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The Beauty Beat: In Defense of 'Nappy' and 'Distracting' Afro-Textured Hair

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tiana parker sheryl underwood
Comedian Sheryl Underwood and student Tiana Parker
Photo Credit: Getty/CurlyNikki.com

This has been one heck of a week for naturalistas—natural hair just can’t seem to catch a break. First, Sheryl Underwood condescendingly calls our hair “curly, nappy, beady” and then goes on to praise “beautiful, long, silky hair.” Then a Tulsa, Oklahoma school bans a beautiful little girl, Tiana Parker, from school because her locs are—wait for it—a “fad” and a “distraction.” As a woman with natural hair, I am absolutely offended by both incidents. If I hear one more negative comment about natural hair, I’m calling Al Sharpton. Wait, never mind, he has a perm.

I can’t even begin to express the anger and frustration both of these incidents have made me feel. I am frustrated that Underwood, a woman of color bashed our hair on national television while her non-Black counterparts laughed. I am angry that a seven-year-old was told that her hair was not acceptable by a school administration that clearly doesn’t acknowledge her hair as professional. Both issues to me revolve around self-hate. I know what you may be thinking, little Tiana’s case is different because the administration made the rules about hairstyles. This is true. However, this asinine rule was upheld and enforced by a principal who was a woman of color—a woman of color with a really bad synthetic wig that mimicked the hair that is banned in her school. Talk about the irony. The fact that she even agreed to run a school with such rules is absolutely disturbing to me. It says that she agrees that natural hair—afros, locs, etc. are unprofessional. How could any woman of color stand by such a racist and ridiculous rule?

I am absolutely fed up with society telling us that our hair doesn’t meet their standards. In doing so, they are telling an entire race that their hair isn’t acceptable, thus upholding a beauty standard that excludes us from the jump. Who are you to deem a texture of hair and a particular hairstyle like locs unacceptable? Want to ban something? Ban bright green Nicki Minaj–inspired wigs, belly tops, and booty shorts, but do not ban a hair texture. Do not ban our hair texture. Because in doing so you plant seeds in children that will one day reap a harvest of self-hatred and you water the trees of self-hatred that already exist in many adults. Furthermore, I am sick of men and women of color, both believing and perpetuating this terrible lie that our hair isn’t professional or attractive for that matter.

Underwood’s comments about “nappy” hair were irresponsible, offensive, and in my opinion, revealed to the world that she has some deeper issues that she needs to deal with. Whether we want to admit it or not, Underwood’s comments were a display of self-hatred towards not only her own hair, but the hair of Black people the world around. Why else would someone speak with such disdain for the texture that grows out of her own head?

Unlike Underwood, Tiana both loved and accepted her hair fully, but was told that it wasn’t presentable and was forced to transfer schools and leave all of her friends behind. While Inda.Arie’s song was a hit, it is not entirely true: to a certain extent, we are our hair. Our hair is an extension of who we are. And we’ve been told too many times that who we are isn’t good enough. What kind of message is that to instill into a seven-year-old?

My heart broke as I watched little Tiana burst into tears when she told the reporter that the school didn’t like her hair. Tiana, if you’re reading this, please know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your hair. Walk into your new school with your head held high. Do not be ashamed of the gorgeous locs on your head. Wear them proudly. You’re not the one with the problem—the ridiculous folks over at Deborah Brown Community School are the ones with the problem. Never, ever let anyone make you believe that your hair isn’t presentable or is simply a fad. Your hair is gorgeous and so are you. Keep your head up, little mama.

What are your thoughts on both incidents? Is there self-hatred involved or do you think we’re reading too much into it? Do you think it was right to dismiss Tiana because of her hair? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Briana McCarthy is a writer, blogger and editor of The Mane Source. When she's not blogging about hair and beauty, she's enjoying her Chicago hometown with her hubby and two children. Chat her up on Facebook and Instagram.

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