After fortifying myself with a strong dose of caffeine (I am not a morning person), I went with Cayce to see Chris Rock’s Good Hair this morning.
I had only seen the preview on YouTube, and I had not seen any of the interviews Rock did before the release. Judging by anticipatory blog comments, people were both eager to see this movie and dreading it. They hoped, like I did, that it would actually address the social pressure on black women in a racist society to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards, but also feared that it might come across as “Ha! Black women are so stupid to spend that much time, money, energy and attention on hair!” and/or as a “demonization of nappyness.” Rock’s interviews did not seem to help.
Having seen the movie, I think the result was somewhat mixed. Too much of the movie was about the styling competitors at the Bronner Brothers show. The conclusion seemed ambivalent, indecisive. There was not much historical contextualization. The movie did touch on the issue of Eurocentric beauty standards, and it was not merely flippant, but it didn’t pose a strong challenge to racism and white supremacy. If other people saw the movie, I’d love to hear your own thoughts.
I found one of the scenes especially disturbing, and I keep coming back to it in my mind. Rock was interviewing a group of high school students.
One of the young women in the foreground led the conversation by saying something like she didn’t think a woman with natural hair was as likely to be hired and respected in a professional environment, that it was a kind of “contradiction” (her word) because that woman would not seem to care about her appearance. Another of the young women echoed her sentiments and, as I remember it, even implied that she wouldn’t think well of a woman with natural hair either. There were comments to the effect that they weren’t referring to the young woman behind them (“I love your afro”), but these seemed to me somewhat insincere in context.
I see what the young women were saying. They are living in a culture of racist beauty standards where black women with natural hair are not normally held up as beautiful. They feel pressured to conform, to have straightened hair, in order to succeed. But as someone who prefers natural hair, it really unsettles me to hear racist beauty standards internalized. My own prejudices, and I admit that they are prejudices, tend to go the other way. I understand that people will sometimes want to try a different style or color just for fun, so I shouldn’t be unfair, but I tend to think of women with natural hair as people more in touch with who they are and self-confident, qualities I do associate with beauty and professionalism.
Reading over recent blog comments in various places, however, I become very self-conscious. Do I really respect and like natural hair, or am I engaging in some sort of fetishizing? And what should I say when I do like someone’s hair? My normal inclination would be to simply pay a compliment, and I certainly don’t want to perpetuate the racist beauty standards by saying nothing. On the other hand, I’ve seen that many compliments from white people are perceived as “forced” or insincere, often with very good reason. I wouldn’t want my compliment to do harm. Guess I’ve got a long way to go. Can anyone help me out? :)
Edit: I think the movie I may have really wanted to see was My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair-itage: