Twice recently black hair has shown up unexpectedly on television in interesting ways.
First, on "Reed Between the Lines" Traci Ellis-Ross and her head full of curlies tried to teach her TV daughter a lesson when the daughter straightens her hair. Initially, the straightening is about a role in a play; they give her a knotty wig to wear that looks terrible, so she decides to flat-iron her own hair instead of wearing the wig because the character is supposed to have long, flowing hair. But when her crush sees her and compliments her, she decides that she should wear it straight all the time. Ellis-Ross finds the daughter just before she applies a home relaxer and tries to get her to see the error of changing something she likes about herself in the name of pleasing some guy. Then a rather "Cosby Show"-esque skit ensues when both parents pretend to be a 1950s-ish June Cleaver, man-pleasing couple. The daughter's crush is over for dinner and seems to think this kind of man-catering is a great idea, at which point Malcolm Jamal Warner (just realized that these people have a lot of names--Anna Maria Horsford is on the show, too!) takes him into the kitchen to correct his ideas about gender. Eventually, the daughter just decides that she likes her hair and starts wearing it curly again, telling crush boy to like it or leave it. It was a surprising way to engage black women and hair. Hmmmm.
The second instance was even more surprising. Olivia on "The Waltons" (which my family has renamed "Mommy's favorite show!) is bent on making a change in her mundane, routined life. She settles on changing her hair and gets hooked up to one of those hair-curling monstrosities that you only see in books--with a thousand hooks and cords that descend from the ceiling and look like they would rip every hair out one-by-one. Unfortunately, she hates the permanent wave that results and her whole family laughs at her. So she goes over to Birdie's house because she's heard that her people know how to straighten curly hair. Well, Birdie laughs at her, too, and tells her that the women in her family don't know nothing 'bout straightening no hair because they've always worn it natural. I was pleased at the shout out for natural hair, even in the 1920s, and kind of glad that the one black person on Walton's mountain didn't end up, in this instance, simply serving the random needs of this family. But it was also kind of funny to me that Olivia seemed so desperate to learn the mysterious ways of black folks' hair.
As usual, I don't really have a take on these moments, but it's interesting to me that black women's hair is so pervasive an issue that it finds its way into stories all over the place.
3 months ago