I love being Black.
For real. It’s pretty freaking awesome.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that this has been a struggle for me in the past; particularly surrounding the comfortable expression of my Blackness. In this ever changing world, the comfort of one’s expression can wax and wane, depending on what’s hot/not, taboo/trendy, social media friendly/attractive blah blah blah…
I didn’t say being Black wasn’t exhausting… I simply said it’s awesome.
I revisited this concept of society’s comfort level of Black expression when an article crossed my news feed. The article was about a Texas teenager who was banned from his own graduation due to having dreadlocks. So, of course the key words that drew me into the story were: Texas. Banned. Dreadlocks.
I mean… I live in Texas and I have dreadlocks... I was invested!
It seems that this young man’s school had a dress code that limited the length of male hair. In order to comply with said dress code, he would tie up his locks and ensure his hair remained above his earlobes and out of his eyes. He had worn his hair in locks since he was in 7th grade. Now, in his SENIOR YEAR, the school’s policy changed overnight!
No seriously… it was basically overnight. Dude left for Christmas break cool and came back to the news that he was suddenly out of dress code and would not be able to attend his graduation if he didn’t cut his locks. Sure hair grows fast, but NO ONE’S hair grows THAT damn fast.
Of course this angered me. Just last year, in the Year of our Lord 2019, California became the 1st state to ban hair discrimination. HAIR. DISCRIMINATION. Y’all… Do you hear how stupid that sounds? Have we run out of things to be upset about, so we have now moved on to hating people cause their HAIR is different? And it's now so bad states are now passing LAWS about it??? (California, New York & New Jersey)
It's not like I don't know that hair discrimination has always been a thing. Ever since the Europeans met the Africans… (and when I say “met” I mean the brutal colonization and enslavement of a good portion of their populous…. It’s just that “met” is shorter, and I’m working on word count, remember??) Europeans have always set the standard of beauty and for years, it solely revolved around them. Everything catered and pandered to them; and given the racist nature of our country, they would be less prone to buying something that was not also represented by them.
Even when Madame C.J. Walker developed hair products for Black women, it initially was to help their hair to become like that of the Europeans (straight); and therefore, more socially acceptable. During the Civil Rights movement, the afro was associated with embracing one’s Blackness and rejecting the idea that the European-American way was the only way; while chemically relaxed hair was seen as attempting to conform to society. That thinking never went away, and I get that... But it's gotten to the point where laws are having to be written to allow Black folks to wear our hair styled in its natural state; without the fear of losing our jobs or being banned from our high school graduation... you know... without the side of discrimination.
Anyway, going back to the article, I came across a comment on the post that really struck me as profound. We are being policed for the way our hair grows out of our head NATURALLY. We are being discriminated against, not for changing our hair in some wild or outlandish way, but for hair styles that only hair like ours can pull off naturally, with zero chemical enhancements. Our hair is kinky, it’s coily, it can be curly one day, or straight the next. It can be molded into cool styles with zero hairspray and mousse. It’s so funny how many times many of us, (Not that I speak for Black people as a collective. PLEASE. They’d pick someone much better than me) have been told by White folks, “I love your hair! I wish mine could do that!”
You know what, Shelly? WE wish we could interact with “authority figures” and not be afraid that our skin-tone will trigger some sort of fear and get us killed… But sure, my hair is cool too.
See how even in 2020, we are still having stupid fights over our basic rights to let our hair do what it naturally does without being declared as abominable by a society run by people whose hair can’t do it unless they use enough product to punch a hole in the ozone layer and then not listen when scientist tell them that because of said hole in the ozone layer, the world is burning…?
*gasp* Okay, maybe that was too far… I’ll reel it in.
Anyway, as I mulled the case of the young man from Texas around in my brain to figure out what I wanted to say about it, another article crossed my path. This time it was about Tyler Perry.
Full disclosure: I USED to like Tyler Perry's stuff. I was introduced to his work through some church folks. As I mentioned being raised Seventh-Day Adventist, there was not a lot of options of entertainment on any given Saturday. I was raised not watching TV or doing anything secular from sundown Friday night til sundown Saturday. (Sure I could watch Tom and Jerry beat up on each other in a long standing rivalry that did NOTHING for the propaganda of an interspecies feud between cats and mice, as long as it was turned off as the day died in the West on Friday.) That was the Lord’s time. During that time, any entertainment had to ALSO be related to Jesus. That was all fine and good when I was a kid. Usually after church and food, we napped and when I woke up, the sun was down and I could watch TV. But as I got older, naps became less desirable and boredom often consumed my Sabbath afternoons.
