America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt. -Malcolm X
Like millions of other people, I watched as Gabby Douglas made history by becoming the first African-American female to become the individual all-around champion. Even though I wasn’t the one winning the noble prize, I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of pride, satisfaction, and honor because to me, Gabby Douglas’ accomplishment spanned not only for all Americans, but it also gave a great representation of an African-American female. Sadly, in our society we’re bombarded with negative images and stereotypes of African-Americans, and shows like Love & Hip Hop Atlanta are continuously devaluing the worth , achievements, and vital contributions made by African-American women. Gabby’s accomplishment was a breath of fresh air in a cloudy, infested atmosphere.
As time passed by, I shared in the glee of her success with others; however my glee turned into dismay when I was informed that the accomplishment of Gabby was becoming clouded by people who spoke negatively about her hair.
Yes, her hair.
Normally, I wouldn’t dare speak on such an issue because the hatred spewed towards Gabby were probably from people who didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, but I felt compelled to speak on it after having a heart to heart discussion with my husband. Joseph and I both agreed that there wasn’t anything wrong with Gabby’s hair, and we found the negativity to be absurd. My husband found it baffling that anyone would be concerned with her hair, and he is always baffled by the negative constructs that still plague the African-American community, including color complex issues, facial features, and of course, “good hair.” My husband is Italian/Sicilian, and his family is mixed with an array of skin tones and features that range from dark/olive skin tones with dark brown eyes to light/pale skin tones with light hair and blue eyes. There is no color complex issues, and no one cares about your aesthetics (they do care about culture, which a different post for a different time). Instead of focusing on trivial things, they’re concerned with family values, community wealth, and making sure their legacy and history is passed down to the generations to come. That’s what life and legacy is all about; caring for the foundations and imperative issues pertaining to life.
I’m sorry to say that that’s not mirrored in the African-American community. Instead, we’re still focused on social iniquities that have been plaguing our community since slavery. It’s no wonder we’re still behind in many facets! I had to explain to my husband the actions of slavery are long gone, but the mental abuse is still standing, and the actions are being portrayed by African-Americans. With every questions of “But why…,” and statements of “But your looks don’t matter…,” I’ve had to explain it to him with a reasoning that still doesn’t make since to him because it’s a foreign and ridiculous nature.
Reading the immature comments made towards Gabby made me visualize certain aspects of my past. I was one of those girls who stayed in the beauty salon, and I faithfully got my hair relaxed every 4-6 weeks. Just the thought of a “nap” being visible made me cringe, and my mid-back hair was my pride and joy. Second semester of my freshman year, I got my hair cut into a Nia Long-esque type of style, but it didn’t last. By the time my sophomore year came along (and my hair was long enough to be braided), I got a full sew-in weave, and the 16 inch human, Indian hair made my life perfect again. Sophomore year was also the year that I took a course called Biology in Psychology, and there was a girl in the class whose hair was natural. I would stare at it whenever I was bored with the lecture and think, “Her hair is beautiful! I wish I could wear my hair like that.” Notice I said “wish.” I figured someone like me, dark-skinned with evident West African features wouldn’t able to wear my hair natural because I wouldn’t look right. I had received enough flack from my family when I cut my hair (“You look like a boy” “You look like a lesbian”), and I just knew going natural would be like me saying I worshipped the devil. For the next year I admired natural hair, and during my senior year, I thought, “Why am I trying to look like someone that I’m not?” I decided to go natural, and hid it via my sew-in weaves. No one knew by my stylist. After walking the stage to get my Spelman College degree, I wore my weave for one more month, and I told my stylist, “Cut it off.” She happily obliged because she was natural herself, and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I felt liberated. No more being a slave to social iniquities, relaxers, or images of what I was told I should look like. Finally, after so long, I was looking at me…the real me. Not the one with Indian, Brazilian, or any other nationalities’ hair. It was my hair, and I was proud. I stared at myself for the next few minutes, and I played with my hair for hours. Rubbing my hands through my coils was therapeutic, and I loved rubbing my scalp and not being blocked by a track. Never had my hair been so thick and strong since going natural, and it was pleasantly intoxicating. Of course, the happiness of my hair was met with negative comments that were the same as Gabby’s including I needed a hot comb, a relaxer, and “natural hair isn’t for you because you don’t have good hair.” I could’ve easily given into their beliefs, but what they didn’t realize was that my self-ideology was too resilient. I had made up my mind that I was fly, and if God made me in the image of Him, he must’ve made me a glorious being…including my hair. It’s been five years, and I haven’t looked back.
I don’t know if Gabby’s hair is natural, relaxed, weaved or whatever, but I do know it’s a horrible feeling to have your entity be reduced to your hair. It’s sad that in 2012, African-Americans still feel the need to pass on generational curses that hinder us from achieving vital necessities such as family values (more fathers in the homes, reduce the 80% out-of-wedlock birthrate), community wealth (African-Americans can’t come close to comparing with other ethnic groups), education (many of us are still first generation college graduates), reducing health disparities (do I really have to get on this subject…hypertension, diabetes much?), and let’s not forget reducing black on black crime. The KKK isn’t needed anymore because we’re doing more self harm and harm to our own than they can ever do to us. Part of the problem is because we don’t know who we are or who we want to be. It’s detestable and embarrassing, especially when someone like myself has to constantly see these actions being portrayed in the media and on the news, and I have to defend and separate myself from such in order for me to not be stereotyped.
No, instead of addressing those issues and vocalizing our opinions, we would rather talk about hair. If the self-hatred and self-doubt doesn’t stop, we will forever represent a community of people who will always have to fight to keep our head above water, while others continue to pass us on by.