Claiming back our hair-itage

by Lian OkolieFeb 16th, 2020

Claiming back our hair-itage

I picked this track because I feel the lyrics speak to some of the thoughts I express in the article.

Decoding your hair type can be confusing especially if like me you have several different textures which all have to look cohesive when you style your hair. The tool I used was Andre Walker's hair type chart. The Andre Walker hair classification system, more here as I found out, is the system which a lot of us use to categorise our hair.

Though this can be a very useful tool, there are many who frown upon it. Which is understandable when you consider the fact that black hair is just one of the many ways black people have been divided dating back to slavery. Slave owners having mixed race babies with their slaves resulting in lighter, straighter haired and in some cases white children who were still considered black and therefore still slaves. But there was a difference, they had privileges, they got to work in the house and not in the fields. Their work wasn’t as strenuous because they weren’t dark with type 4 hair.

Even now Being dark skinned with afro hair you’re still considered less than. Someone who is lighter and/or has straighter hair will always be placed above you, considered prettier. Living with that is enough to drive anyone insane. It answers some of the why’s I asked myself in a previous post How my hair impacted how I took care of my daughter's hair. I did not realise how much of an effect seeing all that had on me. It was all subconscious. I think no matter who you are it has always been there in your subconscious. “If I’m dark skinned with my coily hair I’m not as beautiful or as deserving as that light skin curly haired chick over there or the one I see on Tv and in the music videos” where I barely see anyone who looks like me. To my light skinned sisters,” I know your fine” what I’m saying is as a dark skinned sister “so am I”. We are all beautiful.

In the last few years more dark skinned queens have started popping up sporadically… eg. Viola Davis, Lupita Nyongo both of whom I respect and love to see in the media, but is that enough? Am I supposed to be content with seeing the same handful of people that I see myself in over and over again and believe we are truly making progress?

Yes, fine, 10 years ago someone like Lena Waithe would not have been given a contract to write and produce a movie with: cast approval,  final cut approval and the integrity of her script intact (checkout Queen and Slim if you haven’t already) But that isn’t enough progress for me.

Well you could say black is black regardless of complexion. But even in that broader sense have we really made any progress. Are we being heard, seen, or appreciated?

The Oscars?….. don’t get me started…. Too late

‘The Oscars’, which took place the other day are the barometer by which the world critiques and judges movies. It’s the holy grail for movie makers, cast and crew.

How much progress have we made there? In its’ 91 year history how far have we come?

Do you remember the ‘Moonlight’ debacle (yes I said debacle, it seems fitting) What kind of mistake was that to make, “best film goes to Lala land” can’t you read? Or you thought you wouldn't be corrected? Hello!

Then there’s Greenbook, how can a movie about a black classical pianist have the black actor cast in the supporting role? Why do we so often have to be the supporting cast.

Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to be nominated for and win an Oscar. She won for best supporting actress in 1939 for playing a maid, a role she played on numerous occasions. Well that’s the only mainstream role she ever played or could play at the time, though she did make her mark by playing  assertive , no nonsense taking black women. At the time there was division, people were happy but some criticized her for playing such roles, but what other roles could you expect her to play? Should she have stopped acting? Her win was seen as a breakthrough, as the beginning of something , showing hope for the black cultures future in film… fast forward to 2020, what’s the difference?  Is there any? Did a substantial breakthrough occur? From Hattie to now have we actually been fairly represented?

Hattie won best supporting actress for ‘Gone with the wind ‘in 1939

Next black Oscar win was 24 years later in 1963 when Sidney Poitier won best actor for ‘Lillies in the field.’

In the 80’s black wins became more frequent, I say frequent, 8 winners, 7 of which were for best sound/best song with only 1 for best supporting actor, Louis Gosset Junior in 1982 for ‘An Officer and a gentleman’.

Sidney Poitier’s best actor win in 1963 was the one and only until the noughties, when we got 4 best actor/actress wins with Hallie Berry in 2001 for ‘Monsters ball’, Denzel Washington in 2002 for ‘Training day’, Jamie Fox in 2004 for ‘Ray’ and Forest Whittaker in 2006 for ‘The last king of Scotland’. It started to feel like change was in the air, but that hope soon fizzled out.

Up until 2020 there have been 40 black winners in the 91 year history of the Oscars, including 5 for best actor/actress and 13 for best Supporting actor/actress.

This award season, several actors, including Joaquin Phoenix, have voiced their dismay over the issue of diversity in film.

Yara Shahidi also made a very impactful statement on the ‘Tamron Hall show’ she said “I am not discouraged … what it means is that we can no longer use ‘their’ metric for success.”

This, I think is a very good response. How long should we wait to be included? Actually, why are we still being excluded, seen as ‘different’ and made to feel less than? Bear in mind the fact that you see me as ‘different’ does not automatically mean that you are better than me. If you want to see me as different or inferior based on my hair texture and my skin tone or even my sexual preference after all these years…  I feel like how long should we have to keep fighting this ignorance?

Bottom line is, we need to have more of a community spirit and support each other. Follow your dreams which are all achievable no matter what you have been told. Build so one can tell you ‘NO’ instead, you show what we can do and lead by example demonstrating what inclusivity can do. Understand I’m not saying for us by us period. I’m saying BY US, FOR US to grow while leading by example and being inclusive. I have no interest in keeping the divide alive, those walls need to be broken down.

Tyler Perry did something last year that impressed and motivated me in so many ways. He launched Tyler Perry Studios, which is 100% self-owned. The studio is bigger than all the other major studios combined. Yes we can! The white patriarchy has yet to realise that we are all one and the same. They maintain these walls of division like they’re trying to keep us in the times of segregation so we remember ‘our place’. We need to create a new narrative a way for ourselves to keep moving forward, bigger and stronger, showing that we are more than capable. No more cries of, include me! see me! But rather, as a community we create our own metric for success, which will express diversity thereby promoting inclusion.

In closing my decision to go natural this year came at the end of my long overdue journey to find, appreciate and love myself. Expecting society to take you on that journey is a waste of time. Determine what the definition of beauty is to you and feel your beauty, know your worth . Do not let anyone or anything dictate your worth. They have no idea.

I just found this Video of Rihanna at the Naacp awards 2020 and it reiterates and expands on some of my thoughts in this article.

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