Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Black Hair - White House

First of all, lemme say that I do not have any issue with Michelle Obama's straight hair.... in fact I have been too busy watching what she does with her daughters' hair (braids, twists and blow dried straight then set with curls) to give much thought to what she does with her own.
However, I stumbled across this article recently and thought I would post it to see what you think. http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/02/03/michelle_hair/index.html

Could Michelle be in the White House with kinky twists? head ties (a la Eryka Badu), braids or dread locks? I mean - of course she COULD... but would she still be respected? Would people's perceptions of her change? I'm not sure 'the world' is ready for a 'dread' in the White House but that doesn't mean i think she is not 'Black enough' cos she is plenty black enough for me!And what do men think about this?

Excerpts from article:
"... One of my favorite inaugural moments was the Rev. Joe Lowery invoking that crude but accurate black folk saying about the hierarchy of skin color: If you're white, you're all right; if you're brown, stick around; if you're black, get back. A parallel saying for hair gradations would be something like: If you're straight, you're great; if you got curl, you got a pearl; if you're nappy, you're unhappy. Lowery was voicing that sentiment in order to bury it, but he was also admitting that it still has great power. Weaves and relaxers have become de rigueur for black women past the age of 13. The unprocessed black woman is assumed to be a vegan, a rebel, a Rasta, a nationalist, an artist, or some combination of the above. And for a black woman to wear her hair "out" -- that is, to wear it in its natural state with minimal moderations -- well, she must be so far out on the fringe that everyday presentation doesn't matter. Most likely she's an entertainer -- Erykah Badu, Diana Ross or Rufus-era Chaka Khan. But in the real world that Michelle Obama represents and that most of us inhabit, there is no black equivalent for the wash-and-wear "out" style that white women wear all the time, and have worn for 30 years..."

"...Hair is a very complicated piece of that model, historically speaking, as brutal a demarcation of worthiness as skin color. Hair texture and skin color work in tandem: The darker you are, the harder you have to offset it with "good" hair in order to be considered attractive or acceptable. If Michelle weren't dark-skinned with classic black features, she might not be so wedded to super-straight locks. Of course, this is also about class and station -- most professional black women of a certain pay scale adopt the relaxed look as part of the overall look of success....

17 comments:

Charmaine said...

Zeitgeist.

10, 15, 20 years time, I can see a 'hair out'women in the WH.

It's been perhaps, the past year my mother has ceased to gawk at my wash and go hair, and my granny never will......

A bit of time, I'm careful about expecting the Obamas to rep all black people. They are 4-50 year old black afro americans, plus other things. They rep that quite well xx

Neelan said...

Ms Obama is a beautiful, intelligent, and well spoken woman. Who cares what she does with her hair or her daughter's hair for that matter...

Bajan Lily said...

@Neelan: I mentioned the daughters' hair cos I like their hairstyles and I like the fact that they're still unprocessed; it's very encouraging to Black mothers and their own daughters. If the daughters in the first family can rock cornrows - so can the daughters in this household. Weave can wait. At least that's been my experience thus far.

@Charmaine: just to clarify - I don't expect them to rep ALL Black ppl... we're all so different (e.g. African American vs Jamerican cultures). I was just reading and wondering... 20 yrs eh? Now that'd be a sight :) Is that just for 'afro/braid outs' or for dreads and braids too?

Neelan said...

Lily, I was just responding to your post because I really feel like the Obama family is being over scrutinized for the wrong reasons...but I understand the point of view that you expressed in your response.

Bajan Lily said...

@Neelan: cool, far be it from me to add to 'unnecessary scrutiny or criticism',this post is from the perspective of "hey look - a positive Black female role model" with a by line of: 'would ppl give her a hard time if she had a different hairstyle?' and from a wider perspective: 'can we envision a time when an American first lady or president has dreadlocks (or braids or afros)?'... as opposed to questioning whether the Obamas hairstyle choices are right/wrong.

Ajael said...

They are being over scrutinised but this is not surprising. They are the first black family in the White House. And I don't feel that discussing a hypotherical issue is being critical at all. I love Michelle and I get her because the number of people who have expressed a mixture of shock, consternation, concern and outright "Oh My God we have a Political One" in our midst when I mentioned dreads for work has caused me to question it.

My answer to Annette's question is maybe natural Afro hair will become more mainstream in future but at the moment mainstream America is not ready. And needing the popular vote, she has to care what mainstream America thinks. I also have no problem with people who relax/weave. Its our choice. I love natural hair but sometimes I think natural hair wearers can be quick to get on a pedestal and make this whole hair business tribal. E.g. natural better than relaxed better than weave. So to each his own and Michelle is definitely rocking her own look.

Charmaine said...

Lily, yes, I know. If i wasn't tipsy, i think i would have written with more finesse!

I would write more here, but it is so complex a question, because we are moving into asking what is black, what's not, the politics of (black beauty) and more, and there just isn't room for this conversation in these lil boxes!

Bajan Lily said...

