I didn't watch the Oscars this year, but when I saw this photo in LA Magazine it made me smile. There's been some attention in the media regarding Black Women and our hair. From the Surgeon General's report relating obesity rates to Black Women not wanting to "sweat our hair out" while exercising to watching an episode of Grey's Anatomy where Dr. McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) combs out his African daughter's "kitchen" under the supervision of ever watchful Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson), the drama connected to Black Women and our hair has gone mainstream.
So many people wonder why this is an issue. It's just hair! Some say all women just love to play with hair, and it's wonderful to be different personalities by wearing different hairstyles, dyeing it different colors wearing wigs weaves etc.
Yes, all women do love to have fun and play with hair. But I offer this, it's not just about the hair.
Across the world, many cultural standards for feminity, beauty and youth are connected with having long silky hair. And in some parts of the African American Community, a woman with long silky hair (good hair) is worth a price above rubies.
To many, this "good hair" is not just an accesory, it representes beauty, prosperity, abundance and opportunity. To be fair skinned with naturally long straight hair, (in the African American Community) is considered to be a badge of honor, these women are visible and held in high esteem. In high school these were the girls who were brought flowers and asked to the dance, and elected homecoming queens. They are the ones who get into the right sorority in college, and marry the investment bankers, or become the investment bankers. These were the girls who were visible, femine and beautiful.
So if you are a woman in the Black Community, and you aren't fair skinned with "good hair" does that mean it will be harder for you to be femine, beautiful and have abundance love and prosperity?
That's the question.
Historically, in many black communities marriages were set by the quality of the individuals hair. Particularly for girls, some black mothers would pray that their child would inherit the "good hair" from some Indian ancestor from long ago, instead of having that nappy kinky hair that no one knew or wanted to have to deal with.
As a child, I would visit my relatives in the U.S. Virgin Islands. My Aunties are amazing ladies, all educators, with advanced degrees and pillars of their church. One of my Aunts is a Rhode's Scholar and even has an elementary school named after her on the island.
They LOVE the beach. I have memories of them pinning up their relaxed hair styles sealing their hair in plastic wrap, packing it into a scarf then once at the beach, going thru a whole process of carefully sealing their heads in a swim cap so they could swim in their beloved ocean without ruining their hairdo's.
On our way home in the car we would drive by the beach where the rastas swam. They would share their disgust with the way their filthy dred-locs looked and tell me stories about how those people were lazy and shiftless, drug feinds, un-christian and a disgrace. One story was about a man who had been having severe headaches and finally died. The coroner found there had been a family of scorpions living in his waist long dred locs that had been stinging him in his head causing him to eventually meet his maker.
Why would I want to be connected with being dirty lazy or poor? Kinky = bad... Straight + good Easy connection right?
So now we have the technology, we have the wigs we have the power to claim our prosperity! We can assimilate and gain freedom right?
When we look at the icons in black entertainment, from Diana Ross and The Supremes, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, to Oprah, Whitney Houston, Beyonce and Rhianna, hair is a vital part of the equation for prosperity and sucuess.
I've been living in this dark skin with my kinky hair for my entire life. I went from wearing a series of wigs cut to different lengths to simulate my hair growing to having dred locs for the past 13 years. I've experienced the evolution to loving and accepting my natural hair which has allowed me to experience such FREEDOM!!!
I know that like so many "issues" people have, when it comes to hair it is not about the hair.
Yes we have a Black President , and does this really matter...but I still don't see Michelle Obama with a natural hair style.
I'll tell you this, having Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House with their two little girls makes the space for Viola Davis to be able to shed her wig and show her true beauty.
And to have this conversation, and explore the true reasons why we see so many Black Women doing all they can to have their hair "right" whatever way they wear their hair. I look forward to the time when this whole Black Hair thing evolves into hair just being an accesory to an outfit. Perhaps someday it will be.
There's room for all of it. From the long blond weave to the close cut fro. It's about Black Women embracing our beauty and our internal diversity. Our natural hair is feminine whether it's long or short.
I see the "issue" of Black Women's hair as an opportunity to grow and learn from each other. An opportunity to examine femininity, beauty and self esteem. And an opportunity to question.
So, I have a new level of respect for Viola Davis. She may not have a choice in her wardrobe or hair for the roles she is hired to play, but she stepped out of the wig and onto the red carpet she allowed the world to see her....and she is beautiful.
PS I speak from my own voice, which is that of a half Afro-Carribbean half African- American woman who grew up a military brat in the Suburbs of Northern VA. I know each of us has our own individual story, this is my take.