I'm Skipping Chris Rock's "Good Hair"

Are you going to go see Chris Rock's mockumentary "Good Hair" this weekend?

When I first heard about the project, I was interested in seeing it. But now I'm pretty sure I'm skipping this one. Rock's attitude, and his flippant comments while on talk shows promoting the film, has turned me off.

I know he's a comedian but I was disappointed when I saw him joking on Oprah a couple weeks ago. His shock that Oprah's hair was her own played into the stereotype that the only time black women have long, thick, beautiful hair is when they're wearing a weave. He actually put his hands in her hair to check for weave tracks! And when he saw a picture of Oprah with natural hair, he called it her "slave" look.

Beyond that, I came away feeling like Rock had skirted around the issue. He was so busy making jokes, he didn't seem to be able to honestly delve into what's really behind black women's use of hair straightening chemicals and hair weaves.

My reluctance to see the film was reinforced this week by his appearance on The View. When he came out on stage, he did the same touching hair thing -- and I asked myself, why does this man feel he has the right to touch these professional women's hair like this?

And then he started talking and I threw up in my mouth:

What's the historical context, Chris Rock? Could a little thing called slavery have anything to do with it? The whole miscegenation, house slave/field slave thing? The racial miasma that's been a part of this nation since forever?

Nope, black women straighten their hair because they get bored easily, want to impress other women and need manageability. Chemicals and weaves are nothing but another personal choice with no racial/cultural implications whatsoever. It has nothing to do with a Eurocentric beauty standard.

So I wonder, if that's all it is, what's the big deal about his little girl wanting to straighten her hair or admiring someone else's straight hair? Why would it bother him...unless it's actually about something else?

I have no hesitation stating that I think Chris Rock's lack of depth on this issue is disappointing. I think the reasons he gave for why the black hair weave/chemical business is a $9 BILLION dollar industry are, quite frankly, total b.s.!

One, I think it's a little disingenuous to dismiss the racial implications simply by saying, "No, black women don't want to be white! It's not about wanting to be white." Saying that is ignoring the big picture. It makes me think Chris Rock has never read Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" before.

It hurts to say it but I think there's a whole lot of black folks who would switch it up if they could. Changing their hair and skin color would be the tip of the iceberg. To be able to not get stalked through stores by the security guard? Be able to catch a cab with no problem? And lets not even get into housing and employment issues!

Two, for something to genuinely be a choice, you have to know what the alternative is and have experience with the alternative. Far too many black women have NO idea what the natural texture of their hair is really like. They've been getting their hair pressed or have been getting kiddie relaxers since their baby hair grew out. Most black women aren't knowing both natural and straight hair options and making a conscious, empowered decision

Besides, if it's just another choice, why is being told your hair is "nappy" seen as such an insult? Why do so many black women say they straighten their hair for the job interview and then wear it natural once they're hired?

Three, that manageability thing is a LIE! My hair's not completely effortless now but it sure as heck was not effortless when I straightened it! When it was straight, I spent more time on my hair every day and every week than I do now, not to mention the unbearable three to five hours in a salon getting it done on the weekends.

Financially, natural hair is the winner, too. I haven't paid a stylist in two and a half years, and I spend a LOT less money on products than I did -- maybe because I don't need a bunch of artificial products to make my hair look healthy.

Did straight hair look good on me? Yes. Does my natural hair look good on me? Heck yeah --I think it looks BETTER!

And as far as weaves go, if weaves are mainly about protecting your hair from constant styling, how come more weaves aren't textured to be like the hair that grows out of the head of most African-American women? How come singers and actresses aren't all wearing weaves that look like natural black hair?
And am I really supposed to laugh at "weave sex"? The thought of such a thing makes me want to cry.

Finally, I think it's crazy sexist of Chris Rock to act like black women just are vapid, vain, bored creatures who have nothing better to do than change up their hair up all the time. From the clips I've seen, his documentary paints us as materialistic idiots who think nothing of plunking down $5K for a new weave -- no historical/racial context subconsciously involved in that decision. We're just bored.

The truth is that black women are compassionate, capable and full of love. We're interesting and interested in plenty of social issues. We do our best in our personal and professional lives, and we triumph despite racism and sexism.

It's fine to be funny and talk about serious things through a humorous lens but if Chris Rock can't even talk about the real root of "good hair" when he's out promoting his film, there's no reason for me to support it with my hard earned "bored" black woman dollars.

