Good Hair?

Image and video hosting by TinyPicLast night, The New York Times diversity affinity groups (read: the Black and Latino folks at the NYT) sponsored a screening of Chris Rock’s Good Hair, complete with a panel discussion.
Let me start out with what I liked about the documentary, which Rock and three other men made to purportedly answer his daughter’s question: “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”
It was funny.
And there was an interesting section on how the “Black hair” business is actually making Asians and Caucasians rich. Oh, and it was fascinating to see how weaves make it from the heads of the devout in Chennai, India, (most get it shaved off as a sacrifice, or “tonsure,” to God; others wake up or stand to leave an “interesting movie” only to find it’s been cut off and sold on the black market) to the heads of the chicks in my Harlem, New York, neighborhood.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me tell you what pissed me off:

for the uninitiated, the takeaway from this movie will read like a punch line from Chris Rock’s nauseatingly misogynistic 2008 HBO special, Kill The Messenger: “Black bitches be crazy!”

As Rock talked to countless celebs about Black women’s hair (Nia Long, Sallie Richardson, Paul Mooney, Eve, Raven Symoné, Ice T, Maya Angelou, Vanessa Bell Calloway, T-Pain, Andre Harrell and many more), he delved deep into what my friend Yani (who was amazing on the panel, BTW) described as “the what” of Black women’s complicated relationship with our hair, while never taking the time to give us “the why.” This movie suffered from a lack of context, and even when the interviewees lobbed the ball and gave them a chance to hit it out of the park, the filmmakers chose to walk to first base instead. For example, when Melyssa Ford said that, to her, good hair means white hair, rather than using it as a segue to talk about how slavery and the subsequent systematic degradation of an entire race has lead to a universal love for the oppressor and their hair that blows in the wind, he went on to show folks acting a monkey at the annual Bronner Brothers hair show in Atlanta. Word?

Hell, he didn’t even get into the simplest of history regarding how we’ve found ways to manipulate our hair. Those of you in the states likely learned about Madam CJ Walker—the first self-made American woman millionaire who made her fortune on the heads of Black women—during Black History Month back in middle school, but you won’t hear about her in this movie (though her great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles appears as a talking head, again, without context).

And with all the interviews with Black celebs talking about their relaxers and weaves (and men opining about how expensive said relaxers and weaves are, but never talking about how they are complicit in women’s desire for long, straight, sexy hair), women who wear their natural hair texture were nearly absent from the film; actress Tracie Thoms was the token natural hair lady. As a Black woman who got her first “kiddie perm” somewhere around the second grade and recently cut off her short relaxed do and draws actual laughs—laughs!—when she tells people she’s growing an afro (real talk, I want an afro bigger than your daddy’s head), I would’ve liked to have heard more from the other side of the fence: What do the nappyheads think constitutes “good hair”? Why did they opt to step away from the relaxer? How do they feel about other people viewing their hair as a political statement? Or the “Well, I guess you can pull it off” and the “You’re still cute, though” comments? (Back-handed compliment much?)

What exactly would I have learned if I didn’t come to this movie with my own ingrained hair issues? Black women use a sodium hydroxide on their hair, which will eat through an aluminum can in just four hours and can cause lung disease and blindness! Black women have their three-year-old daughters believing that “you’re supposed to get a perm” and other girls at preschool’s hair is prettier than theirs because it “hangs down lower than mine”! Black women put relaxers in their two-year-olds’ hair! Black women spend $3,500 on weaves, but can’t pay their rent! Black women are too high maintenance for Black men because they expect men to pay for their weaves, and then they can’t even touch them!

And, yes, some of these things are sadly true for some Black women; we make poor decisions and pass on the negative hair attitudes that were transmitted through the skin of our own mothers’ knees as we cowered and cried on that yellow plastic Little Tykes chair being told that we had to sit still so our hair would look “pretty.”

And, no, I’m not saying that relaxers and weaves are the devil. We should be able to wear our hair however we want. But we (and by “we,” I mean the collective “we”) have to stop teaching our children that what grows out of their heads is bad, and we (and by “we” I mean “parents”) shouldn’t make potentially dangerous decisions for them before they are old enough to voice an educated opinion.

And, yes, I understand that Chris Rock is a comedian—shit I’ve paid money to see him perform live—but he said he wanted to make a movie to teach his daughters about why their hair isn’t considered “good hair,” and this project is an epic fail in that respect.

And, no, I’m not averse to airing dirty laundry, clearly. I just like some context with my madness; I don’t want folks to walk out of this movie thinking that Black women are crazy without understanding that it’s our society that makes us so, because that doesn’t foster conversation or change. Before we can do something about it, we all need to understand that even our “conditioning has been conditioned.” (Check out this clip from the Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize-winning movie Chameleon Street; always wondered where that “Brown Skin Lady” intro came from, didn’t you? You’re welcome.)

Though Rock says he made this documentary to answer his daughter’s inquiry, for the thoughtful viewer, it raises more questions than it answers.

So do I think you should go see Good Hair? It depends. If you want a good chuckle, sure. But as you’re busting a gut, think about the fact that you’re laughing at a segment of the population (perhaps your own?) that is still sound asleep. It’s time to wake up.

What hair attitudes are you working with? Will you see Good Hair? What do you hope to get from it? Have you seen it already? Give us your take on the movie.


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