When I heard that Chris Rock was making a documentary about Black hair, I tried to keep an open mind. The fact that he claimed that he was making it for his daughter, was enough to make me hope that he would put aside the misogyny that he has shown in the past. Unfortunately after viewing the film, it was clear that Rock had missed the mark in several ways.
Rock created a movie that satisfied the voyeurism of Whiteness on the issue of Black hair. It even allowed Roger Ebert, a White man, to play the role of expert. Don’t Black women have enough to put up with, without White men believing they know everything about our beauty rituals? Whiteness never seems to miss the opportunity to inform us about ourselves.
Yes, Ebert knows all about relaxers because he read about them on Wikipedia.
Rock shows a hair-raising demonstration of an aluminum Coke can literally being eaten up in a bath of sodium hydroxide. It may help to recall that another name for sodium hydroxide is "lye." God forbid a woman should put that on her head! What Rock doesn't mention is that few women do. If he had peeked in Wikipedia, he would have learned (emphasis mine): "Because of the high incidence and intensity of chemical burns, chemical relaxer manufacturers have now switched to other alkaline chemicals." Modern relaxers can also burn if left on too long, but they won't eat up your Coke cans.
Don’t you just love that he went to the most reliable source to learn about chemical relaxers. Why do Black hairdressers even go for training when they can turn to Wikipedia to learn everything they need to know to do their jobs? Of course, he takes care to remind us that it can still burn, thus establishing his expertise on the matter. Wow is anyone else impressed? MMM but wait he has even more to share.
The use of the word "natural hair" is, in any event, misleading. Take a stroll down the hair products aisle of a drugstore or look at the stock price of Supercuts. Few people of any race wear completely natural hair. If they did, we would be a nation of Unibombers.
This is the kind of nonsense you get when Whiteness decides that it is expert on everything. Clearly Ebert does not understand the importance of natural Black hair but ignorance alone is not enough to stop him from running off at the mouth. When a White person dyes their hair a different color, what does it say to the world? How many people even know if the person they are talking to is a “natural” blonde or brunette? I guarantee you that if you are talking to a woman whose hair has been fried by a relaxer, you know it immediately. Whiteness does not openly acknowledge it because it speaks of conformity. It speaks of an internalization of White beauty standards.
Try and walk around for a day or two with an Afro, dreads or a twist out. People will line up to tell you that you look unkempt. Natural hair is considered radical by Whiteness because it speaks of an independent spirit and heaven forbid Black people walk around with the belief that they/we are actually worth something. Natural blonde, red, or brunette mean nothing socially. We don’t see this as political because Whiteness is the norm. Black bodies are politicized precisely because we live in a culture that is determined to decide worth based in the constructed class of race. There is only one race but Whiteness needs differentiation to maintain its superiority. And this is specifically why Blackness is eroticized, constructed as exotic and marginalized at every turn.
Just when you think the well of greatness has run dry, Ebert finishes with this:
Yes, you did read that correctly, Ebert just professed to have more knowledge about Black hair than a Black man. Will the arrogance never come to an end? You can tell that the man has never even been inside a Black barbershop because he has declared the conversations that Rock filmed to be a rarity. Barbershops and beauty salons have always been the hub of conversations in the Black community. On a typical day you can participate in conversations about race, gender, politics, history, sports etc., but I guess all of that was just play acting until it got authenticated by Roger Ebert. Maybe he thinks we just grunt at each other when no camera is around.
Whiteness as expert allows it to control the discourse. With this power it can decide what is important and which bodies are affirmed and on what time frame. Ebert may have just seen himself as reviewing a movie but this was a documentary that was completely outside of his experience. No trip to Wikipedia or long term relationships with Black people will equip a White person to engage in a judgement call on African American culture. It is an exercise in privilege to think otherwise. Let’s just face facts, Whites have to actively be taught about Blackness and anti-racism, whereas; from birth, a Black child has to fight just to be seen as human. The only “natural” thing that Ebert is equipped to talk about, is his own unacknowledged privilege.