Comments

Lisa Johnson said…
You make some great comments here. I had planned on seeing the movie too, but after Chris Rock's appearances I'm not so sure. He seems to want to make a joke out of our hair and it really isn't funny. Maybe after seeing the movie, I'll feel differently. I just don't know what to think. So many of the comments that he made, make me think that if his wife were to go natural that he wouldn't be too happy.
I have no intentions of paying money to see this movie. Even though I've loved Chris Rock for years I think he is misrepresenting the complexity of hair issues with black women. Lately I've come to feel that his disillusionment with his marriage and his wife has affected the way he sees things.

No...I won't be seeing this film.
Lola Gets said…
YES! YES, YES, GOD YES!!! I COMPLETELY cosign this entire post!!!!!

At first I wasnt going to see the flick...then I thought about going to see it as I would any comedy...but then I said nah, I dont feel like paying that much money for that foolishness! Ive got other, much better, things to spend it ok, mkay??

L
Thank you so much for this very nuanced critique. My own blog post was much harsher but I thought you still kept some emotional distance which so far I've not been able to do. I'm still mad! He was back on Oprah today yukking it up while even she joined in mocking the black women who had a problem with his mockumentary. She didn't read my email to Harpo on this that's for sure! Plus he's being sued for copyright infringement for ripping off My Nappy Hair which is a documentary produced by a real-life black woman which offers the nuance and respect he so blatantly lacks. I'm really wondering what's up with Oprah these days. Hanging out with Jay-Z, sanctioning Tyler Perry, Rock and Steve Harvey she really seems to have a huge blind spot for troubled black men who denigrate black women.
Unknown said…
I understand what you are saying, but at the same time this movie isnt aimed at preaching to the converted so to speak. It is aimed at letting people who are still caught in the trap of doing these things get a little perspective in a non-threatening way.
Anonymous said…
When I first saw the trailer, I was a little put off. But like you, after seeing his appearances, there's no way in hell I'm gonna pay to see this foolishness.

First off, Chris Rock has issues with black women. He's always cheating on his wife with white chicks. He's a black man with all the old school issues. He's color struck and hair struck. And if he wants to know why his very little daughter already has internalized issues with her hair, he only need look at his wife, who keeps a weave down her back. And I'm sure if she ever took that weave out and grew out her perm, Chris Rock would have a problem with that. It starts at home. Instead of protecting their girls from trying to emulate a standard of beauty that has nothing to do with them, they are seeing it embraced in their own home.

I have not seen the film, but I thin it makes a mockery of black women and hair issues. "If you see a black woman, run the other way!!". Now what is the point of that. We're so desperate for silky hair that we're a thread to poor little Indian girls. BW are a punchline in this movie.

And what about us naturals? I have a friend who saw a screening and she said we're an afterthought. The idea of natural hair is not even mentioned as an option in this film.

I'm just so sick of black women's hair and bodies being discussed and picked apart for fascination and entertainment purposes. It's disrespectful and it pisses me off. And I'm pissed at Oprah for giving this a platform.
Lili said…
You make many interesting points. Though I live in London I was waiting anxiously to see this. Heaven knows we need someone to honestly address the reasons behind black womens hair choices. I guess warning bells should have gone off as soon as I realised Chris Rock was doing this docu. A leopard never changes his spots. What a shame he took such a potentially enlightening topic and turned it into a farce. Shame on Oprah too for her determination to cling to the mammy, appeaser role. Surely she has made enough money by now! I might give this a miss. Throwing popcorn at the screen in frustration could get me escorted off the premises.
nick said…
I know what you mean about comedians who're more interested in wisecracking than getting to the heart of their subject. I've learnt a lot about the whole black hair issue from you, Liz, thanks! It just seems crazy that so many black women still feel compelled to fake up their hair to satisfy other people's expectations, rather than letting it be. Your hair proves that the natural look is just great.
Liz Dwyer said…
Anali,
Taking a lighthearted approach is fine but it feels like he swerved waaay into the "laughing at" lane and that's not cool. I have that feeling about his wife, too. Would he sit around and tell her that's her "slave" look? Good grief.

Carolyn,
No idea what's going on in his personal life but I say the personal always plays out in public, whether the parties involved admit it or not.

Lola,
It's sad because it's a real missed opportunity -- he could've still made it funny but he could've left the foolishness somewhere else.

