Black women and our features.
They have been reviled and castigated for over 400 years.
Our noses, our hips, our lips, our skin color, and most notably, our hair.
And no more apparent is the devaluation of black women more seen in how American society views our hair.
So the question to all of you, my dear readers, is the following:
Is it a racist slur to tell a black woman she has “good hair”? Does it make a white person a racist to ask this question of a black woman? Does it make a black person a racist if they ask this question, or does it show the black person as inflicted with self-hatred of black features, features that are natural and normal for the majority of black people living in America?
Rachel, of Rachel’s Tavern posed the following questions:
“What do you think? I think most would agree that it is not a slur (the person just picked the wrong word here), but do you think it is racist to make such a statement? If you believe it depends on the context in which it is asked, in what situations to do you think it is racist, and in what situations do you think it would not be racist? Does it matter if it is from a black person or a non-black person? ”
[Thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Tavern (http://www.rachelstavern.com) for this thoughtful question that is in serious need of discussion.]
The following comments were originally made at Rachel’s Tavern on the discussion of “good hair” vs. “bad hair”. I have reposted my answers here to various comments/responses made by commentors on the subject. All my comments are as they originally appeared on the discussion which occurred on January 6, 2007 through January 12, 2007.
“The person searched for, “Is it a racial slur to say a black woman has good hair”.
Good hair as in well-kept, clean, perfectly groomed?
“Good hair” as in approximating the texture and type of hair that is similar to white women’s hair?
In the case of the former, “good hair” would be what I would consider what good hair is. But, reality shows that people stating the phrase “good hair’ do not have clean well-kept up hair in mind. They instead mean that the nappy, naturally curly, tight-coiled hair of black women is something to be ashamed of. Therefore, if it is not naturally close to the straightness of white women’s hair, then there is no way it can ever be considered “good hair”, no matter how neat the black woman’s hair is.
They are in essence denigrating, disrespecting and insulting the natural texture that most black people’s hair texture has.
“I think most would agree that it is not a slur (the person just picked the wrong word here), but do you think it is racist to make such a statement? ”
I would consider it very insulting. The person, obviously from living in America where the worship of white women’s beauty has been drummed and beaten into people’s minds, has bought into the lie that a black woman’s hair in its natural state cannot be beautiful, and nothing is farther from the truth.
Black women have the most unique hair in the world. To destroy it with permanents that chemically alter the texture of the hair is a sign of a much deeper underlying problem. Some people will say that perming the hair makes it more manageable, but that is not true. The hair of black people in its natural state can be managed just as properly, if anything, more so, than straightened hair. And many black women are so used to wearing their hair permed, especially since they were very young girls, that many of them if they did the “big chop”, probably would not know how to take care of their hair in its natural state. But, it can be done, this learning process of learning to forego the un-natural perms, and learn to love what God gave you, that which no other race on Earth has.
Unfortunatetly because of the steady bombardment of commercials which show white women’s hair in shampoo, hair dye, and hair styling ads, many black women are shown through these media images that black women’s hair in its natural state is deviant, ugly, not worthy of being considered beautiful, and something to be ashamed of.
Is it racist to say this statement?
Yes. If a non-black says it.
If a black person says it, to me it indicates self-hatred.
Saying this statement shows that the beauty of a black woman’s hair in its natural state is something to be ashamed of; something to be destroyed with the constant application of perms; something to always alter as if there was something wrong with black hair in the first place.
Before black people were brought to this country against our will, we celebrated the myriad beauty of our hair. We reveled in the varied intricacies of hairstyles that could only be worn with our beautiful hair type: braids, twists, cornrows, many “hairstyles” that are at least 5,000 years old.
But, after living in America, with the devaluation and degrading images against black women’s beauty from the dominant white culture, it is a miracle that there are still black women in America who say to hell with mutilating their hair to fit the white beauty standard.
“If you believe it dependents on the context in which it is asked, in what situations to do you think it is racist, and in what situations do you think it would not be racist? Does it matter if it if from a black person or a non-black person? ”
I would think it is racist if uttered by a white person. I would consider them as thinking that my hair would not be beautiful, in their eyes, unless it fit some constricted idea of what constitutes beauty in America: Anything that is African is something to be ashamed of, abandoned, despised, and run from. If a white person said this to me, I may feel that they look at me as approaching “their” idea of beauty, their idea of conforming to their race’s standards of beauty.
