Good Hair: Rock Gets Tangled up in Aesthetics

So let me ask you this: when was the last time you paid $1000 to get your hair done? For me and every other Black person in my entourage the answer is simple. Never. That is just one of the many disconnects I felt while watching Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary “Good Hair”.

According to Rock, the documentary is in response to his young daughter asking him “how come I don’t have good hair”. He was left pondering where did she get that idea? But that’s just the thing. The documentary never actually even tries to answer that question.

The film somehow manages to overlook the origins of “good hair” in slavery and its legacy of colourism. Yet it is quick to assume the main reason Black people either relax or weave their hair is to look whiter. It’s undeniable that some, not to say very few Black women have the desire to look White. But most understand that we are now way passed that simplistic explanation.

Now if you tell me that most women long to be desired, want to be considered, want to be a part of society and participate in it just like every other woman, don’t want to be systematically brushed aside or left at the margins, seen as a deviance… Then you have perhaps touched a nerve. If everyone has been conditioned to only view beauty as a combination of specific attributes, why would you expect these women to somehow be above the fray? They are subject to the same conditioning as everyone else. I’m not sure when was the last time I came across a White woman with natural hair. No colour, not even highlights. Perms, Keratin treatments, Brazilian blowouts and yes, extensions… All treatments used by White women that are questionable as far as health hazards. And when Fergie or any of the Kardashian appropriate Black hairstyles and say on social media they have popularized it, no one questions their cultural insecurity or identity. And for that matter why limit it to hair? Women of all colour do crazy things and use just as many chemicals in this quest to attain that beauty ideal society tries to impose on us (and we impose on ourselves), from injecting things in their face to anal bleaching, yet no one bats an eyelash. Black women are playing the same game and are victim to the same brainwashing as every other woman. The only difference is that being at the bottom of this imposed hierarchy, the changes needed to attain that supposed ideal are greater and more drastic. Try as they might, they will never be able to match it exactly and one of the only things they can easily control and alter is their hair.

And let’s revisit that whole $1000 weave idea for a minute. Sure some women do it. But that is such a small percentage that I personally have never met one. What I do frequently encounter though are women with very cheap hair looking ratchet as hell… But most women that do use fake hair of any kind have with time mastered the art and know how to make $100 hair look like $1000 hair. If Chris Rock wanted to look at the economic aspect of Black women’s hair, he should have focused a little longer on how they are often faced with the choice of staying natural or not to enter the corporate world, knowing that it’s not a level playing field and that they are already at a disadvantage, first for being Black, second for being a woman. There is something to be said for those that say you have to choose your battle. Would Oprah or Michelle Obama have been able to get where they are today with natural hair? Maybe, maybe not. But it would have undoubtedly been harder. Knowing all they have been able to accomplish, would it have been worth it? And when it’s a question survival, being able to provide for your family, is it worth it? That is for each Black woman to answer for herself.

Still on the financial aspect, why focus so much on Dudley products, one of the very few Black owned hair care and cosmetics companies, and so little on the fact that Whites and Asians are making so much money on the back, correction on the head of Black women? Sure it was jokingly mentioned here and there, but this is not something that should be mentioned in passing. That close to every Black hair care company was bought out by a bigger White company, that these White companies now know how to go get Black women’s hard earned dollars because they have the big bucks for advertisement, that white hair care products are often as dangerous as relaxers but that for a long period only products designed for the Black populations had to be regulated and that a lot of that advertisement money was spent as what can be seen as a smear campaign in an effort to dwarf Black owned companies… How about you explore that instead of talking about $1000 weaves?

No one I personally know has ever had to claim bankruptcy over hair, nor have they broken up their relationship over hair. If you have to take a second job to maintain your woman’s coif, I suspect hair is not the issue. What I do know though is that lots of my White male friends have to cough up money for their women’s hair, Botox, clothes and such. Has any Real Housewife of whatever city other than Atlanta ever had their cultural security/insecurity questioned? And what about all the natural hair Black women out there? For sake of argument let’s leave alone the problematic hair classification system and use the terms 3c and 4c. You can’t really “run your fingers” through any hair ranging from 3c to 4c and yet it’s not a weave issue. If that’s how Black men gauge “good hair” then why was most of the focus on weaves? Anyone with 1a to 3b hair or with a relaxer should be viewed as having “good hair” from that standpoint. Though two of the celebrities in the documentary were natural, Rock skipped right over the question of natural hair. To be fair, it wasn’t as popular of an option back in 2009. And what about all the Black women with long hair? Not that I condone this quest Black women are on to attain a certain length but how many times do people assume their hair must be fake just because it’s a certain length (or a certain texture)?

People evolve, practices evolve. If there was a time when Black women were relaxing their hair in hopes of passing for White or at least for Whiter or getting a weave pretending that their hair magically grew by a foot overnight, that time is no more. For a lot of Black women hair has become their biggest accessory, no more no less. If anything it seems constantly changing your hairstyle has become the cultural norm for Black women in North America, possibly around the world. It cannot be about cultural insecurity when it has become such a big part of the culture. Some would even argue it’s cultural empowerment.

But of course you wouldn’t get any of that from “Good Hair”, which isn’t surprising really. When the narrator, all writers and the director all are men, it’s to be expected that the majority of Black women will not feel represented through the work, no matter how well-intended. Forgive me for not giving much weight to Ice-T’s opinion of Black women wearing weaves knowing who is wife Coco is and what she does to her hair. Yet Ice loves Coco?!

It is sad that Chris Rock saw his daughters eventually getting a perm and quite possibly a weave as an inevitability. How about educating them so that when they do make a choice, whatever it happens to be, it will be a well-informed one. Maybe Rock should have gotten some feedback from his relaxed hair, weave wearing wife. Still wondering what gave his little girl that idea?

What we are left with is an unquestionably funny journey, from hair battles in Atlanta to New York City Black hair salons by way of temples in India with layovers in Beverly Hills salons, relaxer factories, chemistry labs, Black owned hair care product company seminars and a few Black celebrities commenting on Black hair. We laughed and laughed until some of us stopped laughing. Then those of us who stopped laughing started realizing who was left laughing at us. I’m all for using comedy in documentaries to tackle such heavy issues. But making a mockumentary and calling it a documentary, having Chris Rock act as a ringmaster to what he portrays as a freak show, pointing at Black women and laughing along with others at what seems to be odd practices without any context or historical explanation… no bueno! Black women’s bodies have always been used, abused and politicized. Their hair is no exception. Seems to me the documentary gets tangled up in the aesthetics of Black hair, never going to the root of the issue. We can’t ask a comedian to do the job of a journalist, sociologist or anthropologist. We all love a good laugh Mr. Rock, but no one loves to be the butt of the joke.


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