The Archives

To Be Black in 2014: The Struggle with Self-Identity

                                                   (Photo by Keturah Ariel)
In a world where racism still exists and can be subtle, yet recognizable, there are preconceived and stereotypical notions African Americans face. Having President Obama, the first Black president in the United States history as leader is a huge milestone for America, but Blacks still have it just as hard to prove themselves successfully and academically. Although there have been some advancement, African Americans still experience diminished self-worth due to an ingrained sense of inferiority that is exhibited through the Doll Test Experiment. Later in life this mentality is reinforced due to the inclination to conform to American beauty standards, specifically hair. Finally, African Americans have been mocked in the media and the arts with modern forms of blackface. These three examples provide ample evidence of why the success of figures like President Barack Obama and others remains bittersweet.
            The doll test which is an experiment given to children with two dolls presented. There is a black doll and a white doll and the kids have to tell which one they perceive is a nice or a bad doll based on the doll’s skin color. In tests spanned over decades, black children would deem the white doll as nice( presumably because the skin tone is lighter and fair), and the black doll bad even though when asked which doll resembled the black children the most, the black “bad” doll would be picked. This experiment was created by Mamie Phipps Clark and her husband Kenneth, both noted black psychologists. Mamie Phipps Clark’s life work was based on self- esteem and self-concept in Afro-American children. With this mindset already established in these children, they are deeming their race as mediocre. The fact that these children can decipher a person’s character from their skin color is an issue blacks will have to fight that barrier.
             Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair invites us into the world of hair within the African American community. Hair is an important social issue to women of color and Rock, being a comedian, explores this phenomenon light heartedly throughout the documentary as he travels across country to find why African American women put a great deal of effort into their hair and spend copious amounts to achieve hairstyles. With Chris Rock’s perspective on the conversation of Good Hair, he opens the topic about hair in the black community. However, with Chris Rock using his platform as a celebrity and entertainer to talk about African American women’s hair, it does not express his severity on the issue. In fact, the documentary is a mockery about black hair.
The topic of having good, fine hair is originally brought to Rock’s attention when one of his daughters ask a question concerning her hair. With Rock’s daughter not being born with having silky, soft hair, but rather course hair it sparks Rock’s motive to pursue this documentary. By being the comedian Rock is famously known for, exploring a deep topic as the discussion about good hair clashes with Rock. Neal A. Lester’s “Nappy Edges and Goldy Locks: African American Daughters and the Politics of Hair” mentions Lester’s daughter, Jasmine who is a target herself on the “good hair” fiasco. Lester’s daughter is biracial and has soft, curly hair and she constantly experiences people, black and white, touching her hair. Lester states, “While complimenting, whites almost always impulsively touched her hair, presumably to feel if its texture is more like her dad’s or her mom’s.” Lester’s young daughter, even at her gentle and young age, is already placed in a high pedal stool because of the texture of her hair. She will probably grow up being envied by others who, too long for her hair texture and will look at her mane as admiration and guide to achieve their hair like Jasmine’s. For two different brief moments, Rock interviews young school age girls on their feelings about getting relaxers (chemically alters a hair’s texture) but instead of totally asking questions to the girls that will stimulate a deep discussion, it switches to funnier and lighter scenes. Rock misses his chance. Lester’s daughter does not need to get a relaxer for her hair, but young black girls, like the ones that Rock interviews, do so to try to have their hair in similarities as Jasmine’s.
But Rock’s portrayal of African American women is entirely wrong in his documentary and white America in the sense that all black women’s goals are to obtain “good” hair with relaxers. Rock’s ignorance in this aspect of the documentary hurts the black community because Blacks always have to prove themselves with Caucasians and it’s like a backhand slap in the face for their history. Not only does Rock interview young girls in the documentary but he also asks several high profiled celebrity females and also regular women he meets. Alynda Wheat’s article “Good ‘Hair?’ Hardly. How Chris Rock gets it wrong tackles the impression left on viewers who do not agree with Rock’s documentary. Wheat says “Nearly everyone in Chris Rock’s movie seems to agree on a few critical ideas that can happen when you limit your sample)… Their opinions rarely represented my own, or those of anyone I know.” The celebrities opinions coincide with Rock’s views and one may sense that the way he prose the question is meant to tie into his beliefs on the matter. The questions are extremely broad and are not meant to go further in depth but to give a little of enough insight before another joke is told.
A point that Lester makes in his writing is that many children stories and American literature depicts the whole concept of beauty in appearance and hair. Lester uses the popular stories of Rapunzel and Goldilocks’ ideal image and how that crosses over to the black community. Hair companies and commercials aim towards little black girls and their mothers to purchase relaxers and straighteners to obtain good and manageable hair. Rock weakens this serious issue by not exploring all sides; not once did Rock mention that black women may get relaxers as a preference from having their hair natural. The documentary gives an unpleasant view on relaxers and the hair industry for black women.
 For Rock to insulate throughout the entire documentary that the reason black women go through extreme measures for their hair is “to be white” and that accusation is outlandish. Saying this comment throughout the entire documentary can have one feeling insulted. Again, a viewer may feel offended by Rock’s implication about getting relaxers to look and be another race. Rock even goes to a scientist about the exact ingredients in relaxers and uses different experiments to test. His purpose in the experiment is to see the harsh impact the chemical had on items like a soda can. Rock fails to mention that not all of relaxers are composed of that particular harsh chemical that can cause extreme burn, or that relaxers are not lasted on a person’s head for a long duration of time. Getting the remarks of the scientist about his thoughts of women using that chemical on their hair (oblivious to the actual amount is actually used to compose the substance) lets the viewer see that Rock is being bias. In fact, the scientist asks Rock why would they (black women) put the chemical on their head and his response is “to be white.”
Additional tactics that Rock does throughout the film as he gets insight from women is to find out how African American men feel on this subject. The discussions with these men are based in the barbershop, where men can be as candid and politically incorrect as possible. It’s the kitchen table talk amongst men and Rock uses that setting to have the men let their guards down about dealing with black women’s hair. Again, another ploy. Their responses to everything Rock brings up or the scenarios he suggests about black women and their necessity for hair is not thoughtful whatsoever. Rock even asks at one point if any of the men have ever touched a black women’s hair/weave. This automatically leads to a comedic uproar full of fits and laughter.
Chris Rock’s documentary called Good Hair brings laughter and fun to audiences all over. The conversation of good hair stems from Rock’s daughter curiosity about her own hair texture. African Americans do not have the same texture as any other race, and with this Rock’s journey to explore the topic cuts out any seriousness intended. The hair show, barbershop talks, and celebrities statements does nothing for the documentary. Funny, yes. Serious, negative.
Works Cited
Cherry, K. (n.d.). Mamie Phipps Clark Biography. In Retrieved December 4, 2013
Rock, C. (Narrator). Stilson, J. (Director). (2009). Good Hair [Online video]. United States: HBO films. Retrieved December 4, 2013
Wheat, A. (2009, October 12). "Good 'Hair?' Hardly. How Chris Rock gets it wrong." [Electronic version]. Entertainment Weekly.
Lester, N. A. (n.d.). Nappy Edges and Goldy Locks: African-American Daughters and the Politics of Hair (pp. 1-10). Retrieved December 4, 2013
Lal, S. (2002). Giving children security: Mamie Phipps Clark and racialization of child psychology. American Psychologist, 57(1), 20. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.57.1.20
History of psychology: the contributions of Kenneth B. and Mamie Phipps Clark. (2002). American Psychologist, 57(1), 19.