When it comes to black women, there are two rules that will always stand the test of time. First, don’t put your finger in our face (it never ends well). Second, don’t mess with our hair; like ever. Specifically, do not get it wet without proper consent, do not let me leave the hair salon with it looking anything other than spectacular, do not pass cornrows off as the new spring trend, and don’t you dare whitewash the experience of being a black women with black hair, particularly when we’ve been your primary consumer since forever. Simple enough, right.
Well apparently not to the great minds at SheaMoisture. Earlier this week the company went viral in the worst of ways when it released a video featuring testimonials of “hair hate” from four women, one a woman of color and three Caucasian. None your everyday, round the way black women with kinky, curly tresses, because surely those types of women don’t experience this apparent hair hate, hair envy and every other imaginable hair story.
No shade to the red heads of the world but your woes of having burnt-orange hair will never compete with the trails and tribulations of a black girl enduring the remainder of the school day following swim day in gym class, or wondering why she can’t toss her hair in a mess bun at night sans any protective covering like the rest of her white friends. Run through the six with those woes. And no disrespect to the cutie, brown young woman featured in the ad, but she’s about a 2B on the hair spectrum, on her kinkiest day, so in reality the video failed us at hello.
Following the PR fiasco, SheaMositure has since apologized, saying they “really f-ed this one up.” That’s cool, I guess but for many women of color the damage is done and I suspect will remain done for quite some time. Sure #AllHairMatters but when you’ve spent the majority of your life on a quest for the perfect moisturizer and finally find a product made for us and by us that seemingly gets it right, and then they get it so wrong, it’s the worst. Not I tripped in front of my class the worst, but I moaned the wrong name during sex type of worst.
Maybe if this was Pantene, Garnier, Paul Mitchell or another general market product that was not intentionally created to address the hair needs of women of color I’d be more sympathetic. But Shea Moisture? In the hair care family, the Shea Moisture brand is basically that one cool auntie who always comes through with spot-on macaroni (you know, the slightly burnt around the edges kind). Now imagine at the next cookout auntie decides to use feta cheese and Bow Tie noodles. Who told you to do that? It was fine the way it was. There was no need to switch the formula. Well that’s Shea Moisture. The product was fine. The
whiter *cough* wider audience they so desperately crave was fine as well. Oh, and we the black women, your core consumer who built your company and are the sole reason you remain on a Target shelf, we were fine too; fine with finding solace in the fact that we had another brand who understood, not just our tresses, but also our story. Well, so we thought.
Whether fried, dyed, laid to the side or in a friggin’ ponytail stacking Olympic medals, for some reason the world can’t seem to figure out what to do with black hair. While Shea Moisture is the most recent example of a company or person’s inability to understand our roots, they weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last. From model nightmares of hair stylists not knowing how to navigate black hair (I present exhibit X) to employers banning culturally-relevant hairstyles such as locs and braids because their Jennifer Aniston whipped minds can’t process a twist-out so therefore they deem it unprofessional; for some reason black hair is a universal anomaly.
Big hair may not care but black hair sure does. We care that the world continues to see our hair as a ninth wonder, some mystic being arising from our scalp unlike anything that has ever roamed the earth and guaranteed to be studied by scientists for decades to come. Yes, we’re filled to the brim with black girl magic, but come on. There’s no Houdini riddles to unlock here. It’s hair, it’s tied to our roots, figuratively and literally, and to understand it is to understand us.
When did understanding black hair become more complicated than finding the rationale in a Tyrese quote? It’s hair. Don’t touch it, don’t over-process it, don’t send me to the shower without a shower cap, don’t have critical conversations about it without me at the table, and whatever you do, don’t come for my edges. Follow those instructions and we’re good on most days.
Black hair does care.
We care that the Kardashians continue to rock cornrows as if they originated in Calabasas but yet and still these women can’t seem to make their way to a Black Lives Matter rally. We care that Rachel Dolezal thought she could sport Senegalese Twists and no one would notice. We care that Olivia Pope only joins #TeamNatural when she’s in extreme chill mode. We care that we have to calmly explain to our white college roommate why we wrap our hair at night and why she bet not ever touch our silk scarf. We care that nappy connotes negativity. And we care that a company like Shea Moisture, whose Liberian-born founder Richelieu Dennis, built the brand on the loyalty of black women, many of who relied on the product to rid them of their “hair hate,” now seeks a wider audience that seemingly neglects the very consumer that gave his product a sturdy platform to even appeal to larger audiences. In the words of Stephanie Tanner, how rude.
And lastly we care that the world has yet to truly understand what it means to be a black women in America. To know us is to know us. It’s to include us and to speak to us, not around, below or above us. It also means to know that showcasing a blonde haired, blue-eyed woman who just doesn’t know what to do with her hair finding solace in Curl Milk will never end well. Ever.