I recently saw the documentary “Good Hair”, which was created by Chris Rock. It deals with our society’s perception of black people’s hair (particularly black women’s hair), the effects of this perception on the people, and the business behind it.
Chris Rock made the movie for his daughters, but I recommend it to everyone — especially black women. I think it’s something that could be life-changing, if only in a small way. For example, I don’t understand how any mother could give her young daughter a perm after seeing this film.
There are a lot of black women (and women of other backgrounds as well) living today with irreparably damaged hair and scalps due to perms they received as children. For those who don’t know, a perm is a process to straighten hair using harmful chemicals. (The film depicts the same chemicals dissolving raw meat and eating through aluminum cans.) If poorly done, the process can result in severe chemical burns to the scalp and permanent hair loss. Even if correctly done, the process can permanently impair the hair’s ability to grow and damage the texture of the hair.
Yet women continue to get perms for themselves and for their children, because our society values straighter hair. For this reason as well, many women get hair weaves. This is a process by which long hair is sewn, woven, or glued into a woman’s existing hair. Sometimes artificial hair is used, since it’s cheaper, but the look and feel of the hair will usually give it away as fake. Most women who can afford it go for the more expensive authentic human hair, and it’s a very big business.
What I didn’t know, and what “Good Hair” brought attention to, is where much of that authentic human hair originates. According to the film, many Indian people are led to shave their heads at least twice in their lifetime in a ritual devoted to their god. This is the same hair that is then taken and sold to Westerners for profit. India is a country of a billion people, many of them poor. I wonder just how much money is made from this hair that is sacrificed for religious purposes. And I wonder how many of the people really know that wealthy Americans are wearing their hair.
It’s hard to blame the people who buy the weaves or get the perms: the fact is that hair of African origin is considered less acceptable in the professional or political world. Actresses feel that they need to straighten their hair in order to get more work, particularly in leading-lady roles. Politicians feel that they need to straighten or cut their hair in order to be electable. Office workers feel the need to assimilate in order to get hired or promoted. This is evidence of the pervading racism in our society.
As an example, we can look at President Barack Obama. Some people have speculated that his election as president was evidence of an end to racism in the United States. But that theory is called into question by the president’s haircut. No U.S. president in history has worn his hair cut short as Barack Obama does. Why? Because if Obama wore his hair the same length as Bush or Clinton did, he would not be as accepted by society. If he still wore the short afro that he wore as a college student, he almost certainly would not have been nominated by his party for the presidency.
I encourage everyone to watch “Good Hair”. If you are not a black woman, you might learn something about black women. If you are a black woman, you might learn something about yourself.