12 October 2009

Good Hair: An Examination and first part--Good Hair: The History, the Definition, and the Theory

(Note: I originally wrote this blog before the movie came out last Friday)

For anyone who's in tune with what's going on in theaters soon, Chris Rock has a "comedic documentary" coming out which he titled, "Good Hair". This documentary is supposed to be an "inside look" on what goes on behind the scenes with Black women when it comes to our hair.....with a comedic flair. (rhyming non-intended).

Last week, Chris Rock was featured on Oprah and spoke about his documentary. Throughout the show, he spoke about weaves, relaxers, hair length, theories and "rules" amongst Black women when it comes to our hair and our relationships with our men, and most importantly.......the texture of Black hair in conjunction with our European and Indian counterparts. Personally, I thought the Oprah special was pretty good, yet disheartening on a few levels (which I plan to get into as this series continues). However, I couldn't help but notice how he, Chris Rock, didn't really DELVE into the psyche behind why so many black women opt for weaves, relaxers and the like to begin with. He only discussed the surface (at least that's all he touched on the show; who knows what the actual documentary will discuss or how far it will go into the topic).

In case you missed it on Oprah though, here is a clip of Chris Rock's appearance on Oprah last week.

This discussion is a lot broader than people may come to realize. In picking apart the entire dynamic of Black Women and "Good Hair", I've decided to create a "Good Hair": An Examination series broken into the following:

1. The History, the Definition, and the Theory

2. The Psyche

3. The Individual and the Lifestyle

Let's start with the first point.........


Good Hair: The History, the Definition, and the Theory:

The History:

Black people have the coarsest and most difficult texture of hair of any other race of people. Historically speaking, our hair is also the least likely to grow to magnificent and glorious lengths. However, over the span of time, our hair has been a defining factor into our culture as a Black people. The braids, the afros, the locs, and other "natural" styles are signature and "representative" styles that separate us from other races and bound us as a culture. In short, our hair is bigger than.....our hair (I hope that made sense).

Most Blacks here in America are not completely African. Stemming from slavery, our black blood has been mixed with other races which would and could have a direct effect on our black hair, making it seemingly "less" black and otherwise "good hair".

Since the beginning of time, African-Americans have been defined by the characteristics of their (our) hair. Rewinding back into the days of even slavery where there were "house slaves" and "field slaves" determined by skin pigmentation, hair texture also played a role in this as well. Because many "house slaves" (lighter toned blacks), were of mixed race, their hair was less coarse, less "nappy" and better accepted overall. However, at the end of the day, they were black nonetheless, which didn't exempt them from being a slave in the least. However, it did restrict them from having to work the long and excruciating hours on plantations. Instead, they worked in house, tended to the needs inside and were better treated. Their hair, like their skin pigmentation, played a very real role in the deciding factor of "who does what".

Over many many years and countless renovations within society--from socioeconomic issues between the races to perceptions carried from African-American to African-American, the strength our hair has had has always been a huge determinant in anything we have done as a collective race from job placements to even who we will date and through the ages, one thing has remained a very real and exceedingly strong constant--the talk of what "good hair" is. And even through all of this, the definition has always been about texture and length versus health and strand strength as it should be. It's always been "Straight is Great/Nappy is Unhappy". Always. There's always been a real psychology behind our hair when it comes to social standards and acceptance. And what's worse? Many blacks are so inept to this realization that they either don't bother to realize it or hear of the realization and get up in arms. Well this is truth. There's a psychology behind our hair. Period. (and that will be discussed in part 2).

The Definition:

The term, "good hair" has been made very common "slang-speak" amongst Black males and females across the board location-wise. The description of "good hair" is usually long, usually not the stereotypical "coarse" or "nappy" hair and is by many standards "better" hair. In short, it's everything the "standard" "Black hair" is not. In my opinion, it's actually a backhanded compliment when someone clamors over my hair and say, "you've got that GOOD HAIR" based on the texture of my hair (my hair is not coarse but rather wavy and I have no real need for relaxers. Until the Big Snip of '08, my hair used to be "long"). In my opinion, "good hair" is that which is healthy, regardless of its texture and visible length, but rather in its density and strand strength. However, this definition is not what "good hair" is defined as, only the former has carried.

The Theory:

The theory of "good hair" is that "good hair" is better, preferred by most, easier to manage and better accepted throughout society. Since that is the "theory" (and in many cases, truth), many black women have opted to conform to this theory and have taken it as a means of "being accepted in White America" without really knowing it. Enter the weaves, the different types of sew-ins and wigs, the costly transformations from "Black girl" to "oh she must be mixed with..........." phenom.......

Next blog: Good Hair: The Psyche. Stay tuned!


Mal Sr. said...

i've heard the "good hair" compliment all my life as well and I pretty much just shrug it off. I agree that "good hair" should be healthy hair and texture alone should not determine whether hair is "good" or not....comments to be continued lol.

E's said...

I live in Chicago, as you do. I'm originally from Detroit. In Detroit, the weave is BIG, it's been a big thing for a looong time (I came up in a hair care family business). Moving to Chicago, of course, the weave is here too, but I notice a strong, strong support of natural hair. Not really a question, just an observation...

You're right the documentary could've delved deeper, but it did open the conversation for us to go deeper I suppose.

Ms_Slim said...

Mal Sr :) I shrug it off too but then when I hear those very commenters talk about their own coarse hair like its a deformity, it disheartens me a bit. Thanks for dropping by. Signed, Mal Jr.

E: Yes! Detroit is KNOWN for their lavish hair just like ATL is, if not moreso. The Bronner Bros show (largest hair show in the world yearly) is also a pretty major contributor as well. The good thing about the show though is....it glorifies the Black Natural hair as well,but yes, weave is a HUGE part and is even a part of our A-A culture but its only that way because of society and thats what I think people miss at times really. Indian and Caucasian people have the "best brand" of hair. Quite sad.

Yes here in Chicago a lot of us have gone natural. Personally I think the reason of such is also because of expenses. Chicago is one of theee most expensive cities in the country and though we value the Hell out of our hair just the same, the cost of living is a bit more pressing. It's just easier to rock on with your own :) People in NYC are the same way--strong strong Natural-pride :)

Thanks for dropping by!

Crystal Belle said...

our coarse hair is a testament to our strength and perseverance. as toni morrison said, our hair is "deciduous."