Monday, November 9, 2009

Deeply Deep: Good Hair Alison Samuels Class and the World

originally posted on Having Read The Fine Print

So I saw Good Hair."

Now there is something about Sydette that when I said I was going to see Good Hair that let every person who had ever seen it go

" Ooh I want to know what you think?
the entity/ies on my head.

Yep , I got hair

Or as the wonderful stylist from Philly who did it for graduation noted


I don't actually think it's that great of a movie. I think it reinforces some nasty stereotypes,was kind of short, but I was moved good and bad by more than a few moments in the film . I liked it because it brought to bear my issues with Blackness. I tend to have three main issues with blackness and black media.

Class. Globalization/inter nationality .

and Race.

Yep I manage to have Race issues with my blackness and a lot of it is in my damn hair. And speaking of hair beauty too! But first the movie.

It was a Chris Rock movie, There were cheap shots and passing comments at women of the hood and their vanities. his trip to india involved a crack about scary black women that kind of made me want to punt him. HARD. While it led to a striking moment the trying to sell black hair seemed mean and forced. The hair show bits often seemed designed for laugh at not laugh with and he found all of one natural sister to speak.

Rock talked a lot about the blackness of the black hair care industry.His "gag" at confusing Chinese people and Koreans was bit cheap but the moments of the Black Hair Care workers
describing the production hierarchies and the scene of the Asian AND Black hair store worker/owner describing the dislike of African hair were visceral in their common placeness.
His time at the Dudley Center , and his interviews ( really short) with the women in them . Talk about something that is a very real part of this exchange. While many prefer to talk about the sheer money that black folk spend as evidence of avarice .

But Rock talked to the Dudley's, and the hair care owners and while I damn sure didn't like the talk ( MY three year old in a perm chair over my nappy headed corpse) but he talked to them. He didn't smash em into a collective and demand they transcended. I was really enamored of watching Chris Rock listen he didn't pretend to be unbiased but he did listen. He made sure to note that black people , maybe not where they used to be or at the heads of these things survive and thrive on it.

This post is inspired by four highschool girls , beautiful young women were asked about how they feel about natural hair , which one of them had. And it was an interesting scene, because we had to listen as this beautiful girl was told by her beautiful peers about how unserious , unprofessional she would seem. and then...

the camera cut away and she never got to answer.

SHE NEVER GOT TO ANSWER!!! She was in the room she was the funnel and vehicle by which they were discussing their own prejudices and fears , there framing of their sophistication and prejudice and she is admirably calm and quiet and serene and she never GOT TO ANSWER?!?!?

That for me was an almost perfect encapsulation of how I feel about so much of my experience as a black woman in my own skin.

and hair.

Very recently Allison Samuels published an article in Newsweek ( and a rebuttal) about the hair of Zahara Pit Jolie.

that was very widely discussed and refuted that led to a really interesting commentary.

And I felt left out of all of it.

Because while it is all well and good for people to say Allison Samuels is wrong headed ( cause she is) but I do have a deep problem with the pretense tahts he is not coming from a very reasonable place.

The fact I disagree with her doesn't make her wrong to be apprehensive about the welfare of ZPJ, meddling perhaps but not wrong.

Heck the website that Latoya Peterson has her rebuttal on has deep coverage on it.

We can sit and talk about how she is breeding a conformity , and how it's stifling to little girls and what not but on the very basic level when Black people lose jobs first in economic downturns despite education, when the rape ,torture,disappearance and death of black women as secondary subjects is a very real and continuous phenomenon, and Don Imus makes shots about nappy headed hoes.

I detest what she says but I will damned if I am going to act like it's unbased and the source of the trouble. We can say that it is problematic but while Samuels does not say it a loud couching it in an African American "dialogue" it's real, and how does that response look if we admit and I mean without the moral superiority that she's not incorrect to be worried.

I wear my hair natural,three pictures are included, me right out of bed, me washed and "curly" styled and my " OH CRAP NOTHING WORKS" style. In that order.I wanted to make sure you saw it because let me be really clear on this ,

I wear my hair natural because I have enough cultural currency, privilege and resources to do so. I love it I love the feel of my hair I love the look of it , I love the stuff i get to use in it ( I do not NOT like the rate at which the stuff I use in it and the subsequent issues with pricing, No seriously I smell like,Vanilla ,Olive Oil, Sugar cookies most of the day.), I love having my hair played with( if I know you! and approve), and leaned on , love it love it love it.

And I am going to say right now , it is a difficult thing to do and I my self esteem gets knocked around on a regular basis. People regularly compliment me on my strength ( aka YOU ARE WILLING TO GO OUT IN PUBLIC LIKE THAT?!?!) while talking about loving good hair on a woman. I understand where the fear comes from and to categorize it as arbitrary policing is hard to read. Not because it is mean but because it minimizes the very real ish it comes with. Of course some of the meanest people to black people are OTHER black people.

