About a month ago, we wrote about an incident at a NYC law firm involving an editor from Glamour magazine, the "appropriateness" of certain African-American hairstyles, the word "political", and some angry, offended attorneys. Yesterday, the (now-former) editor, Ashley Baker, called Moe and gave as much of her side of the story as she could. Then the proverbial shit hit the fan on the comments, followed by the news that Glamour editor Cindi Leive will be convening a roundtable on the issue for an upcoming story. Anna asked me what I thought about the situation, and wondered if she and I, as black women, ought to weigh in. She was incredibly conflicted, and not sure what to think (she still isn't). But here I am.
Let me begin with a deep sigh. I do not know Ashley Baker, and I was not in the room of lawyers when the alleged incident occurred. Do I think the remarks, as reported, were racist? Yes. Do I think that Ashley Baker is racist? I honestly don't know. The facts are black and white, so to speak: She made offensive, bigoted comments; then Glamour sold her down the river. But the rest is all shades of gray. I believe that plenty of well-intentioned people make ignorant, misinformed, undereducated statements all the time. Does that make them racists? I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, "can I touch your hair?" by a new friend. Does that make them racists? I can't tell you how many people have been shocked to discover that I, as a black person, can get a tan. And that I enjoy doing so. That I like my skin to be darker.
Are they racists? This is the world we live in. Hair is political. Some people do actually think that some hairstyles are more "professional" than others. We're a nation with a shameful past, from slavery to Jim Crow, and whether Adrienne Curry can see it or not, we're still dealing with the aftermath and ramifications. The dream is of equality, but the reality is that this nation is built on uneven ground. It's not right, or something we must endure silently. But is calling dreadlocks and/or Afros "political" and "inappropriate" hairstyles the same as cross-burning or unapologetic hatred of black people? Isn't it more like xenophobia or racial illiteracy or insensitivity? I think that what Ashley Baker has is the luxury of never having been "other." She's probably never had to even think about the meaning behind dreadlocks or an Afro, so how could she have an informed opinion? The best possible outcome of all this is that she now knows something she didn't know before.
It's not that I excuse or tolerate this self-centered or majority-centered thinking, it's just that I understand it, and I believe that the cure lies in information and education. Sometimes I think that flat-out, straight-up, old-tymey racism, where someone is capable of blind hatred, has its advantages: You know who the enemy is. These days, there are friends and enemies and frenemies and spies and plants and double-crossers and ringers. We are all part of the problem. Would Beyoncé be the star she is now if her skin were darker, like her Destiny's Child cohorts? What if she had an Afro? What about Halle Berry? As a nation, we like our black people pretty white: Narrow noses, straight hair. Hair is complicated, race is complicated, and we are still living in a world in which many people believe, without seeing that it's wrong, that the closer you are to Caucasian, the better. Ashley Baker's remarks reflect that thinking, and, to be honest, I can't say that I was surprised. We are talking about a fashion and beauty magazine editor here. Not a teacher, lawyer, doctor, social sciences professor. An editor who was representing an elitist publishing company well-known for its nepotism and homogeny. And I feel about her the way I feel about new friends who ask questions about my hair or "nationality": I can only respond with weary patience and resolve to show them the error of their ways.
But that's just my opinion, and a gut reaction. This issue is just a symptom of several larger diseases of the American Psyche; Hair, Skin color, the banning of baggy pants, the Jena 6 and Bill O'Reilly being some other indicators of how far we have to go, how much there is to talk about. Hopefully, Glamour's Cindi Leive will invite Toni Morrison (pictured above!), Angela Davis, and anyone else with an "unprofessional" hairstyle to weigh in during that roundtable.
Earlier: Glamour "Racist" Ashley Baker Calls Us, Sets Nappy Hair Story Straight
Glamour "Racist" Freed From Slavery To Fashion
'Glamour' Editor To Lady Lawyers: Being Black Is Kinda A Corporate "Don't"