Why White Women Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Discuss Black Women’s Hair.
There is a recent piece in Ms. Magazine titled “Kerry Washington’s ‘Professional’ Hair” and in it the author who happens to be a white woman attempts to delve in the over-wrought and complicated topic of hair as it pertains to black women.
This is a road well traveled and very few have managed to expertly dissect the layers to reveal something new or refreshingly persuasive. Perhaps this is because it is an ongoing saga that will continue to breed new insight based on how the tides change.
As a black woman, I have witnessed my share of the evolution but at each turn, I never based the decisions I made regarding my hair on the opinion of others nor did I tread lightly for fear of offending future employers or potential life partners. I have always enjoyed my hair’s ability to be a viable accessory and I am confident that I am not alone in my disposition.
But there are complexities that come with being singled out for a feature that most regard with calculated curiosity and in some cases disdain. Navigating that terrain can be challenging and some succumb to the pressure of substituting what should be naturally beautiful for society’s condensed version of the real thing. This sentiment supposedly disproportionately afflicts professional women of color who are reluctant to ruin their chances of raiding the corporate ladder by presenting that side of them that could regulate them to the pile of question marks. But how valid is this argument and why on earth do we need a white woman to prove this point?
In the aforementioned article, the author relies on what has become the blueprint for white women who need a reference when discussing the sordid plight of black women. ABC’s Scandal is a beloved show for many reasons but somehow it has become the catalyst for judgment calls and empty debates that aim to diminish why its existence not only elevates the landscape of television but also affords black women the satisfaction of being adequately revered. Another show that is suffering the same treatment is How to Get Away with Murder starring the illustrious Viola Davis. How can we forget the doomed piece in The New York Times penned by another white woman who infamously failed at conveying her deep thoughts about the harsh realities of the “angry black woman.
The author for Ms. Magazine doesn’t fare too well either in fact she doesn’t even close to getting it right. Her illustrations and assumptions are contrived and borderline insulting. All she manages to do is once again annoyingly highlight the reasons why white women have it so much easier than their black counterparts.
The first half of the piece is seeped in examples of how Scandal’s creator Shonda Rhimes uses the character of Olivia Pope played by Kerry Washington as a metaphor for how black women relate to their tresses. A impish attempt on her part -unfortunately the results don’t impress or deliver anything substantial.
The idea that Washington is allowed to have her curls only when she is off duty but reverts back to a straighter and sleek mane once she embodies her take-charge persona doesn’t reveal anything new about the politics of acceptable hairstyles.
And it is exceptionally hard to internalize from a white woman who has the gall to accuse Rhimes of intricately conceiving a character to perpetuate an ideal that supposedly impacts black women negatively. But the worst was yet to come. She dared to venture into that forbidden territory that requires a license that only women of color are permitted to utilize. Her crime has to be the way she casually echoes the summarization of what she deems as the black woman’s playbook.
In regards to Rhimes she says, “Maybe she was purposefully constructing a critical commentary of our society: that our society allows black women to be natural in a hyper-sexual, far off, foreign realm – and that to really be successful, they must conform to arbitrary beauty standards put in place by the white establishment”.
I am pretty sure that Rhimes wasn’t in the least bit concerned about how Olivia Pope’s hair would affect her ability to perform her high-profile job and insinuating that is nothing short of derogatory.
And then she digs deeper by hitting where it hurts the most, “Women of color have historically been hyper-sexualized, labeled exotic and seen as a commodity to capture and own. I’m not saying that this was Rhimes’ intention, but man is she dangerously close to playing into that trope”.
Hmm…I am sure her editors were ripe with their endorsements but I wasn’t impressed or resoundingly appreciative of Julia Robins’ contribution to the library that stacks the incremented thesis of all that encompasses the woes of black women. White women should never get to that place of familiarity that propels their need to tackle a subject they are not equipped to deal with. You are not qualified to summarize my journey in a way that resonates and I don’t expect you to because you simply can’t relate. And it is obvious that the only reason why she went there is because she is aware of the attention she will garner due to the subject matter.
A white woman expressing her views about how black women grapple with their crown of glory is a literary confection that is hard to resist for those who find it noble but for those of us who recognize what is at stake, this only serves as a reminder of why some of us don’t accommodate white girls in our circle. The annoyingly smug rhetoric can be a drag, even more so when it is disguised in a cloak of well meaningless as if we are meant to be grateful for the awkward solidarity.
The weird habit white women writers have developed of trying to enhance their understanding of how black women function in a world that doesn’t necessarily cater to their unique brand of existence has to come to a screeching halt. We already understand how we are perceived and despite your commitment to expose our limitations, most of us aren’t writhing in the background wishing “we didn’t haven’t to worry about not being taken seriously based on the natural appearance of our hair”. In actuality, most of us are flourishing despite out foreboded “handicap” and even if we weren’t we don’t need the compiled observations of a white woman to give us insight into an issue that is obviously rooted in the confines of a cultural web that can’t be infiltrated by foreigners.
So, basically the only way to make amends is for us to unequivocally agree that white women should refrain from topics that hit too close to home for black women because they are not equipped for such a task. You hardly ever see pieces curated by black women about how the “single white female” syndrome isn’t just a myth based on stacked up clichés that hold very little value. It is only fair that the favor is reciprocated.
The way Kerry Washington wears her hair on Scandal doesn’t reflect or dictate the statutes of black women and the various ways they manipulate their hair. It is so much easier to explore that outlook as opposed to unearthing a more progressive discovery, and if a white woman happens to be the one to decode the mystery – even better.
But as a black woman who also happens to be a writer, I will not stand by and witness such a gratuitous massacre of a subject that requires inherent vices as enablers rather than pompous thrill seekers. And if by some miracle a Caucasian woman with enough common sense and foresight blows us away with her endearingly sincere testimony – I won’t hold back my praises but until then – please leave the dirty work to the ones who are surrounded by the mess.