Nothing unites black woman of all ages, sizes, and shades like the obsession with black hair. This week Blue Ivy Carter, age 2, joined the sisterhood when a joke Change.org petition called on Beyoncé to brush her daughter's hair. "This matter has escalated to the child developing matted dreads and lint balls," the petition, which has more than 2,100 signatures, reads. "Please let's get the word out to properly care for Blue Ivy hair."
The petition's creator said it was a joke and "people just need to breath and chill out." But several, mostly black, commenters agreed with the petition. People do not chill out when it comes to black hair. Refinery 29, The Cut, and other sites commented on the fact that this is why parents keep their kids out tabloids, but that's not the real issue here. The Root's Yesha Callahan put it best when she wrote, "basically, if you’re Beyoncé and Jay Z, you’re damned if you do Blue Ivy’s hair, and you’re damned if you don’t." If Beyoncé relaxed her daughter's hair, it'd be borderline child abuse. If she did a natural protective style, as Callahan notes, "the natural-hair commanders complaining about how much damage that can cause to her hairline."
Basically, if you're a black woman you can rest assured that someone will always have an opinion about your hair. Not what it looks like, but what it symbolizes: how it reflects upon black people, black self-hatred, black self-love, the natural hair movement, the rejection of unattainable European standards of beautiful, racism, classism, texturism (is your curl 4C Africa kinky or a manageable 3B?) Some examples:
- In 2009, Malia Obama dared to go to Rome in natural twists. The conservative grassroots activists at Free Republic referred to her as ghetto trash, unfit to represent America.
- In 2012, black women criticized gold medal winning Gabby Douglas because her relaxed hair (and human hair ponytail) didn't look good enough.
- Gawker explained in 2012 that exercising is more important than not messing up your straightened/relaxed hair, after a study found that many black women are sometimes reluctant to sweat out their straightened hairstyles.
- In 2013 USA Today reported on a wave of schools banned natural hairstyles. Why? "Historically natural hair has been viewed as dirty, unclean, unkempt, messy," Leila Noelliste, a natural hair blogger commented.
- Earlier this year the military came under fire for banning twists and other natural hairstyles. “They were saying it had to be neat and couldn’t be unkempt," BriGette McCoy, a former Army specialist, said of her commanders. "To them, neat and kempt meant straightened."
- A personal example: I promised myself I wouldn't relax my hair ever again after a few bad experiences as a kid, but when I moved to New York my aunt convinced me I should especially given my, as my aunt put it, "Kunta Kinte" texture.
"For black women, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Ingrid Banks, an associate professor of black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told The New York Times in 2009. “If you’ve got straight hair, you’re pegged as selling out. If you don’t straighten your hair,” she said, “you’re seen as not practicing appropriate grooming practices.” Making fun of a baby's post-Hampton's private jet hair is as dumb as it is pathetic, but it's not the first or the last time someone will comment on Blue Ivy's hair. But Beyoncé knows that — people have been obsessed with the naturalness of her hair for years.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.