If a black person said this to me, it would mean that they have bought into the lie that a black woman’s hair can only be beautiful if it has been fried by harsh chemicals, or is straight enough to look like a white woman’s hair. To me this black person would have shown the ultimate form of self-hatred, that I, as a black woman, cannot, should not, DARE not, wear my hair in its gravity-defying naturalness. A black person saying this indicates that they consider a black woman as less than beautiful, alluring, desireable and lovely, UNLESS she had so-called naturally “good-wavy-straight-looking” hair; anything but the nappturally beautiful hair that she has.
Saying that a black woman has “good” hair is no better than saying that she is beautiful/good-looking/desirable unless she is light-skinned.
Yes, this “good hair” way of thinking is a vestige from slavery, when race-mixing changed the skin color and hair texture of black people.
And said from the mouth of a black person it states that there is shame in having nappy hair, and that having “good hair” is supposed to make you better. It does not. It just indicates a person who unfortunately has bought into the negative hatred of black beauty.
There is no such thing as “good hair” among black women.
But, try telling that to people who have bought into the negative belief that a black woman’s hair can only be good if it comes as close as possible to the type/texture of a white woman’s hair.
“I have had the good/bad hair conversations with Black and White folks. I do consider it very insulting. Ironically, I hear more comments about who has good or bad hair from Black folks because we are still very oppressed in our thinking about our hair. When I first went natural (very short crop cut) I got lots of compliments from White folks. Now that I have longer hair (twists or afro) I get more compliments from Black folks. I do still get compliments from Whites but I think some people are not as comfortable with my afro because I’m no longer a “safe negro”.
I think I get more compliments from Blacks now because most people have stereotypes about how “nice” natural hair can be. When people (Blacks/Whites) ask to touch my hair, they always say “It’s so soft”. They act as if they are shocked my hair can be soft and nappy. Clearly both groups are still working out their issues around nappy hair being “bad” hair. Sometimes nappy isn’t so soft, but I still like it then too.”
I too have gotten more compliments on my “Afro” from white people and other non-black people.
Some years ago at a previous job, a Latino man I worked with asked me if he could touch my hair.
I thought about it.
I thought long, and hard about it.
“Okay, you can touch,” I said.
He touched my hair and said the same thing: “Oh, it’s so soft!”
Like, what, it was supposed to feel like a brillo pad!
And, yes I too have been given the “She’s an ‘angry black militant’ when I wear my natural, instead of my braids”, look from people.
(This outlook is possibly a holdover form the “Black is Beautiful” era. People automatically think you’re a militant subversive when you wear your hair the way God made it. But, it’s not being militant; it’s simply being proud of what you have.)
“Is it a racial slur to say a black woman has good hair?”
Yes. If a non-black says it.
If a black person says it, to me it indicates self-hatred.
I’m not sure it’s a slur but I’m sure it is racist, when the context is a comparison to straight hair. However, Ann, I still think that it is racist whether the person who said it is black or not… My reasoning is that the race of the person who makes the statement is not really the matter, making a statement that equates “straight white person’s hair=good” and “curly black person’s hair=bad” is racist (using the term self-hatred, I feel doesn’t quite address culpability). Furthermore this type of thinking is reinforced by and reinforces a structural system that holds all things white as better and all things black as not as good. An analogy could be made that some slavemasters had black overseers and even these overseers were tyring to get by, they were still perpetuating the system of slavery (not to say that slavery is the same as good hair but rather the issues a similar) and when all is said and done, the person being enslaved is still being violated…. ”
I still do not consider it racist if a black person says it.
And yes, there were black overseers, who would brutalize the slaves just as inhumanely as a white overseer. They had to get the crops, work, etc., done and God help them if the work was not done to the slave master’s instructions.
I still consider it self hate.
Just like the black overseer would have internalized racist perceptions, beliefs, doctrines, and patterns of behaviour towards fellow blacks would not make it racist.
It would be self hating behaviour.
After being constantly having what you came into the world with (your original customs, traditions, language, AND perceptions of what “beauty” is to you as a black African) constantly being assailed and denigrated and told: “You’re UGLY. Your black skin is UGLY. My white skin is BEAUTIFUL. Your full lips are UGLY. My thin lips are BEAUTIFUL. Your nappy hair is UGLY. My straight hair is BEAUTIFUL.), then eventually something will have to give.
You either prevail against the onslaught and suffer serious attacks upon your personhood.
You would cave and acquiesce to all the lies and brutality that tells you, you are LESS THAN because you were born what you were: A black person, and not a white person.”
Furthermore this type of thinking is reinforced by and reinforces a structural system that holds all things white as better and all things black as not as good.”
Yes, the media further degrades black women especially:
“Crate and Barrell’s Christmas commercial of a few months back.
People are buying each other presents. White man buys for a white woman. White woman buys for a white man.
BLACK MAN BUYS FOR AN ASIAN WOMAN.
