Wednesday, December 15, 2010

White People Sure Are Sensitive About Black Hair

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Tangled, the new Disney Princess movie.  It was recently linked to by a White supremacist site and I would like to share with some of the comments I chose not to publish.

Ummah Gummah: IDIOTS. HATEFUL RACIST IDIOTS.   Rapunzel is a GERMAN fairytale. Blond hair and blue eyes are fairly common in Germany. Get over yourselves. Get a life. 

Michael Dean Miller: Oh for the Love of God... will black people stop comparing themselves to whites and just try to be themselves!? If some folks like white women and blonde hair more than black and kinky.... well, get over it. Does Garth Brookes complain about low country music CD sales in Harlem? Probably not. He moves on and does he thing elsewhere. Take the hint. 

ADA:...you are so unbelievably full of shit. rapunzel comes from a german fairy tale. her hair is blond. should we just change history so you can get over your own personal inferiority complex? no little girl is reading so much into this... black or white. you just hate yourself and seek to project it on everything else around you. you try to blame it on "society". patterns can be found anywhere we look.

here's an idea. whenever i hear the story of martin luther king jr, i just get so upset that such a hero is always portrayed as a black man. lets make a movie and have him cast as a blond haired man! then my feelings can be saved! historicity be damned!

get a real job, find a real hobby, get your head out of your ass, and buy some self help books.


Paul: Look, this just from a guy's perspective: Long flowing shiny hair on a woman IS beautiful. There's no sense in pretending that it's not. Conversely, coarse, kinky brillo-pad hair is NOT beautiful. There's no sense in pretending that it is.   

Alexandra: I have nice, long, brown hair and I don't see a problem. I'm not ashamed to be white and I'm not ashamed to be a brunette!  

These are just a small example of the comments the post received before I decided to close down the thread, because I could no longer deal with looking at how ugly the pure ignorance and utter racism was. After much thought, I decided to publish a select few to enable a discussion about hair and the way that bodies are understood.

As can be seen by the comments above, questioning the continual representation  of Whiteness in the media is understood as threatening.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, non Hispanic White people account for 65.1% of the population.  This number is quickly diminishing further heightening the fear of a loss of power. Whiteness as seen in pop culture is problematic because it is pervasive.  It further emboldens the idea that people of colour or without value and that our lives should not be explored.

Hair continues to be an issue for Black women, in large part because Whiteness is still placed on a pedestal.  Consider the celebration that recently occurred, when a White father wrote a song for Sesame Street, in which a muppet of colour sang about how much she loved her hair.  While I definitely applaud the exposure and the subject matter, it is problematic that it gained support when it entered the social discourse through the impetus of a White male.  WOC have been speaking about their hair for generations, and yet we are told that we have issues, need counseling, or should just accept the fact that we are naturally less than White femininity.   This represents a total lack of responsibility for the ways in which Whiteness has enabled internalized racism.  If a child cannot see images of herself, she grows to feel that she is naturally inferior.  Attempting to ensure a positive self-esteem is a struggle for Black parents and one each generation of parents has had to wage, since the moment the first person of colour set foot in the western hemisphere. 

Whether Whiteness admits it or not, hair is a marker of difference, just like other typical Black features like larger lips and wide noses.  These characteristics in and of themselves should not be understood as inferior or ugly, but because Whiteness has privileged itself, typically Black features are denigrated.  When we look at the precious few POC in the media, it is easy to see that they are light skinned and have Euro-centric features, and while they may represent diversity to some, having all light skinned people again enforces the idea that Blackness is somehow inferior.

One of the repeated suggestions that is, that if Black people have a problem with Tangled, that we should write fairytales and tell our own stories.  The problem with this suggestion is that Whiteness controls the media and has no interest in creating, much less promoting, a narrative that dovetails away from White supremacy.  People of colour continue to be silenced when we speak our truth, as evidenced by the venomous attacks on the Tangled post and therefore, the idea that we are responsible for a lack of representation is ridiculous.

Finally, the suggestion that respecting diversity and striving to ensure that all people are valued is "politically correct," again inserts Whiteness into the conversation as the arbiter of our bodies and our experience. Purposely seeking to dismantle White Supremacy is a socially responsible action, because it means true equality, and not something to be engaged in for fear of a supposed backlash.  No matter how far POC have traveled in our journey towards equality, we have yet to achieve institutional power.  Like it or not, Tangled is problematic because it elevates Whiteness, in a White supremacist state.  Some things need to be left behind, if their meaning unfairly reduces the value of others.  I don't think that bypassing an old fairytale is asking to much, when we consider how once again learning that long flowing hair as a symbol of female beauty, is harmful to young girls of colour.  To achieve equality, sacrifices must be made and until Whiteness can learn that for the equality they claim exists to be realized means considering a reality outside of their own, we will be continued to be stymied in our work for real progress.