Thursday, October 09, 2008

By request - scratching my angry black scalp...

The fantabulous Liss of Shakesville fame sent this bitch an article by Patricia J. Williams titled The Politics of Michelle Obama’s Hair. The piece is an exploration of Michelle Obama’s presence…her personality, appearance and oh yes, her hair. Williams clearly is inspired by the complete Michelle Obama package, but there’s something about the way she explores the hair thang that gave me pause.

Shall we?

Full disclosure – a bitch rocks a natural Afro and has for several years.


I was raised to believe that wearing natural hairstyles (meaning not straightening my hair) wasn’t the route to regular employment, acceptance or happiness. More importantly, I was taught that black women were charged with the task of putting others at ease through both our appearance and our temperament…and that was the clear route to regular employment, acceptance and happiness. So when I chopped off my chemically straightened hair and began to grow my Afro I was honestly concerned that it would have negative ramifications. Williams describes it as “political hair” but she seems to be searching for empowerment within an acceptably black definition by contrasting the appeal of Michelle Obama to the way Cynthia McKinney was treated by Capitol security allegedly because she began to wear a natural.

The thing is that has more to do with the very society Williams acknowledges is neither post-racial nor post-feminist.

When Williams tells of how sad she felt when wearing a Condi Rice Halloween mask versus how up beat she felt when wearing a Michelle Obama mask…well, she lost me.

If I’ve learned anything it is that true empowerment comes from being comfortable and loving the hell out of your own ass.

The thing that I like about Michelle Obama is that she exudes that empowerment. She’s cool with herself – no mask required (wink).

But Ms. McKinney is also cool with her self…and just because some members of the Capitol police aren’t cool with that shit doesn’t mean she is any less empowering as a result. Let’s be clear…members of the press politicized the role of her hair – her hair was just being hair.


Is Michelle Obama fantabulous?


Would I feel fantabulous rocking her look…her ways…her life?


***logs off to fluff Afro then read Ain’t I a Woman one more time***


dinthebeast said...

Look like you and you'll be beautiful like you, as St.Ani DiFranco so aptly called it. Still I got quite a giggle over at the Black Snob's blog when she said Michelle's hair looked like it had been touched by "the flat iron of God". It kind of reminds me of my friend who dyed her hair electric blue for about a year: sure it looked good, but damn she spent a lot of time on it.
I've taken various degrees of shit for my shoulder-length hair since I was 19, but that's different because I could cut it off in half an hour and make them find something else to try and marginalize me about. And they would, I've checked. So don't be hard on yourself, you are not the one acting stupid and creepy about this.
-Doug in Oakland

billie said...

for that matter- condi rice appears to be confident and comfortable with herself. although, how she sleeps at night is a question i would dearly love to ask her- and that has nothing to do with her hair.

i have no doubt that women of color straightening their hair has been an issue- but i think it's also a woman issue- women just have to look a certain way in this culture. men can be fat, bald and ugly but women are expected to go about perfectly dressed and coiffed no matter if they are grocery shopping or going to the ballet. i can't be bothered. i comb my hair in the morning and go about my way. no makeup and whatever the hell i feel like wearing. i realize not everyone is as comfortable as that :)

greer said...

WOC straightening their hair (as well as MOC) goes way, way back. My mother is 83 and "fried, dyed and laid to the side" was considered making you more acceptable to white society. (Remember Denzel conking his hair in "Malcolm X"?)

Skin lighteners were also de rigeur at this time, truthfully up through the 60's until the Black Power Movement.

We as a people were expected to conform as closely as we possibly could to white society. Nappy hair and dark skin were "unacceptable". It wasn't a female thang or a beauty thing. It was a lack of self esteem thing. A desperate need to fit in and be accepted thing.

It still goes on to this day, look at all the women you see with extensions. (Remember Whoopi's skit about the little black girl that wore the shirt pretending it was her long blond hair?) That is still true today. I know of very few Black people with naturally blond hair OR long naturally straight hair. Mine is about down to my derriere but it's part nappy, part curly - not even remotely straight.

I love when WOC wear their hair natural. They accept who they are and expect the world to do the same. That said, I also think if you feel better about yourself with a perm, then go for it. Just don't do it because you feel you have to fit in with some preconceived notion of beauty that has it's roots in racism.

Anonymous said...

Weird, I was listening today to the radio and these stupid disk jockeys (who actually think they know something and can speak on every subject) were saying that the whole idea that women think they need to be fixed doesn't come from society or the way men think they should look, but from their own anger towards each other. They are so clueless, they weren't even informed enough to know that society and men do require that women look, act and be a certain way. Women are never to be upset, always be ever self effacing and fullfilling other people's needs.

Michelle is rocking it all on her terms. She is real in her way. Everyone else be damned.

Kellybelle said...

I have natural hair,too. But I adore Michelle and her look. If my hair did that (it doesn't. I tried, oh, how I tried!), I'd be flicking it out of my eyes and twirling it around my finger.