Message to black women: ‘You don’t even rate a damn gift from A BLACK MAN, much less any other man.”
Yes, ever since the white man put the white woman up on that pedestal, she has been kicking (especially black women), non-white people’s teeth down their throats.
And the white man’s as well.
Guess he did not figure on that happening.
But, I digress.
Yes, the message this society sends all women, especially black women, is that you are not beautiful unless you are “light, bright, and damned near white”, but I refuse to buy into that.
I refuse to let anyone convince me that I am less than because I am a black woman.
Black women are beautiful.
Latino women are beautiful. Asian women are beautiful.
Native American women are beautiful. Arabic women are beautiful.
And even white women are beautiful.
There is room enough in this country for many types of beauty.
And no one race of women holds a monopoly or corner on beauty.
But as for black’s being racist in uttering this statement.
Internalizing, buying into, believing in, and upholding the white racist paradigm of beauty.
Yes, it is deeply entrenched in the black psyche.
But it is self hatred, to hate what you are, and to hate the features of the black person standing next to you, working with you, related to you.
“Here’s a question for you: if commenting on a black woman’s hair is racist, would some of you call telling “dumb blonde jokes” equally as racist? I would…yet people do it all the time without even thinking about it…
One’s as bad as the other as far as I’m concerned.”
I would consider it just as rude.
The statement implies that just because a woman’s hair is blonde, that she has no intelligence, hence “dumb blonde.”
If anything, I consider blondes very intelligent (just as intelligent as a black woman).
I mean, heck, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, and even Nicolle Smith.
Any woman who is smart enough to get men of power and prestige into their lives certainly doesn’t indicate “dumbness.”
If anything it indicates “smartness.”
Blondes know the score. They just play along, acting as if they are so clueless, while they score the rich, successful and influential men of the world.
Doesn’t sound like “dumbness” to me.
“Last week, my boss comented on my hair, which I had recently untwisted and was sporting an afro. “Did you do something to your hair again?” he asked, even though I have sported the style frequently within the six months I had been working there. I explained what I did, and he says, “well I like it better when you have those twist things in it.” Needless to say, I was pissed. Do I think he’s a racist? No. Ignorant? Hell yeah.”
Firstoff, you’ve “sported the style frequently within the six months” you’ve worked there. To me, this indicates that he might consider your present style “threatening” (?) or the “twist things” probably looks more “prettier” (?) or “more office-type” to him. Also, that he failed to notice that you have worn your hair this way, off and on, for the past six months, indicates he is not capable of noticing a dramatic change in your hair styles.
I mean twists are not the same as an Afro. They are both worlds apart. Very obvious to the discerning person who pays attention to what is going on around him. That he is just now noticing a style that you’ve worn before, shows his lack of knowledge of black hair styles, as well as not seeing (paying attention) to how you wear your hair.
To me, that’s beyond clueless. It may be that he thinks you present the “office corporate structure image” more by wearing your hair up in twists, and that the Afro would be off-putting to him, fellow employees, or clients.
But, this is your hair.
You may respond that this is one of many styles that black women wear their hair in and that our hair being the way it is lends itself to MANY styles to wear it in. Not just one type of style.
“Did you do something to your hair again?”
“Yes.” you may answer. “I decided to let my lovely mane down so I could dazzle men and bring them to their feet. I jusst don’t do this very often.I don’t like sending men to the ER with heart cardiac responses.”
That’s the beauty of our hair type, Laina.
We can wear it any way we chose.
Up, down, Afro, twists, braids, locs, cornrows, dreads.
You name it, we can claim it.
(Maybe he is ill at ease with your Afro, and probably considers the twists, how shall I say it, “less threatening.”)
Just tell him that’s black hair.
It can be styled any way, and still manage to captivate the viewer.
Hope I’ve answered your question.
My response to your question above was meant as tongue in cheek.
Now, to seriously answer your question:
Is it racist to call blondes dumb?
No, it is not.
Blonde-haired white women do not share the same history of oppression that black women in America have suffered.
Blondes have never been considered as less than human the way black women have.
Blondes have never had their features, especially their hair, vilified, denigrated, debased, mocked, humiliated and looked upon as less than beautiful.
Blondes have never suffered a history of DOUBLE OPPRESSION as black women in America have suffered for over 400 years.
Is the comment “dumb blondes” insulting?
Is the comment dumb blondes sexist?
Until white women go through and experience the same history of both SEXISM and RACISM that black women in America have experienced, there is no way this comment can ever be considered racist.
Black hair is very delicate, fragile and easily damaged and in the hands of the wrong person can be severely damaged if handled improperly.
