More Weekend Reading, with Commentary

Pam Spaulding at Pandagon on idiotic, racist, sexist comments and African-American women’s complicated relationship with their hair:

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.

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One thought on “More Weekend Reading, with Commentary

  1. Again, with the commenting on uber-old posts (I’m sorry, I’m doing an ArchiveCrawl – I adore your writing and your archives aren’t so huge as to be entirely daunting), but again, WORD.

    Feminism was the key that opened me into finally “getting” other oppressions (as much as someone with as much privilege as I have can. The only oppression I’ve got (in the U.S.) is being a woman. Everything else is privilege out the ass). I picked up a book called “Man Made Language” by Dale Spender. I’m something of a grammar-/spelling-phile, so having someone lay out, in exquisite detail, an exposition of the sexism inherent in language was just the right seed to plant in my mind. Then I got sent (by a guy friend!) to a blog called “Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed!), which had a Troll Comment Bingo in which they took the time to actually debunk all the stupid troll comments. I learned why all the things I’d been saying for years were total bullshit, and voilà! a feminist was born.

    Since that time, I’ve been soaking up feminism like a sponge, and at the same time becoming a better GLBTQ ally, a better…um… race ally? I guess I don’t know the proper term to describe someone who has become rather more aware of her white privilege and who tries not to be a total arse… I’m generally better with understanding oppressions all around. As a prime example, when I got to this blog a month ago, or so, it took ZERO time for me to hop on the fat acceptance bandwagon, despite having been very much (I am ashamed to admit) one of the people saying, “But if they’d just work out, they could be thin!” not so long ago. Ugh, it makes me sick just thinking about my attitudes…

    So yeah… A very roundabout way of saying, “I get what you mean!” Even if one can never truly understand an oppression from which one does not suffer, understanding “Oppression” – and how not to dismiss it and all that – opens up whole new realms of non-assholery. Yippee!


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