home Beauty, Commentary, Entertainment, Humor, Movies, Racism, Women Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” is having a bad day

Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” is having a bad day

Chris Rock was driving his daughter and her friend home, when his child began to comment on how nice the little White girl’s hair was. On “The View,” Rock stated that he has made a conscious to tell his children that they are beautiful and he was therefore troubled to hear his child’s fascination with White hair. In a desire to discover where the characterization of White hair as good hair originated, he decided to research Black hair. This research became the newly released documentary, “Good Hair.”

In conversations with Black celebrities like Dr. Maya Angelou, Nia Long, Ice T, Raven Symone and the Reverend Al Sharpton, Rock attempted to discuss how Black women feel about their hair. With the exception of one actress, each woman presented either wore a weave or had her hair relaxed. This gives the impression that Black women do not embrace their natural hair, thus perpetuating the idea that we are forever envious of White women. In a world in which beauty is conceived of as a specifically female power, investing White women with the sole ability to marshal said power is deeply problematic.

Casting Black women as envious of White women serves patriarchy and the White supremacist state. In “Good Hair,” Dr. Maya Angelou commented that “hair is a woman’s crowning beauty.” If Black hair is forever considered unfeminine, it cements the social understanding of Black women as “other.” If Black women cannot be understood as women, they are necessarily unrapeable, easy to stereotype as hyper sexual, angry and ugly.

In “Good Hair,” it was suggested that Black women are seeking the idealized attributes of White women and therefore the chase in and of itself, is confirmation that we (read: Black women), affirm our second class standing. One does not seek change, if the present form is acceptable and loved.

Rock reports that so desperate are Black women for change, that the Black hair care industry earns a multi-billion dollar profit yearly. It is quite possible that given the right resources, a woman is capable of spending thousands of dollars each year on hair and products alone. One beauty shop featured has a layaway plan where customers could pay for a thousand dollar weave over time. It was suggested by Al Sharpton that the Black men are expected to subsidize the cost of said beauty treatment and that this leads to a breakdown in relationships. Chris Rock mirrored this sentiment in an interview with Screen Crave:

“The big thing really was how it’s not good for relationships. The money spent. It is almost like dating somebody with a drug habit, almost. You know what I mean? It’s like dating a guy who spent 10 grand a year on baseball cards. You know what I mean? It probably wouldn’t work, would it?”

It is well known that the number of intact Black families is low. To suggest that hair has the potential to ruin Black relationships is ridiculous when we consider the high incarceration rates for Black men, the increasing success of Black women in higher education, and inter-racial marriages. The Black man has always viewed the oppression of Black women as a symbol of masculinity however, yet the Black woman is the rock upon which the community is built.

Good Hair Poster

When there are complex reasons for a social phenomenon, we are encouraged to always blame the marginalized group, even when they exist with the least social power. Because the Black woman has no institutional power, she ultimately is to blame, even though she is the least likely to create and or support any social organization. It cannot be argued that Black women do not invest a lot of money into their beauty regimen, yet so do White women. Why is their expenditure not fodder for commentary? They are not all going to “First Choice Hair Cutters” for a cheap trim, after all.

While decrying the effort of some Black women to conform to Euro-centric beauty standards, Rock points out that those that refuse to concede are considered less desirable, and even radical. If a Black woman who weaves or straightens her hair is considered to be high maintenance and pandering to Whitenes and a natural hairstyle is considered repulsive and aggressive, how can Black women ever be understood to be acceptable to the larger society? The point is to ensure that whatever our decision regarding our hair care, the possibility exists to hold Black women up for ridicule. One cannot exist with agency if there is never any possibility of affirmation or acceptance. Choosing between two socially understood negatives will always render a negative.

Chris Rock asserted that this movie was for the Black community, and yet it has revealed nothing new. Since Madame C.J Walker made her riches creating relaxers, we have known exactly how toxic they are. The burn of the chemical itself speaks of the damage that we are inflicting on our bodies.

