Chris Rock’s documentary, Good Hair, opened Friday to mixed, but frequently positive, reviews. I’m going to take the painful stance of suggesting that’s because there aren’t a lot of black women in the film reviewing community. Good Hair is often funny, fascinating, and raises a few key ideas. What it doesn’t do is offer a cogent, relevant analysis of why black women relax their hair or wear hair extensions — which was supposed to have been the point.
Some background: Rock says he did the film because his daughter came to him one day, upset, that she didn’t have “good hair.” This apparently prompted the comedian to begin an odyssey that took him from the hair salons of New York City to a hair show in Atlanta, from Indian hair-shaving ceremonies, to the Beverly Hills salons that buy the Indian hair. But in all that conversation what you never hear are opposing viewpoints. Nearly everyone in Chris Rock’s movie seems to agree on a few critical ideas (that can happen when you limit your sample). Frankly, as a black woman, I sat through Good Hair with one dominant thought: Who are these people? Their opinions rarely represented my own, or those of anyone I know. I am but one voice in this vast, complicated community, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t say something. Here, a few of the ways Good Hair gets it entirely wrong.
1. Black women do not want to be white.
Sure, you can find some poor soul who pops up on Oprah with deep-seated issues, but for the most part, black women are perfectly happy being black women. A brief history: The idea of “good hair” is one that, historically, has been fraught with racial stigma. For various reasons, black people who looked whiter, like their slave masters (read: frequently, their fathers) had advantages over those who looked more like their African ancestors. The preference didn’t die after slavery, however, in one sense surviving as the debate over “good hair.” “Good hair” was that which was easy to comb, long, and silky.
Like many cultural idiosyncrasies, the notion of “good hair” never died completely, but there isn’t anyone in the black community today who doesn’t see the term as dated, self-loathing, and patently foolish. There isn’t a black woman I know who sits down in a stylist’s chair to get a relaxer because she, as Rock posits, wants to look white. Not one. I have a relaxer. I have one for the same reason that I don’t wear makeup, don’t have a gym membership, and can usually be found in jeans and a Gap tee—I’m lazy. I like getting out of the house in a reasonable amount of time, and don’t cope well with a lot of hassle over what I consider superficial things. So why bother fighting my naturally nappy hair on a daily basis when every 8-10 weeks I can pay someone else to do it? Which brings me to my second point… READ FULL STORY »