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The Black Commentator - Mammas, Wear Your Hair Natural - From the Fringe

On Friday evening (April 11, 2008), MSNBC aired “Meeting David Wilson,” a documentary in which a 28-year-old African-American by that very namesake goes to North Carolina in search of his roots, ultimately meeting the white contemporaries of the family that had enslaved his own, and traveling to Ghana, his homeland of origin as revealed by DNA testing.

After the program, MSNBC hosted a 90-minute “Conversation About Race,” hosted by Brian Williams and held at Howard University. The panel featured a Who’s Who of thinkers - white and black - who had gained entrance into the exclusive society of those whose opinions and analysis are deemed creditable, controversial and/or a cause for pause. Scholar Michael Eric Dyson, activist Kevin Powell and Tim Wise, one of the most honest white men in America , were among the panelists. Also featured was Malaak Compton-Rock, wife of comedian-actor Chris Rock and burgeoning do-gooder in her own right.

The conversation discussed the ills of poverty, the poor distribution of governmental resources, the composition of today’s black households, the perils of black manhood and the many negative connotations of blackness, as quintessentially demonstrated in the “doll test,” in which black children overwhelmingly find a Caucasian doll more appealing on grounds of appearance and associated presumptions of intelligence and personality.

Constructions of beauty - “how aesthetics are presented in the mainstream and the impact such images have on the minds of black boys and girls” - briefly became the thesis of the segment. Michael Eric Dyson mentioned how features such as full lips and fuller behinds are vilified until they are adopted by white women via implants and collagen injections. Kevin Powell lamented the dearth of darker-skinned black women in music videos.

But Malaak Compton-Rock stole the moment with her quiet ignorance. Why, she wondered, did her three-year-old daughter Zahra come home from school one day, sad that her hair was not as long as that of one of her non-black friends? Momma, do you like my hair? Compton-Rock said her daughter asked. She told her daughter that, yes, she liked her hair and its fluffiness and puffiness did not detract from its intrinsic and unique beauty.

She said what most black mothers, seeking to reinforce their daughters’ self-esteem, would say, especially in a world that co-opts but pays little homage to their beauty. But surely I was not the only one spotlighting the elephant in the room. Here was Compton-Rock, bemoaning her daughter’s ambivalence about her own hair, seemingly befuddled and blaming society and the media, when she, herself, was donning at least 18 inches of silky straight weave!


My question to Compton-Rock is, girl, have you looked in the mirror lately?

Our daughters, in their formative years, copy, mimic and role play everything their mothers do. As the mother of two daughters, and - obviously - as a daughter myself, I know this to be true.

If I wear pink, my daughter wants to wear pink. If I put on lip gloss, my daughter reaches for her chap stick. If I dish out a bowl of ice cream, my daughter begs for an ice cream sandwich.

If we, as black women, go around looking like make-believe, pretend white women, playing a bad form of dress up so common that we no longer see it for what it is, well, guess what? Our daughters will want to, too.

How can black mothers don unnatural-looking weaves (or, for that matter, relaxers or contact lenses) in textures non-representative of what naturally emerges from their follicles and expect their daughters to be content with their kinky, coiled, curly, zig-zagging, frizz-prone, comb-catching hair?

It’s nonsensical.

Black mothers, wear your hair natural, be it nappy, curly, wavy, straight or any combination thereof. Be it a close-cut Caesar, long and luscious locks, symmetrical cornrows, free-flowing braids, trend-setting twists or an ambitious Afro.

Raising black girls in a world where Angelina Jolie is praised for her pouty mouth and Jennifer Lopez for her derriere, while one-third of black boys of the same age are projected to spend time behind bars is complicated enough. Columnist K. Danielle Edwards, a Nashville-based writer, poet and communications professional, seeks to make the world a better place, one decision and one action at a time. To her, parenting is a protest against the odds, and marriage is a living mantra for forward movement. Her work has appeared in MotherVerse Literary Journal, ParentingExpress, Mamazine, The Black World Today,, The Tennessean and other publications. She is the author of Stacey Jones: Memoirs of Girl & Woman, Body & Spirit, Life & Death (2005) and is the founder and creative director of The Pen: An Exercise in the Cathartic Potential of the Creative Act, a nonprofit creative writing project designed for incarcerated and disadvantaged populations. Click here to contact Ms. Edwards.

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April 24, 2008
Issue 274

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Peter Gamble
Est. April 5, 2002
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