And people wonder why so many black women have a complex about their hair, gooping it up with nasty lye relaxers, frying their scalp with hot combs? The self-loathing is so culturally ingrained, so pathological, and it’s reinforced by the messages like the ones Imus and friends are having a great laugh over. It’s toxic and ignorant.
I’ve read enough feminist literature to have known for a while that this is an issue, but it’s one I have zero experience with, so I never really processed how deep it runs. Pam, however, just made me get it, with the words “The self-loathing is so culturally ingrained, so pathological..”
It’s like the fear of being fat. (Only loaded down with extra bonus racism.)
Specifically, a standard for beauty exists that some people come by naturally, some can achieve with effort, and others can only achieve by torturing themselves–and even then, often enough, they can only achieve a weak approximation of the standard. But because of that culturally ingrained, pathological self-loathing, a lot more people will continue to torture themselves than will take a look at how ridiculous that beauty standard is and say, “Fuck this shit.” In light of all the pressure to conform, saying “Fuck this shit” is just too hard.
The analogy is especially interesting to me because I think natural black hair is incredibly cool-looking; it’s something that, like being tall, I can understand intellectually is an agonizing issue for a lot of women–but emotionally, I can’t see what the problem is. I spend half my life trying to get my hair to be curlier; greener grass and all that. Of course, I spend half my life specifically trying to get big, sleek, smooth, curls, which are not remotely the same thing, and when I don’t like how it turns out, I can blow it dry straight in ten minutes and walk out the door as Part of the Problem. But the “grass is always greener” point stands anyway, because–not having any of the baggage–I look at black women with natural hair and just think, “That looks awesome!”
And that right there is my white privilege talking. I don’t hang around people like Imus OR many black women, frankly, so it’s easy for me to go, “Huh? What’s the big deal? People are really hung up on this?”
Well, yeah, they are. And relating black hair to fat, hot combs and chemical relaxers to restrictive diets, helps me understand why. Or helps me understand part of why, at least–I still have the luxury of not relating to the experience of being told I need to torture myself to look more like people of a different race.
But still… I learned something today! Yay!
Learn more at Pam’s House Blend.