Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Good Hair" and Internalized Racism

One phrase that always sets me on edge is the term "good hair." For those outside the African-American community I'll just explain that "good hair" in reference to a black person generally translates into hair with Caucasian characteristics. "Good hair" is straight or wavy on its own, without the application of chemicals or heat to straighten it. This is in contrast to most African-American hair which is tightly curled or "nappy" by virtue of its oval cross-section. The typical comparison is between having "good hair" or "nappy hair" with the implication being that those without "good hair" are deficient. It goes into an internalized racism in which those with "good hair" are superior in some way to those without.

I hear the phrase "good hair" most often among African-Americans of my parents' generation and older but I've also heard it used sometimes by those closer to my own age and younger. It's usually stated as a description such as "he's that fellow with the good hair" or "she doesn't have to do anything to her hair, she's got that good hair." The phrase establishes white characteristics as being the ideal. If your genetics didn't provide those characteristics for your hair, you're just out of luck. It's this self-loathing in the phrase that really ticks me off. You're not a prized catch if you don't have that "good hair." As a consequence there are those who straighten their hair, either with chemicals or heat, and those who choose to wear a natural hairstyle. That discussion will have to come later. In the meantime, can we please drop the phrase "good hair" from the vernacular. Thanks!



Kudos to Isaac Kuo from Google+ for the link to this Sesame Street video!


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