Faith,
I just caught the rerun of him on Oprah today and the way they read Shirley's email and made fun of her is NOT cool. I about threw something at my effing TV. What in the world? A lot of disingenuous ish being said. It's not about secrets it's about telling the truth about WHY things actually are the way they are! But at least Oprah said folks should NOT roll up on black women and ask, "Is that a weave?"

By the way, the My Nappy Hair director's suit got tossed out by the judge today. :(

Yahvinah,
I hear you. I just wish there'd be more socio-cultural context and less of the "wow, look at the crazy crap black women do to look good!"

Anonymous,
I have no idea what's up with his personal life although I remember that story about that one woman from. I've seen his family at The Grove here in LA -- I think they were having an argument. I do 100% believe it starts at home and I'm absolutely fascinated that his wife wasn't in the film. All that joking about weave sex... he must know a whole lot about that first hand. If not for my sons I don't know if I would've had the courage to finally cut off my relaxed hair. But I did not want them to feel any shame about what grew out of their own heads or about any aspect of their blackness, so the chemically straightened hair had to go. Absolutely fascinating that going natural is not really explored.

Lili,
We do need some honesty -- sure, the tone doesn't need to be like a funeral, but what happened to preserving folk's dignity? It was very interesting to see black women who were upset about the way they're portrayed just being accused of wanting to be secretive about our hair. No, that's not just it.

Nick,
I've learned a whole lot and thought about the issue more critically in the past few years than ever before -- all because I have kids and I want them to feel good about themselves. When I was in high school and college, wearing my hair natural wasn't even part of the equation. It just wasn't done. It wasn't even on my radar as an option. I hope that's changing for today's young people at least a little bit.
Anonymous said…
Let me get in your hair. I think that we will all agree that there are many forms of social critique and analysis. And I think that we will agree that comedy can be a particularly potent form of critique. Comedy, especially in its venerable African-American tradition, articulates truths that are often inexpressible--painful truths that when soberly expressed tend to shut down the imagination. Within laughter, the incisive comedian opens up space for thought and generates the exchange of ideas. I have not seen CRock's promotional appearances, but I think that at this point, he must be regarded as a legitimate and thoughtful critic of American culture. It seems that, however painful it may be, the subject of black women's hair is ripe for parody. After watching the trailer, it appears to me that the film will expose the absurdity of the grooming practices that so many women are compelled to endure. A superficial reading of this expose takes issue with the portrayal of black women as objects of parody. (Given the history of representations of blackness in American media, this superficial response is justified and maybe it remains the only option for many people.) However, the potential power of the film's critique is overlooked in the knee-jerk response. Through comedy it seems that the film uncovers the tragic absurdity of a *society* which has so painfully stigmatized the "natural" appearance of black human beings. Read Malcolm's book or watch the beginning of Spike Lee's film and you will recognize the application of white-colored hair straightener (on a man) as a symbol of black self-hatred, self-alienation. We may initially understand that self-hatred as an indictment of the black subject, but ultimately we are forced to look beyond--toward root causes.

Why will women endure so much to alter the texture of their hair? Why is it that (so many) black women feel that their natural hair should be altered so that it appears to be more like that of a white woman? I think that these rhetorical questions are being asked implicitly in Rock's film. He is not a didact who can simply assert that historical racism has cultivated an insidious form of self-alienation in black people. (And, if he did, who would listen?) He is a comedian working with the tools of his trade. We cannot ask the comedian to renounce his methods of shock and truth-speaking when he comes upon a subject that pricks.

--Klee Shay
Anonymous said…
Please take a moment to check out my documentary film BLACK HAIR

It is free at youtube. 6 parts including an update from London, England.

It explores the Korean Take-over of the Black Beauty Supply and Hair biz..

The current situation makes it hard to believe that Madame C.J. Walker once ran the whole thing.

I am not a hater, I am a motivator.

Plus I am a White guy who stumbled upon this, and felt it was so wrong I had to make a film about it.

self-funded film, made from the heart.

Can it be taken back?

Link
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p96aaTSdrAE
Tracy said…
Here's a clip from a q&a after one of his screening. The first question is about why the film doesn't talk about natural hair. It starts at about :40 seconds into the clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK95rxrCMbI&feature=related

Isn't it interesting how when the man says "natural", Chris just seems perplexed. Amazing. Apparently, natural hair isn't enough of a joke to talk about. Why talk about something that won't allow you to exploit black female insecurity!
Monie said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynglo said…
Before I get started, let me say that I did not see any of Chris Rock's promotional appearances. I did however go to see the movie and felt that it was insightful on some levels. What is most interestng to me is that this movie was sparked by a comment that was made by Chris Rock's daughter .

