Even the most oppressive tyrannies have their jesters. Comedians, particularly Black ones, are about the only people free to draw attention to what the rest of us are obliged to ignore. A White man would barely be allowed by law to explain the difference between Black people and “niggas” in public, yet Chris Rock can do it on HBO. Dave Chappelle was making tens of millions of dollars with his hilarious, provocative, and insightful take on race relations before buckling under the weight of his own conscience. For better or worse, Black comedians in our society can honestly explore politically incorrect topics with minimal self-censorship or threat of harassment.
Good Hair is Chris Rock’s exploration of the remarkably complex, controversial, costly, time-consuming, and even toxic world of Black female haircare. While Imus was fired and subjected to a Two Minutes Hate for casually referring to some college basketball players as “nappy-headed hos”, Chris Rock has extended the same point into a two hour documentary which gets featured on HBO, gets shown at film festivals, and achieves critical acclaim.
As it should have.
It was an honest and balanced documentary that was done by a Black father whose young daughter asked him “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” He focused on it as a community issue, refraining from the histrionic whining about Whites imposing European standards of beauty on them. He didn’t even mention the notorious “doll tests” from Brown vs. The Board of Education case. I was waiting for it, and it never came. Maybe he wasn’t aware of it. But I think he deliberately intended to keep the focus where it belongs: on what his tribe is thinking and doing.
Readers of this blog should be warned that Al Sharpton is featured multiple times in the documentary, but they’ll find him in a different mode than they’re probably accustomed to seeing him. Frankly, I admire Al Sharpton and wish we had more men in our own community as committed to speaking up for us as he is for them. He’s admittedly too quick to cast blame on Whitey, but an advocate who’s a bit too protective is preferable to an advocate like Bill Cosby who spends his time scolding his community for failing to integrate and deracinate. This is where Chris Rock strikes a nice balance, wholeheartedly embracing his race and culture while frankly analyzing how it should cope with its challenges.
But the analysis ultimately falls short. It fails to honestly explore WHY Black women struggle so mightily to look White. Both Sharpton and Rock leave the lay viewer with the impression that Black women are merely being vain or stupid and should cut it out. As simple as that explanation is, there’s a darker reason, an uncomfortable one that casts their monomaniacal pursuit of “good hair” in an entirely different light.
Half of the reason is biological. As a group, Black women are objectively less attractive than White women. White women are literally loaded with deceptive indicators of youthfulness: light hair, light skin, light eyes, and big foreheads. The politically incorrect (and hurtful) truth behind the notorious “doll test” is that the preference for the lighter dolls is culturally universal. Toddlers instinctively find White dolls to be more aesthetically pleasing. Pornographic cartoonists in Japan, driven by a very competitive profit motive to produce the most attractive females possible, draw caricatures of youthful Caucasian girls (with admittedly smaller frames, chins, and noses than our norm).
But this biological issue wouldn’t be such an issue if it weren’t for the sociological issues: Black imprisonment and interracial relationships. The bottom decile of potential suitors are incarcerated by the government. W.E.B. DuBois’ talented tenth are chasing blonde women. The product of these variables is a high-stakes competition between Black women over the relatively few Black males who are willing and able to court them. The relative importance that men in general and Black men in particular place on attractiveness pits them in a sexually selective race condition between one another to look as beautiful as possible.
Telling the Black woman with a weave who’s unable to pay her rent to change her priorities is akin to telling a cheetah that’s dying of exhaustion to slow down and catch easier prey. It betrays a fundamental ignorance of the bigger picture, won’t solve the problem, and blames the victim. If Chris Rock is serious about making the world a better place for his adorable daughters, he’ll need to step out of the barbershop and onto the golf course.