Banning dreadlocks? Why not ban the hot comb?

…and proud of it…

I don’t tend to let myself get too worked up about stories involving hairstyles and that sort of thing. But when I read a recent story in the Grio about how certain schools have been making it their business to ban African-American hairstyles such as dreadlocks and braids, that really pissed me off. And what’s more, we’re not talking here about predominantly white institutions scared to death of anything that reeks of being “too black”. Some of these schools are largely black, which speaks to a whole other brand of cultural confusion.

The general reason for why these particularly “‘black” hairstyles are being banned is because our natural hairstyle doesn’t look like white folks’ natural hairstyle, and that has been deemed unacceptable by a white American culture that has never fully accepted us as a people, even as it has sought to hijack black culture at every opportunity and either re-categorize it as ‘universal’ or deny its origins altogether. Need examples? Take a look at the history of jazz. Blues. Rock. Rap. Hip Hop. How hard have we had to fight against the effort to replace the images of John ColtraneDizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker with the likes of Diana Krall and Kenny G? Sure Eminem is a great rapper, but where did he get those skillz? He will be the first to tell you; in Detroit, the blackest big city in America. And how loud and how long have we had to shout about why this matters? And that’s just the music. Where you think ‘cool’ came from? Or ‘my brother’? Or ‘dawg’? Or ‘yo’? And about that hair thing, does anybody remember Bo Derek , the anointed perfect female who supposedly represented female perfection in that 1979 movie ’10’? With blonde cornrows? Do we really have to wonder why a call wasn’t put in to Pam Grier for the role? Just sayin’.

Understand this: America has loved what we do for a long, long time. America just can’t stand the unavoidably black fact that it’s us doing it.

So it’s not exactly shocking that there are white people in this world who can’t quite digest 100-proof blackness. Undiluted blackness does burn the throat for the uninitiated. But for black people, at this late day and age, to still defend self-hatred as an essential ingredient for American success is inexcusable. If black folks can’t be accepted as fully black by other black folks in 2013 then WTF? Does anybody realize that white people are already the minority in California and New York City? That whites are projected to be the minority nationwide by 2043?

Having said all that, this is not to condemn those of us who continue to choose perms or straighten their hair however they choose. Hell, Michelle Obama wears her hair straight, and so does my mother. But it should be about a choice, not about some perversely misguided cultural requirement to gain acceptance by the American Powers-That-Be who have required black folks to hate themselves for more than 300 years – while they work on their tans. From the Grio:

In Chicago, Leila Noelliste has been blogging about natural hair at for about five years. 

“Historically natural hair has been viewed as dirty, unclean, unkempt, messy,” she said. “An older black generation, there’s this idea of African-American exceptionalism, that the way for us to get ahead is to work twice as hard as any white person and to prove that if we just work hard and we look presentable we’ll get ahead, and that’s very entrenched. My generation, we’re saying that that’s not fair. We should be able to show up as we are and based on our individual merit and effort be judged on that.”

What she said.

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About the author
Writer and musician.


salim washington

2013-09-28 04:53:41 Reply

Yes, Kieth. I hear you. It is long time for this madness to stop. And to realize that it is largely US who perpetuate it! I used to teach young black children, and it was hear breaking to see how easily predictable it was to see which girls would lose out in the dating game or even be shunned into a shy reticence or even a type of self-erasing silence. I had my own struggles with self hatred of my phenotype to remind me that this can just be a phase. But it is high time to realize that the politics of respectability (to use Prof. Evelyn Higginbotham’s usueful phrase) has perhaps outlived its usefulness.

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