Keeping Michelle's Hair In Perspective

Illustration for article titled Keeping Michelle's Hair In Perspective

Jenee Desmond-Harris wrote a piece for Time titled "Why Michelle's Hair Matters." It's both refreshing and sad that black hair keeps making the news.

On the one hand: Black hair is complicated. Loaded with meaning. Writes Desmond-Harris, "When the New Yorker set out last summer to satirize Michelle as a militant, country-hating black radical, it was no coincidence that the illustrator portrayed her with an Afro." Going natural — or not — can end up classifying a black woman. Straight hair makes some people think you're more "professional"; others might think you are selling out or tying to "be white." Natural, ultra-culry hair — worn in twists — means you might be berated by Free Republic, as Malia Obama was. Desmond-Harris notes that Don Imus infamously called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos," making a connection between hair and promiscuity (see also: Her hair is wild, unruly, she needs to "tame" that frizz, etc.) With Chris Rock's documentary set to hit theaters at the same time we have many black women in the White House (Michelle, Sasha, Malia, Desirée Rogers, etc.) it is important to examine the stereotypes, hangups and issues surrounding women and black hair, and not treat the messages and codes surrounding black hair as trivial. Desmond-Harris writes:

One might think having a black First Lady who is widely praised as sophisticated and stylish would represent a happy ending to the story of black female beauty and acceptance. Alas, our hair still simultaneously bonds and divides us."There is no hair choice you can make that is simple," says Melissa Harris Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton. "Any choice carries tremendous personal and political valence." Even though I'm biracial and should theoretically have half a share of hair angst, I've sacrificed endless Saturdays to the salon. It is unfathomable that I might ever leave my apartment with my hair in its truly natural state, unmoderated by heat or products. I once broke down at the airport when my gel was confiscated for exceeding the 3-oz. limit. I'm neither high maintenance nor superficial: I'm a black woman.


On the other hand: Much like attention to Michelle Obama's clothes, arms and bottom, attention to her hair feels, well, disrespectful. And plain old sad. It's not like black women are newly arrived creatures from outer space — so why is the way we deal with our hair "news"? It's been over 100 years since Madame C.J. Walker and Garrett A. Morgan. Michelle's hair matters, but surely not as much as a whole lotta other stuff she's working on.

Why Michelle's Hair Matters [Time]
Earlier: Combing Through The Deeply Rooted Politics Of Black Hair Issues
Weaves, Extensions & "Creamy Crack": Chris Rock's Good Hair Trailer
Chris Rock's New Documentary Explores "Good" Hair
Solange Chops Hair, Is Called "Insane"
The Flesh-Eating Phonies Also Known As Lace-Front Wigs
Why Is Straight Hair The Epitome Of 'Style'?
Michelle Obama Spurs A "New Arms Race"

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I think that the populace in general feels more comfortable with "smooth" hair. I have had really curly hair all my life and when I was doing the pageant circuit after high school I was told repeatedly by pageant hostesses to straighten my hair because it looked more "professional". That made me feel awful, so I cannot imagine being a young black woman and having to deal with all that shit. I would take out someone's eye with a rat-tail comb.