Comedian Sheryl Underwood caught some Twitter fire recently when while on the TV show The Talk. She admonished the idea of supermodel Heidi Klum saving the curly hair of her biracial children after she cut it. Underwood said:
“Why would you save Afro hair?” She went on to imply that nobody wants that type of hair, saying that you never hear of a woman in a hair shop asking for that “curly, nappy, beady” hair.
Then, it got worse. Wrote Tracy Clayton at The Root:
Co-host Sarah Gilbert chimed in, saying that she, too, sometimes saves her children’s hair, and Underwood interjected, saying that it was “probably some beautiful, long, silky stuff,” implying that that type of hair is desirable and worth saving. The only thing more hurtful than hearing those words was co-host Aisha Tyler’s silence and listening to the enthusiastic laughter of the audience, who, apparently, agreed.
Everything about being black in this country we are taught, usually from outsiders but also from those we love, that there is something inherently wrong with us. Our hair, if too curly, is “bad.” Our skin, if too dark, is “bad.” Our noses, if too broad and lips, if too full, are “bad.” Anything that isn’t closer to the European standard of beauty is “bad.” You, by birth of your blackness, are bad.
The people who told me I was “bad” were not my parents, they were individuals like an old, hateful black elementary school library aide I had while growing up who regularly told us children (all black) how “bad” we were and how nappy our hair was and how that was awful and how the white children she taught at the other schools were much better, nicer, prettier children than us. They were people like some of the men I dated when I was much younger who would tell me they would break up with me if I ever cut my long, chemically straightened hair. My personality didn’t matter, nor were my face or charms. They dating a headful of hair – not me. And the hair had to stay.
Some folks on Twitter have asked who taught Sheryl Underwood to “hate herself.” More than likely she doesn’t see it that way like most people who’ve internalized that certain aspects of blackness are simply “bad.” She’s confused at the response she’s received because she was only stating the status quo, saying what others usually say in private to their daughters who go natural. What’s usually on heard by some grandmothers snickering about how your hair isn’t “good” enough to go natural, as if the 1970s and afros never happened. Mothers worrying about your “looks.” Strangers on the street, classmates and co-workers all passing judgment – does having natural hair make you some kind of radical? A feminist? A socialist? Did you just get dumped? Do YOU hate yourself for not straightening your hair, they imply?
But normally we don’t have to confront this negativity in our daytime talk shows and have one black woman openly express her disdain for something that is distinctly black while being black herself. It’s a pitiful thing, as a black woman with natural hair in America, to still hear comments you only expect to hear from the unconnected, the old and the ignorant. That nappy hair is bad and if your children have nappy hair that’s not worth saving as a keepsake. Because who would want it. Who would want nappy hair? Who would want black hair? Who would want to be black?
That’s the negative implication. But I do. I’m proud of who I am and what my hair consists of. I’m proud of all the different things I can do with it. I’m proud of the diversity in our hair and how no two heads of hair on a black woman is a like when it’s natural – not even if they’re related. How each curl manifests differently and is a staunch individualist. There’s nothing wrong with straight hair. But there’s nothing wrong with curly hair either. Both are equally beautiful in their own ways. And the more accepting of ourselves the more accepting others will be and accepting that some black people like to wear their hair curly is part of that.
After all, how is anyone supposed to love us, if we don’t love ourselves first?