Category Archives: hair

Hair touching…again

 

It has been revealed that the controversial exhibit in New York City’s Union Square earlier this year that prompted passersby to touch black women’s hair was actually part of a larger exploration into responses to black physicality, including a brief documentary (see Pt. 1 above) and a panel discussion. The documentary explores, among other things, comparisons of the exhibit, “You Can Touch My Hair,” to the exhibition of Sarah Baartman centuries ago, and includes the voices of women opposed to strangers touching and posing with black women on display.

For Pt. 2 of the documentary, visit Colorlines.

Open Thread: The Rush To Memeify Charles Ramsey

By Arturo R. García

As both Kat Chow at Code Switch and Slate’s Aisha Harris have pointed out, it did not take long for Charles Harris to join Antoine Dodson and Sweet Brown as the latest figure to be posted on many of our friends’ Facebook pages with notes like “Best. Interview. EVER.” or some variant of “HILAR.”

Like Dodson, what got Ramsey into this spotlight was being the right person at the right time and helping three women escape from a Cleveland home where they had allegedly been held captive for ten years. Three people have since been charged in connection to the crime. But what got peoples’ attention was his interview with a local station in which he described how he ran into one of the women, Amanda Berry:

There’s a lot to unpack in not just his account of not just his interactions with the suspect, but his statement that, “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.” (Not to mention the reporter’s cutting the interview at precisely that point.)

But that’s not what’s coming across in many people’s reactions to the story. Take, for instance, this comment I found on a friend’s thread:

I found this funny and I don’t think he’s a joke. It’s just cool the way he told the story. He was funny…not a joke.

And even as people are (justly) applauding Ramsey’s actions, authorities are already seeking to minimize his involvement. And the story of at least one of the kidnapping victims, Michelle Knight, is also getting far less attention than the other two.

So, this story is only just beginning to be told. But for now, let’s get your take on how Ramsey has been represented.

Don’t Call It A Comeback: The Presence Of Natural Hair

By Guest Contributor Aisha Davis

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Image Credit: Instant Vantage

Last Monday, Simon Doonan pulled the best prank of the year: he pleaded for the return of the afro. This was not a spontaneous call to arms for natural hair; rather, it was inspired by Doonan’s recent marathoning of Pam Grier Blaxploitation films in preparation for an interview with the icon of film and style.

Pam-Grier

Image Credit: Pam Grier

Now, I love Pam Grier, from ‘fro to foot, but Doonan doesn’t have to go back to the 70s to find afros–or any other expression of Black women’s* natural hair. In fact, there has been something of a Natural Hair Revolution™ in the past decade. This movement includes such heavy-hitters as Nikki Walton and Taren Guy, along with the hundreds of tutorials online that discuss styling, hair typing, and homemade products to better nourish natural/curly/kinky/coily hair.

How do I know so much about this Revolution? Because I am part of it. I’m not one of the bloggers, vloggers, or gurus of natural hair but, seven years ago–after transitioning from relaxed to natural for about eight months–I cut off my hair. That decision sparked more conversations than any other decision in my life. I have never regretted my decision, but, unlike Doonan, it’s not a decision that I would try to talk anyone else into making because I know the backlash that can be associated with it.

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Meanwhile, On TumblR: Jada Pinkett Smith On Willow Smith’s Hair

By Andrea Plaid

Jada Pinkett Smith and Willow Smith. Photo Credit: Bauer Griffin. Image via Zimbio

What captured the most likes and reblogs in our corner of Tumblr this week? Jada Pinkett Smith on her giving her daughter, Willow, the autonomy to cut her hair…or, rather, a post from Feminist Griote on Pinkett Smith’s position about it:

Willow as a little girl is learning that she is a force to be reckoned with in this world, and that her gender, and gender presentation will not serve as impediments. Jada who is now championing the cause against human sex trafficking, of which girls are disproportionately victims, understands that women need to own themselves fully, if not someone else will. Girls are being trafficked at an alarming rate and not just abroad, but also in our own backyards. In the U.S. alone 80% of human sex trafficking victims are women and girls and 50% are minors. Jada is making the conscious choice to take her daughter along with her on her journey to help end human sex trafficking. In a world where little girls are raped, stolen, and sold as a commodity, hair isn’t all that important.  Sometimes I wonder, have some of us adult Black women forgotten what it’s like to be a little Black girl in a white heterosexual patriarchal society? Again to quote Lorde, “easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness…” Our Black bodies and Black psyches are always being assailed and violated. Healthy validation is often hard to come by in these streets riddled with harassment. Therefore, let us save our vitriol and condemnation for more important things like the perpetuation of rape culture or Donald Trump.

