The social politics of African-American women and hair straightening are so complex that Chris Rock made an entire documentary about it. The 2009 film, Good Hair (trailer here), argues that black women have come to equate straightened hair with beauty because of the social pressures that come with living in a white-majority, white-dominated country. That may be why the civil rights movement of the 1960s also spawned the "black is beautiful" movement, which encouraged African-American women to not straighten their hair, instead taking pride in their natural, "afro" hairstyles.
Now, fifty years later, the black is beautiful movement and hair-straightening politics have come to Sesame Street. Trinidadian-American blogger Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik, whose blog is called Afrobella and whose "about" page describes her decision to stop straightening her hair, posts a recent Sesame Street clip. The sing-along song, "I love my hair," is performed by a tap-dancing Muppet, clearly representing a young black girl, sing about how much she loves her afro hairstyle.
The simple, lighthearted song appears on the surface to be little more than a young girl singing an ode to her hair. But it's also part of an ongoing argument about what it means to be African-American and an affirmation of the black is beautiful movement, the early proponents of which surely could not have imagined that their message would one day be a part of something as mainstream as Sesame Street.
Yursik writes, "Love the brown muppet, the little fro, and the positive natural hair love. This reminds me of the glory days of Sesame Street, when Roosevelt Franklin was teaching about Africa and singing songs like The Skin I'm In. Empowering and beautiful!"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.