Lessons from Natural Hair & White Women’s Ongoing Racism


"My Natural Sistas"

“My Natural Sistas”

This is that time of year when I spend a great deal of time online watching videos and reading articles on how to moisturize my hair.  Between the on-and-off again single-digit cold weather, my hair is dryyyyy.  It’s the typical saga of natural hair for black women in cold winters.  Because my hair has changed its length and texture since my no-heat commitment, it seems that what worked last year doesn’t work this year.  This isn’t a lament about black hair though, because I actually like looking at these blogs, articles, and videos.  The images are stunningly beautiful, the sistas are often funny as all get-out, and the advice is ON. POINT.

Naturally GG

“Naturally GG”

It’s the language of it all that fascinates me.  It’s always in the language, like these phrasings and positioning:

Protective styling (and headwrapping)

Avoiding over-worked hair

Understanding and mixing shea butter

Letting the scalp heal (especially if newly non-relaxed)

Working and nurturing the roots

Cherish My Daughter

“Cherish My Daughter”

I’ll just go for broke and say it straight out: only black women could and would talk about HAIR— their bodies— this way… and digitally so AT THAT!  It’s a discourse wrapped in notions of freedom from work and destruction.

It should not come as a surprise that my conversations with black women, from the compliments to the sharing of styles and product purchases, are qualitatively and quantitively different.  Those conversations are so foreign to most white women around me that this may as well be a language other than English. In many ways, this IS another language. We are talking Afrikan experience.  What other women would make the healing of roots, self-protection, and rejuvenation with shea butter the road to survival?

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You can see then why I was so stunned by a recent blog article circling the internet about a young white woman expressing her turmoil when she realized, during yoga, that the “young, fairly heavy black woman” behind her must resent her thin, white body.  Yeah.  You can’t make this up!  On top of living a racist delusion, she has co-opted a spiritual, non-western practice, YOGA (we seem to forget that yoga was not invented by middle class white women), to experience a false racial superiority.



Now, can sumbody please tell me why women who invent and design practices and languages just to maintain non-white alternatives to their HAIR—with digital tools to educate and sustain one another about it— would be pining away at white women’s bodies?  If that weren’t enough, this white woman also configures herself as an advanced yoga practitioner, but if this is where her mind is during the process, what the hell kinda yogi is this?  I enjoyed Kristin Iversen’s discussion who critiques the commercial white feminism of the journal alongside white colonization of yoga. I also value Tressiemc.com’s review of research on black girls who also have a critique of white standards of beauty at a young age. That’s why I am confused by the black women who perceive this moment as a possibility for good dialogue.  Good for whom?  Black women?  This moment replicates nothing more than Sylvia Wynter’s now longstanding critique of white femininity in her analysis of the Tempest in its depiction of Miranda: the only woman in the New World/Island, the “mode of physiognomic being” that gets canonized as the only “rational object of desire” and “genitrix of a superior mode of human life.”

I won’t mention this woman’s name, because she is not worthy of that.  Just trust that her own physical appearance in no way matches the admiration and awe that she thinks her body engenders.  I ain’t sayin she ugly, but she sho ain’t cute. For black women out there who do aspire to whiteness, this ain’t the white woman they would be aesthetically mimicking (especially when she is sweaty and funky.)  How does someone of such absolute visual mediocrity become convinced she is the center of physical attraction? As is so strikingly evident here, it is a pathologized, corporeal white-thinness alone that is supposed to mark aesthetic power and desire. Truth is, this little dumb blog post isn’t worth the attention it has received (and brought the writer into focus in ways she was perhaps too young to understand, though the journal surely did, with the intimacies of her personal life now publicly on display, i.e., drug abuse).  For my part, I will keep moisturizing my natural hair and using a black woman’s language with black women to navigate the world.  I won’t be standing behind any white woman any time soon with the desire of being that.  I have my own self and black women’s language to sustain me. [/ezcol_1half_end]

“The Unwritten Rules” Writes B(l)ack

I am not a regular watcher of RHOA, those Hip Hop minstrel shows (Flava of Love, Love and Hip Hop, T.I.& Tiny, et al), or any reality TV actually.  I have seen some of the episodes and have read other people’s commentary but that’s about it.  I didn’t watch weekly episodes of Scandal or even the Wire; I watched entire seasons all at once on Netflix after the hype.  I was usually disappointed.  I have, however, watched every episode of “The Unwritten Rules.”  “the Unwritten Rules” is a web-series based on the book, 40 Hours and an Unwritten Rule: The Diary of a N**ger, Negro, Colored, Black, African-American Woman, by Kim Williams, the executive producer and writer of the show. Each episode revolves around a young, black woman, Racey (Aasha Davis), and her life as the “Black Co-Worker” in a white workplace.  Last week’s episode, part of the new Season 2, may have been my favorite.

unwritten-rulesIn just one, rather short episode, there is a parody of the WWCW (white woman crying at work), the transracial adoption of (Madonna’s) African children, the attack on the head black official as a socialist, issues around black hair & discipline with white parenting, the difference in expectations of black female labor vs. white female labor, and the definition of white privilegitis… now this is TELEVISION, honey!  After Issa Rae’s success, an opening was created (inkSpotEntertainment and BlackandSexyTV are my favorites) for these shows and the hits seem to keep coming.

This is, by far, my favorite workplace comedy because the comedy actually depicts experiences that I can relate to and call my own.  For some of us, racial micro-agressions, institutional racism, and anti-black hostility are as everyday as taking a lunch break.  Isn’t it ironic then that for most of the television viewing of my life, these everyday realities have been relegated, at most, to a special episode?  For me, “the Unwritten Rules” also highlights how politically and ideologically bankrupt our requests for “representation” often are.  We constantly ask to see larger numbers of ourselves on film and television but that is meaningless unless our request also demands a sharp airing of the social and political issues that we face. This web series is a step in the right direction.