I think Michelle is being herself, but in a carefully thought out package. She has to.

Frogspond said...

I adore Michelle Obama. I would like to be that strong when I grow up. She exudes intelligence, wit and charm right along with the "do not mess with me or anyone else I care about" vibe that I find comforting after 8 years of "yes dear" and "whatever you say dear" and "I have no brain and only live for my family" stepfordness shit we have lived through.

Finally, a real woman.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Yes, Michelle is fanfuckingtabulous! She is a perfect match to the fantabulous husband and he to her.
If they aint Camelot reborn, nothing will ever be. If they'd written it in a movie script no one would have believed it.
Everybody's got to do what theypre comfortable with. I've gone from pony tails to bald, back to pony tails and everything in between (proudly, I never did the perm thing) and am now sporting a conservative cut appropriate for a 55 yr old rural man. . . being the conservative 55 yr old rural man that I am.

Tinfoil Hattie said...

logs off to fluff Afro then read Ain’t I a Woman one more time

I am still laughing.

Thanks for an AWESOME post.


And blink, if I may.

Anonymous said...

Black men do it too, going close cropped or practically bald to hide their hair texture before it's nappy to the naked eye.

Anonymous said...

Funny. I never thought of hair as a political topic. I just chopped off all my hair because I was just tired of it and its hot and it sheds every where. I love my little baby 'fro and I am excited about the possibilities of my natural hair as it grows.

When I cut my hair, the only person's response I cared about was my mother's; and when she saw me and my new 'do, she smiled and said how I now truly look like her -- she was happy for me because I was happy with me.

Black women can't be marginalized, which is what boggles society so much, we are more than our hair -- thank you India.arie. I know i am. I am thankful for being born a black woman (beautiful goes without saying).

Do you Michelle and smile all the while you are doing it!

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head - both you and Michelle are beautiful not because of what choice you make with your looks, but that you have made the choices you wanted - not only in your hair but as a course of life.

MO was on the Daily Show recently and was spot on - just like she was at the convention, just like always, because she is just so ...HER... that it's its own beauty.

PS - I don't think I have ever seen a picture of you but I have no doubt you are beautiful

libhom said...

I respect Ms. McKinney for her courage and her political views. Anyone who is dumb enough to mistreat her because of her hair should be deported to Texas.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe anyone would attempt to defend Congresswoman McKinney's behaviour regarding that episode which, assuming that she is even slightly sane, can only be explained by severe PMS. And that does not discriminate according to race or hair styles/textures, by the way!

Too bad for the Green Party!

SagaciousHillbilly said...

"hair as a political topic."

The poster did not grow up in the 60s!

I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy
Snaggy, shaggy, ratsy, matsy
Oily, greasy, fleecy
Shining, gleaming, streaming
Flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka-dotted
Twisted, beaded, braided
Powdered, flowered, and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied!
James Rado

The Bear Maiden said...

Couldn't read the article, but I'm going to have to go back and try.

Hair is a funny thing, especially in the brown community. The whole "good hair / bad hair thing". I think we need to get over it. Especially since people from the same brown family can have all different types of hair. In my own family it runs from naturally curly/semi frizzy to loopy curls (my mother--depending on the day/humidity), tightly curly (my sister), very kinky (niece and her son), plain old weird (my other niece) and amazingly thick and wavy (my kidI). My own head consists of several different types all on the same head. It never did "fro" properly. It would tend to do the "Diana Ross" thing if it got too long.

Finally, I relaxed it so it would all be the same. Then I discovered Dominican Hair salons, to which I go faithfully every week no matter how broke I am. Dominican women don't have a problem with hair... they just do it. They do "rolloblo" and "body" and "fleep" and it all bounces out of the salon the same way no matter how it came in there looking.

And now mine is purple in the back. I have friends who are natural, who are dread, who have braids...

I think it's just an expression of you... that's all it should be. It's just hair. And Michelle Obama's is fierce. Just like her.

Anonymous said...

to be fair, i don't think patrica williams (whom i adore as a writer & thinker) was suggesting that hair fried, dyed, and laid to the side is the only, or even best, way to go. i'm pretty sure her hair is natural tho more rolling waves than tight curls like mine.

the true point was about the anxiety of being black, female, & professional in america. michelle is comfortable in her own skin and with her life choices and it shows in her grace & class under extreme pressure. patricia was ultimately celebrating that with just a touch of well-meaning envy (as in aspiration).

also, it shows that michelle is loved, both within and without. treat ya self to this heartwarming photo gallery of the obamas in love:

as a good friend said, they keep hope alive in more ways than just political :)

Black Presence said...

This is just the sort of post I have been looking for because I am interested in how black folks(women) feel about their hairstyles.

Personally I'm excited by Michelle Obama, she looks so Great and as a Black Family they really are Virtually perfect.

I wrote a post over at Black Presence on this very topic (hair part). If any one cares to comment please do.

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