Enter Tyler Perry and his sassy, “cussin’” (that totally belongs in quotes, cause damn and hell ain’t really cussing), maternal and wise character, Madea. As crazy as the character was, in the end, it all circled back to something church-related; while also being funny, engaging, and relatable.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no problems with Tyler Perry's catapult from a gem in the Black community to damn near Hollywood royalty, rubbing elbows with Oprah and whatnot. I’m all for that! (Hell, if I’m being honest, I hope it happens to me one day!) But, I will say that when he moved Madea from the stage to the screen, it lost something for me. It wasn’t even about the religious undertones that were more overt in the stage plays. I feel like it was just better on stage. The singing aspect of the musicals that most of his plays were, brought a sense of emotion to each role. I mean, if we’re being honest, Tyler isn’t the BESTEST writer out there, but with the rawness of the actors, many of who started with him, their singing voices (shout out to Pepsi Riley!), and the emotion that brought made the story better overall. As that is lost in the screen adaptations, you’re left with an often stereotypical and campy movie that you try to make better by getting super big names to fill the roles.
Basically I got nothing against Tyler Perry, I just don’t really vibe with his product anymore. For me he’s up there with the Reality Television shows. I understand people like drama so messy and loud that it's cringey and campy... but I’m just not one of those people.
I heard on a podcast that Mr. Perry brags about the fact that he doesn’t have a writers room and he writes everything he produces himself. I also think perhaps part of why all of his shows and movies seem the same to me; it’s the same writer with no other perspective. After he built this large studio in Atlanta on the ground of an old plantation and then inked his deal with Netflix, it would have been nice to see him reach out and bring in more “Tyler Perry wannabes” coming up. Get other voices out there that wouldn't be given the chance otherwise. Be someone's Oprah. Ya got a whole studio! Why not?
Anyway, a few days after reading the story about the young man and his school giving him grief over his dreadlocks, I stumbled onto another article where Tyler Perry responded to some of the criticisms he’s receiving in his new Netflix movie: “A Fall From Grace.” Besides the run-of-the-mill feedback I saw about it, a reoccurring criticism was about wigs: quality, presentation and consistency. (Apparently, at one point in this movie, a wig changed mid-scene.)
Mr. Perry's response to the wig critiques didn’t sit well with me. He basically said he doesn’t want to spend the time and/or money on the hair for his movies. It's just not a priority for him. I would assume his take on this is due to the fact that as the writer of the movies, his vision is not about the character’s hair, but the story. As a writer myself, I understand that to an extent.
What bothered me is the fact that he thinks hair doesn’t matter. This is a movie put out in the SAME YEAR as a kid is being told he can’t attend his own graduation unless he cuts his dreadlocks in a blatantly targeted act from a high school.
But hair doesn’t matter…
Black folks have been fighting for representation in the entertainment world since entertainment developed its own atmosphere and orbit and became a "world." We are STILL fighting for representation. While I’m super happy and proud of Tyler Perry’s accomplishments as a Black man who brought an aspect of Blackness into a mainstream society, and this continual representation in his projects; I have a problem with the idea that he doesn’t think full representation is important.
Ask ANY Black woman you come across and I GUARANTEE you that the majority of them will tell you that their hair is important. (And the ones who don't will probably follow up with, "I got a whole mess of wigs.") Most Black women have horror stories of a hot comb, a relaxer that burned their scalp, or how they cleared her whole day because that's how long she's finna be at the beauty shop. We don't do 1-2 hours and you're done, honey.
Ask ANY Black man, and the majority can talk about their current or former barber shop, and if you going who to ask for, and whose chair to avoid, and who will put a plug in your head if you make him laugh too hard…
Hair matters in the Black community, Mr. Perry.
It matters to a young man who was faced with not being able to attend his graduation because his school has deemed his hair style as offensive or unconventional. It’s only atypical to people who don’t have hair like ours. Perhaps for some White people, dreadlocks are associated with marijuana, dirty hair, or some other unprofessional light because that’s all they’ve seen or had presented to them. What if they just saw them regularly in a board meeting for a Fortune 500 company? Or even a Fortune 500 company in a movie or TV show? What if they saw a young person with dreadlocks in an after school special and the weed is actually being offered to THEM, instead of the other way around?
Whoa, I just said After School Special… Yeah, I’m old.
My point: Representation can help eliminate discrimination. But the representation should be proper and not stereotypical or deemed unimportant. It should be as accurate as you can get, to show others different facets of our community.
Yes, even down to the hair.