Race and Beauty

By Daliya Jokondo

There are times that I have more anger in me than I know what to do with. Man, I need to start a blog one of these days. It’s either that or starting a violent revolution.
Just kidding about latter point.

However, in all seriousness. The last two weeks or so, with the Imus incident and all, got me thinking and thinking really hard. First of all, I was angry that his comments turned more so into a race issue than a sexist AND racist issue. Because you see, a whole lot of women felt that this was not their fight, that it had nothing to do with them, after all, they weren’t nappy headed. They aren’t Black. Damn, I am too fuckin’ pissed to even cover that point.

Anyway, I too decided to pick on the “nappy” issue, because it branches out…to uglier places.

You see, I am nappy headed. It got me thinking, and thinking really hard about beauty and race and where I fall in the hierarchy. Thanks to Imus, I suppose I am barely hanging onto the lowest level. This society, perhaps more so than any other and I am open to correction, has a very twisted view of what is beautiful. The more euro centric, the better, is the beauty measuring stick.

Why was hair even a part of this insult? Can you imagine him speaking of a team that is dominantly white and saying “straight/wavy/curly headed hoes?” wait…what? See this is what gets me.

Nappy equals ugliness. And since the team is mostly black, “nappy” has to be a defining point of this insult, black “man like” ugliness in these women and trust me this was more than just the women being athletes and thus having the “stereotypical” male physique…this is about black women’s lack of feminine qualities as they don’t measure up to white women. Unless they looked like the Beyonces and Halle Barrys and the selected other few who are dark but not too dark, but if they are that kind of dark then they must make up for it by fitting other euro centric traits.

But this is about hair.

Beautiful hair is long and flowing and preferably blonde. If you must, make it curly, but not so curly that it’s “nappy” but wavy is preferable. I chuckled to myself when I realized all the girls on the team, from what I could see, had bone straight chemically processed hair. However, underneath it all those girls were still nappy headed. They are wannabes. They have fried, over processed and straightened out their naps and they are still nappy headed. Still ugly. Fail.

This might come as a shock, but to most African American women (though there is now a movement towards accepting ones natural hair), hair is more than just hair, though some will try to tell you otherwise. But if you question them enough, hitting all the right buttons, they’ll break down and tell you it’s not. Hair is almost tied into self worth. Why would anyone burn his or her scalps raw? Risk permanent hair loss every 6-8 weeks to make their hair do something it’s not meant to do? If it’s just a “hair” style, why is seeing a woman with a natural head of hair almost as rare as pigs flying?

I have used the word “nappy” numerous times now and I have flinched every time. You see, I have not “taken” the word back yet. It’s not a “beautiful” word that describes my beautiful self yet. Because when it comes from people like Imus it still feels like pouring salt on wounds. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be Imus, it can be a group of my closest friends. A while back a few friends and I were heading somewhere, they are all of Asian descent. Somehow the conversation turned into hair and how one of the girl’s hair felt nappy and not as soft as her sister (ok, the girl had what I saw as Barbie doll hair). Simple right? Nothing offensive, yet I felt hurt. Deeply hurt. That word was used in negative context, the girl’s hair is 500 times softer than mine and here they were using this word negatively on hers, what do they think of mine? How do they feel about mine? Quite simply, I am an example of what not to be. Fail.

It suddenly occurred to me, for the millionth time mind you; that almost every single adjective ever that serves to describe someone who is of African descent has a negative connotation to them. “Dark skinned,” “Big/wide nose,” “large lips”… “Nappy hair.” It strikes me as odd how any of those words can be used as “fight words.” Never just words to describe someone else, in a beautifying context. I can recall many incidents where these words were meant to demean and never and very rare occasions as them complimentary. It makes me ill. It makes me just want to curl up and hurl. More so when I hear those words being used negatively by African/African Americans, because then it shows how broken spirited we have become, the self hatred was sewn in us and now we nurture it by demeaning each other. Sometimes even more than others.

Whenever I see girls running around with over processed hair, so much that the back of their heads are virtually hairless with dangerously receding hair lines with bad weave jobs I want to…I don’t know what. Sometimes I want to tell them that they need to stop the self-hatred and learn to love themselves. You can never try to please everyone and the more you try the more you lose your self. And someone like Imus will always remind you of what you are trying to run from. If you embrace yourself, fully, you’ll have nothing to be ashamed of.

Beauty is a social construct, whatever standards we have will be maintained and continue to flourish if we choose to keep them without fighting back. If every Black woman in American one day chooses to stop perming/straightening their hair and embrace their God given beauty and uniqueness, such negative connotation, believes of what is beautiful and the self hatred and pain connected to being black will die.

And because I use every chance I have to post this documentary, I’ll leave you with Kiri Davis’ a “Girl Like Me.” I cry every time I watch it. I like to spread misery around…what can I say? haha

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2 thoughts on “Race and Beauty

  1. Daliya, you are an incredible writer and i think your point is important. While I don’t support the firing of Don Imus (because the last time I checked we all had freedom of speech, event the freedom to be a racist, ignorant a-hole; i would support him being fired if the market dictated or if it was because he was talentless, which he is), I do think that the things he said were disgusting and need to be looked at in the larger context of what “blackness” still means in this country. I wish to god people would stop getting so hysterical in this way, and instead use these opportunities not as times to appologize and bury every racist remark, but really take the time to examine the face of continuing racism in this country. These things keep happening, and instead of dealing with them, there is a huge media backlash and the offending party is ostrecized, which maybe they should be, but shouldn’t we use these as teaching moments instead of just moments to scapegoat some idiot in the hopes that our neighbors won’t realize there are so many closet racists out there? As if by pointing at Imus no one will be able to tell the racism in their own hearts?

  2. I personally didn’t so much care for his firing, so he was fired, so what boohoo.
    For me it was a quick fix for bigger prevailing issues. I wasn’t exactly pleased either with the attack on hip hop, because although hip hop does contain its prejudices…its usage as a scapegoat was aggravating .
    I believe in personal responsibility. Period.
    I’m not feeling a “wave of change” going. For me it was almost just an “entertaining” media outburst that everyone will soon forget about…and people will go back to their racist, sexist and homophobic ways until another Imus makes a slip.
    This could have been a chance to create real dialogue, and hey maybe some of that is going on and it’s escaping my notice….but so far, I feel rather apathetic about this whole matter.

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