Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happy Hair and Shampoo Commercials

Gee, Some of you are thinking "now she is picking on shampoo commercials.  Is there anything that's okay?"  Well the answer to that is no, there's nothing that exists outside of discourse.  I was watching television this morning, when the following commercial aired.



This is not a new commercial, but every time I see it, it pisses me the hell off, because it is just one in a series that celebrates long straight hair to the exclusion of kinky Black hair. The most popular of this theme are the Fructis commercials.




There is a lot more going on in these ads than selling a product to consumers.  These commercials stress that long straight, bouncy hair is what everyone should aspire to.  If you happen to be a person of colour, this means that this standard is impossible to meet, even if you decide to become friends with the creamy crack, otherwise known as relaxers.  These commercials make it clear that Blacks are not their target market, and they do so in the most obvious ways.

Black women are continually harassed over our hair. When we wear it natural, it is considered unkempt, because it does not match the eurocentric ideals of straightness.  From creamy crack to weaves, Black women have gone to extreme lengths to conform to a standard specifically designed to create us as unwomen and decidedly unfeminine. These commercials remind us that when it comes to hair, Black women are decidedly outside of the ideal.

When these ads appear on television, I wonder how many watch them and see a simple shampoo commercial, without recognizing who is specifically excluded and why?  I wonder if people realize that this is yet another example of the way in which Black women are 'othered'? Long straight hair has become so normalized that it's connection to Whiteness and White supremacy has become ingrained. These ads have become innocuous, simply because we reside in a White supremacist state, and therefore; anything that celebrates Whiteness is seen as good. Erasure of women of colour is meant to send a very specific message about which people are considered valuable.

Shampoo is something that we all need to use.  I for one prefer all natural products, and would not use these shampoos, but there are plenty of WOC who do purchase Fructis and Johnson and Johnson products.  Clearly, the so-called free hand of the market has not worked to eradicate the racism built into their advertising campaigns.  For them, the category of woman does not extend to those of us who have kinky hair, though their profit margins are increased by our monies.  They would rather promote White supremacy, than have a wider base for their products, and that unfortunately is the nature of much advertising, even when it comes to essential products like toothpaste, shampoo and soap.

Watching as White women swirl their hair around and an announcer declares it healthy and good specifically stigmatizes Black kinky hair.  The furthest these commercials are willing to extend is to White women with curly hair, which again, is another standard that we cannot hope to meet. These ads are anything but inclusive, and help to stigmatize natural Black hair through erasure.  It empowers the belief that there is something deficient about us from birth.  Is it really any wonder that after being assaulted with these images for years, that so many Black women hate what naturally grows on their scalps? Is it wonder that we are willing risk baldness and permanent scalp damage with weaves and creamy crack?   One need not actively say that Black hair is bad for the message to be internalized.  The everyday promotion of straight long hair is enough to discipline society into believing and supporting the idea that we are secondary simply based on racial characteristics.

Over the years, I have written many posts about Black hair and each time, some jackass shows up to lecture me on my own damn hair, so I would appreciate it if we could avoid that this time. Natural Black hair is beautiful and has it own strengths that should be celebrated rather than continually targeted, or erased. Whiteness is absolutely omnipresent, and this fact is proved by the fact that even in the simple everyday messages, it is clear that Black women are considered substandard.