Barbershops and Black women’s beauty salons have always been gathering places. From these hallowed institutions we have discussed everything from current events, to sports, to our place in the larger society. These conversations have been going on for decades and all Rock did in this documentary is to minimize the dialogue to ridiculous sound bites that amount to coonery.

“Good Hair” was not a movie for Black people. It was a slanted take on our stories for the consumption of Whiteness. Even as I sat in the theatre, filled with rage at the reduction of Black women for profit, the White couple who sat directly behind me laughed repeatedly. It was as though this movie gave them permission to publicly ridicule the all too serious struggles of Black women.

Whiteness cannot be reduced in this manner. Even though White women are quite capable of spending a serious amount of money on their hair and have their own beauty rituals to which they adhere, their stories are not deemed entertainment. Whiteness is so normalized, that the dyeing, teasing, or tapering done to their hair is not deemed comment worthy. It is Blackness that must be explored and laid naked for all to see. We do not like to think that there are those that support the continued marginalization of people of color, but “Good Hair” proves that even within our own community, there are those that are willing to share our most private moments of communion for a buck.

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Renee Martin

Renee Martin lives in Canada and writes the famous Womanist Musings blog. She is as interested in socio-political issues as she is in television.

11 thoughts on “Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” is having a bad day

  1. Shame on Chris Rock for using his daughter as an excuse to make the movie “Good Hair”. Next time Chris when you make a movie as such show what roll fathers could play to booster healthy self esteem in their daughters rather than a comedy joking about their hair.

  2. Renee,
    Thanks for your excellent analysis of Chris Rock’s mockumentary on BW’s hair. Like you, I saw through Chris Rock’s attempt to exploit the serious issues surrounding BW’s hair/beauty to get a quick laugh/make a fast buck. BW don’t need yet ANOTHER BM to give ANTI-BW RACIST/HATERS more ammunition to DEGRADE/DEMEAN BW’s hair/beauty.

    Chris Rock and everyone who is praising this trash should be ashamed of themselves for further promoting ANTI-BW LIES, MYTHS, and STEREOTYPES that attack the HUMANITY, DIGNITY, and FEMININITY of BW while upholding the “supremacy” of White beauty standards.

  3. Thank you for giving voice to everything and then some behind my own lack of desire to see this film. While I don’t think Rock meant any ill-intent, I’m not sure why he believes ridculing the hair issues and choices of Black women will send his own daughters anything other than a mixed message.

  4. Hi, Renee. I came across your blog looking for reviews of Good Hair, as I saw it yesterday with my college’s Black Student Union. Just to put it out there, I am a White woman, and my boyfriend is biracial (with a great afro, might I add). I went to the movie not knowing much about it but hoping that it would address a lot of different kinds of hair (“natural” and treated), the history behind people’s prejudices against Black hair, etc. The film was a huge disappointment. I was really heartbroken when Chris talked to those high school kids and everyone essentially singled out the one girl with an afro. I hoped their comments about how they would never hire her in a business would let into a discussion on natural hair styles, but it didn’t. I was absolutely enraged that this film started out with his natural-haired daughter questioning why she doesn’t have good hair, and her own father didn’t take any time in the film to talk about how natural hair is just as “good” as any other hair style. This film had so much potential, but it really fell flat because all Rock really talked about were relaxers and weaves. There’s so much more to Black hair than that! I wanted the message I came away with to be that all hair is good hair, natural or not, but Rock dropped the ball big time.

    I don’t want to rant too much, but I did post about this on my blog if you’d like to stop by and read and/or leave a comment about what you think. I know many of the BSU students shared my opinion on this, but I want to know what other people think, too.

    http://chickensoupforthedorkysoul.blogspot.com/2009/10/good-hair-not-so-good.html

  5. I have yet to see the movie but I have more problems with this critique than I do of Rock’s project. The tone of this article suggests that African American women are passive victims, to whom everyone else does things. This certainly does not represent the sistas I know, nor those noble women ancestors who fought for our liberation. I don’t buy the contention that expenditure on hair care ends relationships but equally I cannot accept that – as an expensive discretionary spend – it never causes tensions.