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When Will The Media Start Portraying Black Women Without Betraying Them?

Lakesia Johnson’s new book Iconic highlights how negative stereotypes have followed black women from Sojourner Truth to Gabby Douglas, and shows how the black community can be among the worst perpetrators of negativity.

By Guest Contributor Tracey Ross

Recently, Lakesia Johnson, assistant professor at Grinell College, released her new book Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman. Through her book, Johnson strives to demonstrate how black women throughout history have worked to counteract negative stereotypes placed on them–angry, emasculating, mammy, sex object–and reposition themselves to advance agendas for social change. She illustrates this by honing in on some of history’s most iconic figures–Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and Michelle Obama, to name a few–and analyzes the imagery, interviews, film, literature, and music by and about these women. At times, Johnson seems to over-interpret some of the images she analyzes, offering deep meaning to what the eyes in a photograph might signal, but her work highlights the power that images of black women possess.

Throughout the book, a few important themes emerge. For instance, black women’s hair becomes a character of its own, from the “threatening” natural style of Angela Davis to the “peaceful” locks of Alice Walker to the “Afrocentric” braids and head wraps of Erykah Badu. Johnson believes these women’s intentionality with their looks helps direct their message towards their ultimate agendas. Another theme throughout is the idea that outside forces work to turn these “revolutionary” women into sexual objects, focusing on their beauty and appeal over their intellect in an attempt to diminish their power. Johnson covers lots of territory in only 128 pages, but the main contribution of her book is that it serves as a reminder that we need to do better by black women. Starting with the black community.

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Excerpt: “Why You Listening To That White Sh-t?”

Writing this book, I found other black women who had felt rejected by friends, family members, or their communities because of their musical preferences.

At one point, I distributed a mass questionnaire, and nearly three-quarters of the replies described negative reactions to listening to heavy metal.

Many of the replies were predictable: “Many people say the style of music I like isn’t really music, it’s just loud noise. Or that I’m not black because I like rock or punk music.”

Others were encouraging: “Especially when I say I like rock, they think it’s like devil or white music. I find it hilarious. I revel in my musical tastes and find audio joy wherever I can.”

Some were unfortunate: “When I was younger, I was criticized for listening to ‘white’ music and told I was weird and [that] there was something wrong with me for being a black girl listening to rock ’n’ roll … [Then] I learned that black folks actually created it.”

And many stories were downright infuriating: “Especially when I was in my teens and twenties, comments from some family and friends if I was listening to rock or punk music were like: ‘Why you listening to that white sh-t?’ I once dated a white guy who grew up in a black neighborhood, and was trying to be ‘down,’ and he yelled at me for listening to Led Zeppelin: ‘Don’t you listen to any black music? Why do you listen to that white music for?’ — the funniest thing I ever heard. Now that I’m in my forties, I don’t tend to associate with anyone who is so narrow-minded about me or my tastes in life.’

From “What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal” by Laina Dawes [Courtesy Bazillion Points Books, 2012. ]

Take A Load Off, Family: Black Women, Hair, And The Olympic Stage

By Guest Contributor Jalylah, cross-posted from The Crunk Feminist Collective

The author on the move in Harlem.

I am no athlete. I have not won an individual sports competition since maybe the second grade. I recall Usaining all comers in the 40-yard dash but, as Kasi Lemmons learned us, “memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others indelibly imprinted on the brain,” and I might have photoshopped that one.

My middle-school basketball team dominated the Seattle Catholic Youth Organization league but that was due to the AAU players on my team: Megan, petite with Chris Paul’s smarts and speed; and June, a Russell Westbrook-esque scorer.

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