” but I could not in good conscience say that non-white appearing hair would not have a severe adverse affect on lawyers of color representing big business. If you other attorneys out there have had a different experience, let me know.

  34. Kim
    July 14, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    Just because some people in the world are racist jackasses, that doesn’t make it right to force people to change the natural texture of their hair if they don’t want to. I think we’re arguing that these attitudes should be exposed for the racist sentiments that they are and the rules changed accordingly.

  35. bmc90
    July 14, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    Expose away, and keep your hair how you want, but don’t expect to have a career in business law in this state. You just won’t have any clients or a job at the kind of firm corporate clients hire to reprsent them. Don’t shoot the messenger. They would not give me the time of day if I wore dreads either, and I’m as WASPy as they come. I guess on those facts I could argue it’s still racist because the “problem” is a hair style normally associated with people of color, even though the prejudice is directed at a white person. However, all I’m saying is don’t expect to make it in that field here and now with ethnic hair. If I could change things, I would.

  36. bmc90
    July 14, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    Kim, let me address a tiny little point of yours I failed to before. It’s great to say get the rules changed, but these “rules” are unwritten and often unspoken. I mean, even white people in charge of big law firms and judicial clerkships won’t admit to each other that something like ethnic hair would be a factor in hiring or lawyer utilization. I don’t see a federal law on hiring discrimination passing any time soon that is based on physical appearance choices, or it being easy to ferret out such discrimination when it happens. My personal solution is get more minorites into the profession. In the fight to keep high quality employees, employers adjust their expectations. That’s how we got health benefits for gay partners, and that’s how we’ll gain more acceptance for personal charactaristices that so unsettle the button down types these days.

  37. Napptural
    July 14, 2006 at 8:37 pm

    I am a black woman with natural hair and I am always amazed when I have this conversation with white people. Either they seem to be so amazed that this could really be an issue for blacks, or they immediately denounce the stereotypes and declare how “cool” afros, locs, braids, etc. are.

    On some level I believe them. In many ways when it comes to the whole hair and “professional image” thing, blacks have slavery on autopilot so to speak. At this point it is so ingrained in blacks all around the world that our natural hair is so awful that we would never even need to be admonished by a white person about the state of our hair. In alot of ways I don’t believe whites care near as much about the things people of color in general fret about while trying to succeed in mainstream (white) culture.

    However, all these declarations about how wonderful and cool black hair is by whites in these comments seem to be at best dishonest naivete. Let’s be honest for one moment please. There is a sense of intimidation with many natural black hairstyles. Anything “too black” or “too African”, is an intimidating thing for alot of nonblacks. This is true particularly outside of large metropolitan cities with such diversity of hair, skin tones, languages, etc, that almost anything goes. The higher Blacks climb up the ladder of success, the more assimilated they become. This comes to light with hair, dress, speech patterns, mannerisms. It is well known that to get along and make in a country where at best we are often treated as unwanted house guest, there is a part of self and a part of culture that you have to deny. Most of us know this and accept it. We spend large amounts of time trying to toe the line between being a “sellout” and successful. What is black, i.e. normal and accepted in black circles, even successful black circles is frowned upon in larger ones. Blackness, and the notion of being other is a frightening thing to mainstream society.

    Whether or not people are ready to admit it or not hair is a political statement for Blacks. If you don’t believe me, catch the assumptions you make (good or bad) the next time you see a big black man walking down the street with a big black afro……. Please try not to clutch your purse.

  38. July 15, 2006 at 1:45 am

    I see this a bit differently than some here. To me, natural black hair isn’t a “style.” It’s not something that I “choose” to do with my hair. My hair grows kinky like this out of my head. This is it. The message I get from society is not so much that whatever style I choose is wrong, but the very nature of my hair is unacceptable, and the only way it can be “tolerated” by white people is if it’s relaxed or cut so close to the head (for men) as to get rid of any “kinky” evidence. I was looking through some black celeb gossip sites and I was hard pressed to find one black female celeb didn’t have the longest, blondest lace-front wig slapped to their heads. And if they sport “natural-looking” hair, it’s got to be that “good” bi-racial curly hair.

    Plain ol’ nappy is just too..well…ni***rish. And we just can’t have that.

    Kim: Speak on it. I totally agree with you about the difference in attention a black woman gets with natural vs. straighted/weaved/whatever hair. I also agree that white people seem to be more enthusiastic about my hair than black people. I remember when I had my “big chop” and I was outside of the salon with this big, fluffy afro. This white guy walked by me, stopped, turned around and walked all the way back to me to say, “I just have to say your hair is awesome.” Way to strike me speechless! Although I have been lucky in that everyone in my family LOVES my natural hair. Moreso than me. But that’s another discussion! Right now, my hair is chemical free, but I wear wigs. Partly because its fun. Partly because I’m lazy. Partly because there’s still that residue of shame for my hair that I’m trying to shed.

    And Kevin, you’re speaking on it too. I’ve had white people that I’m friendly with wrecklessly eyeball my hair like they’re about to make an “approach,” but I usually notice it and make a face that says that there would be an unpleasant “situation” for them if they do what I think they are going to do. So far it’s worked. All that to say I agree with you. I’m not a personal petting zoo for white (or any other non-black…hell…and some black folks) curiosity.

  39. Therese Norén
    July 15, 2006 at 9:37 am

    You don’t have to have curly hair to be a petting zoo. It’s enough to have long hair (and mine is as straight as they come).

    The best way of pushing all my “creep” buttons used to be to fondle my hair all the way down, which meant the hand ended up on my butt.

  40. Metal Prophet
    July 15, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    That reminds me of a guy at my college. He was apparently a hair fetishist. He’d sneak up behind women with long brown hair and he’d start stroking it.

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  43. July 18, 2006 at 8:40 am

    One of the more telling things about black hair and skin and beauty issues is when I see the list of Beautiful People. Recently I read something about the top 5 women over the age of 50.

    All white. 4 out of 5 were blonde. Light eyes.

    Yet, there are so many times when talking beauty with my girlfriends that they all say, “Black women age so much better than white women. Their skin, their hair… they don’t even have wrinkles!”

    But all the beautiful women over 50 are white? Yeah, right.

    My white girlfriends, however, are with it. They chastise me for straightening my hair and plead with me to go natural. When I do smooth it out, my black girlfriends all tell me it looks good and “pretty”.

    Can’t win.

  44. piny
    July 18, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    Hee. I guess Sandra was right. This site really is all about trans.

  45. zuzu
    July 18, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    The reach of the Transsexual Empire is vast.

  46. piny
    July 18, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    And seamy!

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