    You live in a different reality from me if you cannot or will not see how white women – like all women – are ridiculed as a popular cultural staple. It happens differently and is certainly not racialized but it looms large in popular discourse nonetheless.

    Also, I absolutely reject the notion that sistas don’t, or are least likely to create or support social organization. Not in my neighborhood! If sistas are, as you rightly say, key to holding communities together, how on earth can this be true?

    I may start giving a damn about white folk laughing at African Americans’ cultural idiosyncracies when we gain economic, cultural, social and political equality. Or I may not. I’m certainly secure enough in my identity to hold my own in any discussion with them about these things both in our communities and in theirs. But frankly, I have more important things to worry about; the safety of our youth; decent education, housing and health services; the USA waging unjust wars around the world, despite Obama’s promises, to name a few.

  6. The one thing I dislike about the african american community/culture is that we spend to much time denying and pointing the finger at others. RAP MUSIC does not make people do violence, but it doesnt help. I listen to Barry White to get me in the mood for love and gospel music to inspire/overcome.. Nobody will ever do a driveby to classical music. Teen pregnancy and the incarceration rate is a major problem in the innercity with black and latino cultures,it is worthless to point to suburban/rural america or “white people” we need to address the realities we need to deal with.. Of course black women dont wanna be white,but America through systematic racism and white/euro supremacy taught us that we are not beautiful and things black arent good or desirable. From relationships to self identity we hate ourselves or was taught to; through mental slavery; a fact. Nappy hair is way more manageable than straight hair, because that is its natural state. I love this movie for shedding light on the issue just as The color purple and Boyz and the hood did. Lets face facts, stop avoiding truths and blaming others… Madam Cj Walker would be ashamed if she knew how much money we made the Koreans and Whites and how less we control of our hair… 🙁

  7. Shut up; all of you. This is truth; people walk around with fake hair and don’t expect people to talk about them. It’s not oppression for people to say black women need to wear their own hair. Weaves and perms make our hair look like white women’s, so naturally people are going to think that we want to be white and not like our own damn hair. No other race walks around with “black hair” because they are proud with what they have. We are the ones that can’t get over slavery, oppression, and the so-called white man on our necks, so we change our hair, speech, and everything else so we can be accepted. We will never be accepted if we are not true to ourselves. So people are completely rt for having negative views on black women because we keep doing stupid racist stuff to ourselves. Dammit.

  8. I agree with you Renee. It should be mentioned that not all black women use weaves, relaxers,etc. on their hair. Not all women who do use these products use them to please white men, women, or anyone else. I feel that Chris Rock seemed to add to the stereotype that all black women do use these products just to please others. That is an untrue generalization. I myself am black and don’t do this. Plus did Chris at all mention how many black men have used various ways to straighten their hair in the past, and some still do? Instead of pointing fingers at black women for disowning their hair, he should have dug deeper by observation.

    Another factor to remember is that some black men and women have stereotyped each other. Not just black women. Some white men and women stereotype each other. All people are people. No matter the race, this happens among many groups of people. It’s not right but it helps show we are all human no matter the race. The stereotyping needs to end from all directions.

    My last point is why do some say a black women should keep her hair natural to go back to her roots? At least in the U.S., I am considered black based on skin color, not on my roots. If I were to focus on my “roots” I would be studying about native Americans, Africans, and Caucasians. Most of us at least in the U.S. are mixed in some way through our roots whether considered black, white,etc. Just because one goes natural doesn’t mean they are focused on their roots. Just because someone relaxes their hair doesn’t mean they are denying their roots. If superficial factors such as appearance show acceptance of roots, just about all of us here deny our roots. Based on this, for me not to deny my roots I would have to have natural hair,wear moccasins, and wear European dresses.

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