A black child looked less than perfect in public, so naturally, some denizens of Black Twitter and the most obnoxious people you know on Facebook are having a field day. In the last 24 hours, there has been a deeply shallow debate over the styling of a young black girl featured on the website of fast-fashion retailer H&M. The problem: The girl’s hair isn’t tidy. The culprits: H&M, or her mom, or both, depending on who you ask.
A knee-jerk reaction is understandable: Black models regularly deal with hairstylists who don’t know how to style black hair, and H&M already has a less-than-sparkling track record with its use of black models in its campaigns. If this black child had a messy hairstyle while the non-black child models wore very prim ‘dos, there would certainly be cause for side-eye and a conversation. However, a brief perusal of the kid’s section of H&M’s website shows that messy, just-finished-recess hairstyles were given to nearly all of the models:
H&M customer service responded to concern trolls on Twitter saying, “We truly believe that all kids should be allowed to be kids. The school aged kids who model for us come to the photo studio in the afternoon after school and we aim for a natural look which reflects that.” While it seems as though there was obviously some styling involved regardless—how many kids are rocking these top knots and side buns?—the vision is clear, and was distributed evenly among the child models, regardless of race.
There is nothing messier about the black child’s hair than the other children’s. The only difference is that the black child is black and has kinky, gravity-defying hair. Flyaways on non-black people are seen as cute, whimsical, elegantly disheveled, or exceedingly normal, while a single hair out of place on a black person’s head is slovenly, unkempt, and a sign of a bad home training.
This is what we’ve been conditioned to believe.
Black people—including black children—regularly deal with the stress of having their appearance policed. Many of these stressors are born out of fear of retribution from white societal norms: Black people are judged harshly for our appearance in schools, professional settings, and in public, and can be punished severely as a result. However, fear of retribution from a white supremacist society is no excuse for the kind of intra-racial sneering that has surrounded this absurd controversy. This is respectability politics masquerading as concern for a child’s welfare, and it’s as transparent as an H&M t-shirt after one wash.
The embracing of natural hair over the last decade has come with some caveats. It’s clear that the most acceptable form of natural hair is still long and/or ultra defined and well coiled. If it’s coarse or on the short side, then those edges better be slicked down with a jar of Eco-Styler, deep conditioned with a gallon of coconut oil, and perfectly coiffed before it dares be seen by another living soul. God forbid one be accursed with the affliction of being black, natural, and low maintenance.
The young model’s hair looks like any black kid’s hair after a day of activity. So the fact that this child has been the target of online scorn from black adults for having the audacity to look like a child is distressing. I hope this girl never sees the comments people are making about her edges and her mother’s apparent audacity. And I hope that others will learn to lay the fuck off of black people who decide that going to great lengths to always look on point isn’t their life goal. It is never that damn deep.