Hair types come in many ranges: fine, medium, coarse.
And black hair ranges from very straight to wavy, to tightly-coiled nappy hair. These types of hair textures enable black beauticians to have varied experiences in taking care of black hair. And it certainly helps if a stylist is experienced in taking care of black hair.
Cosmetology schools of today are supposed to turn out graduates who are skilled in taking care of ALL types of ethnic hair variations. People who work in hair salons need to know that not all hair types “burn” the same. And that not all chemicals can be used on all hair types. True some conditioners for combatting excessive dryness in all ethnic hairs can be used on all hair types can also be used on black hair, but, the basic understanding of black hair cannot be dismissed in that black hair is porous and does not stand up to rough or harsh treatment in the salon process.
Any salon that is in the business of taking care of hair should realize that the business that encompasses ALL hair types in its repetoire, is the business that is ahead of the pack. To limit your business expertise and clientele to one type of ethnic hair type is sheer folly, and with the various races in America with the different hair types that need grooming and care, it would be tantamount to “economic suicide” to still do business on just one type of hair type or texture, or to limit one’s expertise to just one hair style or technic.
Many black salons because of the varied hair types in the black race, and because of the skills learned at black cosmetology schools, are ahead of non-black salons and cosmetology schools in their skills in caring not only for black hair, but white, Latina, Asian and all other hair types. That is how you stay in business—–by being not one, but, many steps ahead of the competition.
And the career of cosmetology also lends itself to continued education like any other profession.
Any licensed cosmetologists would be expected to enroll into continuing education classes at scheduled times of the year, in addition to attending hair seminars. This way the cosmetologist keeps abreast of the new styles as well as keep up their skills and experiences in the old styles.
There are many beauty schools that excel in turning out the very best in students with a professional outlook and approach to their careers.
The Franklin Beauty School is very well-known for the competent and highly capable students they graduate:
And there are other beauty lines that offer classes on black hair care.
Dudleys has an advanced cosmo program that teaches how to work on black hair:
Also, Mizani (Loreal) makes good products for black hair care:
Also, a company by the name Design Essentials, makes black hair cair products and has a cosmetology school as well:
A smart business will look for the very best in salon/beauticians to work the hair of their clientele. And good business sense, good rapport and respect towards the clients, good products sold and used on the client’s hair, and especially good understanding of their clients’ hair and client’s needs, will keep a customer coming back again, and again, and again.
Lyonside and Tiffany.
I agree 100% on the loyalty factor.
NO ONE is more loyal than a black woman with the person she trusts the most with the care and upkeep of her hair.
We do get our hair done the most frequently and with the person whom we’ve come to trust to treat us and our hair right.
And that is why so many black women have beauticians/stylists they have remained with over the years and decades, lasting bonds that were cemented because they developed a relationship with a woman (or man) who knew how to take care of them with comfort, respect and dignity.
Because black people have super curly, or nappy hair, our hair is best handled when wet. Our hair is made of the same “stuff” (keratin) as non-black hair. The difference lies in the way those components are put together or the structure of our hair. The structure of our hair can cause it to be more prone to breakage and dryness. Because of this, black hair care needs are different from those for other types of hair. Our hair can have up to twice the amount of “cuticle” or outer layer. Our hair is kinkier/tightly coiled which makes it more difficult for the oil secreted from our scalps to reach the ends of the hair. But, keep in mind there is a variety of hair types, due to racial mixing of other bloodlines with black people’s. Especially since most of us are of mixed heritage, black American hair and bi-racial people’s hair can vary widely. Even within a single head of hair, there are different hair types. So, there is no one solution for the care of all black hair. However, it is helpful to know, generally, what type of hair you have. Intuitively, you might think African hair is “tougher” than Caucasian hair and can handle more stress or abuse. After all, it is coarser and thicker. Actually, African hair (especially if treated like European hair) is more fragile than Caucasian hair. For this reason, we suggest using products made especially for our hair, and giving our hair the gentle treatment that it deserves, helps to keep it well manintained and healthy.
Since we have super curly, nappy hair, our hair is best handled wet. We may find it easiest to comb it with a wide tooth comb while in the shower. And that skinny little European comb for white people’s hair is not for us. We also have to try to avoid combing our hair while dry as the comb will tend to catch and break the hair. If we need to comb our hair while it’s dry, we have to be gentle. Spritzing with some water or a cream first also helps soften the hair and prevents tangles. If we’re unbraiding our hair and get to some tangles, we pull them loose with our fingers before we go on to combing.
So, our hair is not as “strong” as people think it is.
Here is a link for more info on black hair texture and care:
Click on “ARTICLES”
Then click on “It’s Just Different”.