@Ajael: Girl, you said it! I have been debating whether to write a separate note and let rip re: the things I have learned (i.e. negative attitudes I have come across) with this sister locks business... you are so right when you say that some natural hair wearers are VERY.. erm... how should I put it: 'holier than thou'. I firmly believe that just because relaxed hair is not for 'me' doesn't necessarily give 'me' the right to belittle 'you' or claim that you are 'addicted to the creamy crack' simply because 'you' choose to rock 'your' hair straight... it AINT 'MY' HAIR its 'YOURS' innit?!! Of course I do appreciate the sisters who are evangelical about natural hair care (and natural ways of life) because they inspired me and others to follow the path too!(Its just there are some who are a bit OTT)

I also get you re: 'political'... cos 'natural hair' (styled as locks for eg) is often seen as a political statement/form of rebellion. Lawss *shakes head* You're right- I don't think we're ready.. cos I feel that the MOST criticism (of the person in the white house with locks/braids/twists) would be from the Black community in terms of : "why you don't do sthg with your hair/that's not appropriate for the White House" etc. Hopefully, I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if she ties down her hair at night. Lol... that thought amuses me greatly. That's be like the queen wearing a stocking (on her head) to bed hehehehe

Yinka said...

Lol Anonymous, Michelle with a hair tie! No No No.

Seriously though, I agree with Ajael and BajanLily's comments re: culture and politics of wearing your hair "natural" in the WhiteHouse.

It also holds true for top black entertainers... Badu might rock natural hair but Beyonce, Alicia Keys etc. no longer wear the braids they rocked early in their careers.

I have personally experienced alot of my non-black friends saying things like "you look more professional" since I cut off my dreads. And that's just lil me...imagine what they'd say if Michelle did have twists/dreads?

Mostly I think she probably wears her hair like that because she likes it that way. The fact that the girls still wear more "ethnic" hairstyles indicates that she is not too interested in presenting a softer look (acceptable to whites) to the public.

But for me bigger issue is obsession with Michelle's fashion/hair etc...for me first lady is much more than a trophy wife. I'm dying to see her on Babara Walters, Oprah etc. discussing "real issues".

Ajael said...

Lol @ Michelle with head tie. You know she has to flat wrap that hair! And you are right Lily.. ama do a Spoken Word piece at Poetry n Motion it starts
"Oh Afro Queen why do you stare
when you look at ma hair,
like you cant believe
ama wear a weave...."
just from the "righteous" looks I get.

Hair is so political. A white person wears pink hair and it's punk/rock, a black girl does it and its "ghetto". I can go on and on and on. :) Yinks with you all the way. I dont see what is non professional re dreads. Say different not non professional. Cause professional is the way I do my job not how I look.

Bajan Lily said...

(Still laffing at the head tie hahah)
@ Ajael - I didn't even consider the whole hair colour issue.. and I think you're right re: 'ghetto' label...

@ Yinka - you know I didn't even remember that AliciaKeys and Bey used to wear braids? Wow - u really don't see them in those anymore...

The notion that certain natural hairstyles are not 'professional' is one that continues to disturb and sadden me - as Ajael says: shouldn't professionalism be linked to ability? Then again Susan Boyle showed us that the world still confuses appearance/attractiveness with ability and raises/lowers expectations accordingly.

Charmaine said...

Ideally that would be true re professional = way we do our job, and not the way we look (our hair), but I think you're erecting false demarcations between appearance and professionalism.

There is a uniform, and the uniform currently does not include dreads. End of. Just like cerise fishnet stockings aren't de rigeur. I'd like to see the advent of that, too, as it goes ;)

There is another, related, aspect too, and that is 'what is professionalism?'. In most of our chosen professions, 'professional' = totally devoid of personality/character (read: identity). As dreads are not yet part of the accepted uniform, your wearing dreads = you imposing your identity on your projected work image. Big no no....

And, who's to say that those white women with their typical looking hairstyles don't go home and don a crimped black and purple goth wig because that is the person they really are, and that is what they prefer to see when they look at themselves in the mirror.

Gigglz said...

I love Michelle Obama because she represents to me an educated, good mother, good wife, and an independent black woman. For years I wore weaves, braids, perms etc and as I'm now natural and loving it for years beforehand I contemplated going natural for fear of what others may say and or think at my job and even in my personal life. Yes, it would be great to see the first lady with natural hair, whether it be loose or locked. However, I'm just ecstatic to have a beautiful black family living in the White house. Mainstream America and furthermore the black America that still shuns natural hair is not willing to accept a "natural" Black Woman!

Bajan Lily said...

Gigglz - I think you have a point, well said too. Some day though.. or at least I hope that someday it won't raise eyebrows if there is a Black female Senior DA, Supreme Court Judge or First Lady with natural hair (loose or locked as you say)... that'd be a great thing to see I think :)

ps Michelle Obama rocks!

Gigglz said...

Yes!!! Michelle does rock!!!

Bajan Lily said...

A nice photo gallery for those of you who enjoy Michelle's hairstyles. This woman rocks!
http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/fashion/galleries/first_lady_michelle_obamas_changing_hairstyles/first_lady_michelle_obamas_changing_hairstyles.html#ph0

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