If you’ve ever been to the hair salon, then you already know the experience can be both exhilarating and dreadful. The familiar smell of heat, hold spray and Pink Lotion is intoxicating. And conversations about issues concerning Black women and Black culture are inviting.
But there’s also the pain that comes with certain styles, and sometimes waiting hours past your appointment time to be seen. It can be worse than going to the doctor—which is why a hair appointment is actually referred to as a hair day. Nonetheless, we carve out the time—because when we leave, we feel reborn.
In the upcoming episode of ABC’s hit show black-ish, we see Diane Johnson (played by Marsai Martin) experience these familiar highs and lows, and more. The writers wanted the episode, appropriately titled “Hair Day,” not only to pull back the curtain on the salon experience but to explore what it’s like for a young Black girl to embark on a new hair journey.
After Diane has a bizarre dream that her hair burns off from another relaxer, she decides she’s done with them. She then has to decide where to go from there with her tresses. Will it be a press and curl? Better not sweat. What about going completely natural? Better be prepared to big chop.
Martin sat down with writer Marquita Robinson to discuss the takeaways of the episode. A handful of other Black women who work on the show also talk about their own hair experiences, via testimonial-style interviews.
“Are you really going to cover Black hair in 22 minutes? Good luck!” says Heidi G. McGowen, Unit Production Manager and Producer.
The weight of making a hair-journey decision is a lot for any Black woman, let alone a teenager. And the episode does a great job exploring this dense, complex topic with creativity, humor and sensitivity.
“[I want people to take away] the resounding message that Black hair in any form is beautiful and perfect as long as it’s what you want,” Robinson says. “Do it. And that’s all that matters.”
Jill Scott lends her beautiful vocals and her acting skills to this message as Diane’s hairstylist, Yaya. One of the best parts is the Broadway musical–style scene where she runs through all the different style choices that Diane has available to her. From short and blond to Bantu knots, there’s no wrong choice; they’re all beautiful and acceptable ways to wear our hair.
“Despite what the world tells us, all Black hair is beautiful,” adds Diane’s mom, Bow, played by Tracee Ellis Ross.
While these concepts might feel obvious to a Black woman, it’s still a conversation worth having—and worth unpacking from the root, no pun intended. As presidential hopeful Cory Booker takes the CROWN Act up to the federal level, it’s important for us to continue to talk about issues surrounding Black hair. The laws can change, and we need them to, but we know that society doesn’t always catch up quickly.
In 2019, ESSENCE reported on countless incidents around the country in which Black men and women experienced discrimination as it pertained to their hair. But the CROWN Act has only been passed in three states to date. So, to start a new year focused on Black girls—teaching them, and everyone else, that our hair is beautiful in any form we choose to wear it—is pretty groundbreaking for network television. It adds to the social side of the conversation, which often has more impact than legislation on it own.
The personal accounts peppered into the episode from the women who work on the show are a refreshing addition; they feel genuine and relatable. The show might not be able to get to everything in 22 minutes, but black-ish does a great job sharing a small piece of how a seemingly minor hair decision can have a huge impact on a young Black girl.
Tune in to see the entire episode, and to see what Diane decides for her hair, when black-ish returns on January 7th on ABC. New episodes air Tuesdays at 9:30|8:30c.