I really think that we need to look very closely and seriously at what is happening with our children. I have two girls (ages 6 and 8) and I am concerned with what they feel beautiful is and how that image is affecting opinions they have about themselves. They are at a school where they are indeed the minority. The television shows that are appropriate for them to watch don't show main characters that look like them. When they read kid magazines (Nickelodean, Pixie, etc.) there is page after page of people who don't remotely resemble them.

Why haven't we done more to insist that our children see more images that look like them? Even our own "black television" stations (BET, TVOne) don't run shows that are appropriate and positive for our young children. Are shows like Flavor of Love and the other ghetto reality shows the only original shows that can be created? Watching shows like that are even more damaging than having no media representaiton. What happened to magazines like Ebony Jr.? Are African-American adults the only ones who can appreciate magazines that relate closely to our culture? Might the young people (children, teens, etc.) also appreciate this?

Now, let me be clear. I don't feel the media should be responsible for instilling positive self-images in my girls' minds. That primary responsibility rests with me and my husband. I do, however, feel that we as an African American community must do everything possible to ensure that our children develop the character and self-esteem needed for our kids to develop into responsible people that have self-efficacy and a passion for making this world a better place. This development will not come by giving them more material things. It will only come through the adults working purposefully to provide opportunities and experiences that allow for the children to embrace their rich heritage.

One thing I know for sure. If we as adults don't start spending more time developing our children and creating opportunities that set them up for success, we will never be able to change the way we are viewed by the general public and, most importantly, the way we view ourselves.
Liz Dwyer said…
Klee Shay,
I think you're right that comedy can articulate truths in a way that a more serious forum can't -- and Rock did say in one of the many interviews he did that his main objective was to get laughs. But I worry that parts of this may cross that fine line between comedy and mockery, and I'm not OK with what black women go through with this being mocked.

Anonymous/Aron,
Thanks for sharing your links - I watched those on YouTube a couple of years ago -- I remember being SO saddened by what I was seeing, and they were one of the final motivators in my own journey to stop straightening my hair.

I think the business of products for black women's hair being made by black folks is happening for the most part in the natural hair care product industry. But whether Carol's Daughter or Anita Grant decide to sell to a larger supplier remains to be seen.

Tracy,
Wooow... yeah, natural hair is just not "entertaining" enough -- only for Soledad O'Brien. Sigh, thanks for the clip.

Cynglo,
OK, you need a blog -- in fact I'm reposting your entire comment because I think more people need to read it. I 100% agree with your concerns about your girls -- I feel the same about my boys.
BlackLiterature said…
What did you think of Whoopi's and Sherri's comments on The View? I thought Joy and Barbara were more "honest" but I am curious as to your thoughts.
Liz Dwyer said…
Black Literature,
I felt like Barbara and Joy were making sense, trying to get to what this is about at the root, and Whoopi and Sherri were SO quick to jump up and be all, "No it's not about race at ALL!" I started wanting to throw stuff at the TV.
BlackLiterature said…
Thanks. I'll probably see the movie ( i think) but I was disappointed in the appearance on the View. Based on that show, it would be a no for me. I've been Black pretty much all my life (smile) and while I understand that straight hair is "easier" to manage(tell that to a person with a bad relaxer experience) I know that Black women collectivly have hair issues that go beyond "easier to style". To dismiss that as "wanting to be white" or just to dismiss in it general was just silly to me. I thought Rock seemed to be trying to walk a line that diden't offend Whoopi and Sherri based on their commentary.
BlackLiterature said…
Hit send to soon.

My point is that I hope the actually film shows more depth than his appearances. Something in him shuddered over his daughter's comments. and it wasn't her desire for different styling options. ;-)
Liz Dwyer said…
Black Literature,
Sorry I didn't see your reply till just now! I felt like he was trying to avoid offending Sherri & Whoopi, too. And I couldn't figure out what the truth was about. If he's genuinely trying to tell the truth, why should he care?
Anonymous said…
I'm with you. I hate Rock and now, I hate him more than ever. I will never pay for anything of his evermore.

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