They are often the only ones NEAR us and for better and worse our destinies our fiercely locked. This isn't jsut oh my god how backward and holding us back . This is real connective tissue that hurts on all sides. They are not ESPECIALLY mean , they are in special circumstances, and I am sick of the well I got teased memes being played to justifying the policing charge. We are ALL going through and need to be real with that, just because I dislike what you say doesn't make teh system and prejudices I talk about disappear for you.

Writers, bloggers, stylists, and other members of culturally elite spaces seem very quick to forget that those positions and occupations aren't " average person" jobs . They are not AS bound ( for me to say they aren't at all would be folly) to the norms that other professions and to answer Samuels without acknowledging the deep reality that it still matters isn't transcendental or pushing forward new blackness , its insulting to people who really and truly have to make real considerations on this.

And speaking as a multilingual multi racial ( this is getting long so I will leave my harangue about race and blackness for later) I also boggle at the postulate that being a " Third Culture Kid" means that Samuels is applying an incorrect framework. Samuels IS African American and she is narrowing her focus but TCK's more so than anybody else have a very deep and long connection to conditions of white supremacy and hegemony . Point blank it's why they are where they are. If you are a military brat, very rich, or the child of someone very educated, or a missionaries child. You are there BECAUSE there is a very deep acceptance to you and your parents being able treat the world as an experience . Colonialism,militarianism or just plain wealth advocate for your ability to mix and match cultures in ways that are not available to people who are FROM the culture itself or even from the two cultures you are intermingling. The ability to look right or acceptable with in it is a HUGE HUGE part of MY Afro/Indo/asian BLACKNESS and yes it is not the African American experience, but it IS very much influenced by white hegemony and heteronormativity and a whole bunch of other thins that while do not apply to Samuels do not make her observations NECESSARILY flawed. While the AA isn't the only one there really isn't a fault in framing the RECEPTION of ZPJ hair with it, it's just not the only one.

( full disclosure I have interacted on this topic about such a thing with Racialicious before)

Also Peterson is not a TCK ( as I have read it and I apologize if I am wrong) so using a definition that does not apply to her herself to critique another women's reading is aggravating. As a Caribbean/South American/American 1G the progressive need for Americans to analyze race by using their privilege and ability to travel to my home country and countries like mine ( Brazil , DR,PR, Cuba) to speak on race is grating, especially it is there not BEING from the country that allows them the access they have.

My "hair story" centers around my mothers fear for my ability to love myself, take care of myself . It relates to her ( and my dad ) having their entire family abandoned in some ways for being to black, for having beaten for being to "red".

When and this is a very VERY rare when my hair is straight my mother gushes over how " coolie" I look. How now you can see the Indian in me , how finally you can see the red she gave me. She fought me to my hairdresser before I started college for that reason, she thought it was a gift I needed .

and now she checks my from everyday she sees me and is using what little internet knowledge she has to find me product ( she stops people on the street my mom is a cutie)

Being "strong" with my hair is fun and I like it and it's grand but in LIVING IT , in having to write about seeing a woman called a terrorist for having it!?!? I am gonna need more than positive thinking and theoreticals when discussing it.

Because when Nia Long gets a look of utter vulnerability about how taking a shower with someone is more intimate than having sex,because they may see her real hair.When ( and yes it is misogynistic and reductivist ) men talk about feeling a real distance from their partners, but also jsut as quickly make sure to say the understand WHY, because they can't run their fingers through their hairs or touch it all.

Samuels is wrong dead wrong, but this is NOT the open and shut, lets make a better world or flick this off wrong that it's being presented as something that is not, has is not and will not continue to be

REALLY DAMN HARD and really damn real.

And reading people get offended as if she is a bad person ,as if she ahs no basis for this , even though I AGREED WITH THEM was rough.

Samuels and Rock both take on hair , and it is a deeply deep ( yep I said it) , fraught, twisted , tense intimate interaction for black people, which they are. And the work they produced shows it.

While ultimately Samuels tries to couch her own struggle and issues in a concerned voice while not doing as well to hide her preconception and bias towards natural hair, dismissing her out of hand with pats on the back ,ain't actually gonna lead to the the future where hair doesn't matter. Nor should it . Having been through the fire, the pressing comb and the burn , my hair matters to me.

It is as Dr Angelou says in Good Hair my glory,a growing, changing, money INHALING testament to my history,senses,preferences, thoughts that I share with the world.

I don't want that to not matter, i just don't want people to SUFFER for making a different choice and I really would like not to be expected to suffer for mine.

At the end what both me and my friend Jaz liked most about this was at the end of the day whether or not I loved it a lot . Good Hair was movie made for me, Not about me for the consumption of others, not mostly for profit, not for explaining me to someone else. He searched and talked and interacted with people I felt as part of my community as if he expected them to be able to see and hear his product, and that he thought WELL of me for doing so. He used what HE had and was eal about where he was coming from.

and the deeply deep reality is even with that even liking that the natural girl, didn't get to speak.

So I am now.

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