I can’t think of a more difficult social subject than that of black women’s hair. Even as a black man I feel uncomfortable discussing it and I am not quite sure why. I find talking about slavery and the various Nazi atrocities easier. Think about that.
A braver man than I, the comedian Chris Rock, tried taking on the subject and was somewhat successful with his documentary, Good Hair. The result is a very funny, yet surprisingly insightful film about a subject matter that is not widely discussed.
Hair is a woman’s glory – Maya Angelou
I’ve seen this film twice at two very different stages of my life – before and after the birth of my mixed race daughter. I was raised in a house full of black women and the first time I saw this film it brought back memories of the many times I saw my mother relaxing my sisters’ hair, platting their hair and seeing them in wigs and waives.
As a boy living among black women you understand that a black woman’s hair is nothing to play with, for them there is little that is more important than their hair. In that context, yes, I spent the majority of the time chuckling away at this film – Al Sharpton also reminded me of the one and only time I tried to relax my own hair and how the burn made sure I’d never try it again. Wonderful memories.
Watching the film again after the birth of my daughter, the documentary had a much more profound effect on me. The thought of my daughter asking me why she doesn’t have good hair, as Chris Rock’s daughter did, just broke my heart and I started to think much more deeply about the idea of black beauty. I had always believed that natural is best when it comes to black hair and have always struggled to understand why black women feel they have to manipulate the physical properties of their hair. If there is any weakness to this film is that it doesn’t explain or try to address the historical and cultural reasons why a lot of black women in western society don’t wear their hair naturally. I think it doesn’t delve into the role the media has played in how sisters see themselves.
I chose to have my daughter wear her hair as wild and as natural as possible. I love her afro and I want her to grow up loving it too. As a (half) black lady, I want her to believe that ‘nappy is happy’ – but I am aware that many people may comment on her hair when she is older. I mean, they already do now – we can’t take my daughter out anywhere without at least one stranger saying something (mostly positive) about her hair. We have already been warned by my side of the family that it’s probably best to tame my little girl’s hair before she reaches the jungle (too raw?) that is school life.
I remember having a not so serious conversation with my youngest sister about why she doesn’t afro her hair, why she constantly relaxes it and why wears waives. Her answer was short, brutal and effective: “why do you only date white women?”
Essentially, Good Hair is a very good film which tackles a very uncomfortable subject. I doubt that many people will find this film anywhere on British television but I would urge any man or woman of any race to seek it out. At the very least you will laugh (uncomfortably probably), but you will also likely find yourself thinking about an issue that is very much still taboo.