Gabrielle Douglas’s Hair and the African-American Community

“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair? I’m like, I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bald or short; it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.” –Gabrielle Douglas

 

I do not have any children, but I was delighted to see the joy on my niece and little cousin’s face when they watched Gabrielle Douglas compete in the Olympic Trials. Douglas would go on to make the U.S. Gymnast Olympic Team and win the Gold Medal for her individual all-around performance, becoming an instant star and role model to little girls around the world. Douglas’s stardom would also reveal an issue that has been prominent in the African-American community since the days of slavery, and that is the issue of self worth.

Immediately after Douglas won the Gold Medal social media idiots (many of whom were African-American) began commenting on Douglas’s hair:

“I think black girls in particular view her as a representation of themselves for the world to see. She just needs some Smooth and Shine gel and she’d be OK.’’

 “Thats an olympic sport too! RT @EbonyKeira: In Olympic news, why hasn’t anyone tried to fix Gabby Douglas’ hair?”

 “on another note, gabby douglas gotta do something with this hair! these clips and this brown gel residue aint it!”

 

It is truly unfortunate that many would go on to criticize Douglas’s appearance instead of applauding her accomplishments. Douglas became only the second African-American gymnast to win a Gold Medal in the Olympics and the first to win the gold for the individual all-around event. Douglas is one of four children who mother recently had to file for bankruptcy, a story of financial hardship many African Americans should have been able to relate to, but instead many decided to focus on her hair.

Now, hair is a sensitive subject in the African-American community, I have five sisters, many female cousins, and have dated African-American women, so I know all about the sensitive subject of hair. Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” was an insightful look at the billion dollar “black hair” industry. Many criticized the documentary as portraying African-American women as shallow, but what the documentary did was shine a light on an industry and belief that portrays “good hair” as anything but the natural hair many African-Americans have.

Chris Rock Good Hair

Hair and what constitutes “good hair” is an issue just as old as the African-American community itself. In the days of slavery there was a depiction of what beauty was to African-Americans inflicted upon them by their masters. White was considered beautiful and black was considered ugly, so the closer you were to white the more beautiful you were determined to be. That is why the lighter the skin and courser the hair of the slave the closer they were to the “Big House” and the darker and kinkier the hair the closer you were to the field. After the end of slavery, African-Americans took that portrayal of self worth into their own community, which is why the “black hair” industry started by Madam C.J. Walker made her one of the first African-American millionaires and why it is a billion dollar industry today.

Doll Test

It doesn’t help that in African-American popular culture some of the most popular celebrities place an emphasis on skin color and hair. It is hard to turn on a rap song or watch a rap video without the artist talking about a “light-skin” woman or woman of a different ethnicity, and it is equally hard to tune into an African American sitcom or movie without the major star being “light skin”.  Too often it is considered a badge of honor in the African-American community to have a child of mixed heritage because of the prospect of having a “red” baby with “good hair”. That is why African American athletes and entertainers are more likely to date a woman of a different ethnicity than their Caucasian and Hispanic counterparts.

Who Taught You To Hate Yourself

Thankfully there has been a recent movement to place an emphasis on “black beauty”. There has not been a major “black beauty” movement since the 1970s when the mantra “I’m black and I’m Proud” was used prominently in the African-American Community. Many African-American women have started sporting natural hair-dos without the use of chemicals and straighteners. Prominent African Americans who sport natural hairstyles have come to Gabby’s defense such as Venus Williams and Oprah Winfrey.

There is no such thing as “good hair, “bad hair”, “light-skin” or dark-skin”. Now, I am not naive enough to say that in today’s culture those things do not matter to some, but I am confident enough to say that those who put an emphasis on such things have a problem with their own self worth. That is why it matters that the nations first African-American President is married to an African-American woman because it reinforces the notion that “black is beautiful”. Unfortunately, for too many African-Americans the notion of beauty is one that does not include their complexion or hair texture.

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