“Can I touch it? Wow, it’s way softer than I thought it would be.”
“You wear a hat to sleep?”
“Does every Black girl have to wear a bonnet?”
Sound familiar? It’s possibly because as a Black woman, you too have experienced microaggressions when it comes to your natural hair—or maybe you have but you didn’t recognize it back then as a microaggression. In Netflix’s latest family-friendly addition Karma’s World, Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges creates an animated, musical world inspired by his oldest daughter Karma Christine as she navigates through her experience as a young Black girl while facing relevant topics such as friendship, bullying, and school.
In the “Hair Comes Trouble” episode co-written by Kellie R. Griffin and Halcyon Person, Karma hosts her first middle school slumber party with her three besties and is in for a night of fun. While styling a virtual avatar, Karma chooses a curly fro much like her own but when it comes to styling the hair, her friends begin to question if textured hair can be styled with accessories, hats, and more. Initially ignoring the first instance, Karma and her friends prepare to get ready for bed with nightlights, face masks, and stuffed animals in hand, but the night takes a turn when they begin to attack her with queries about what a bonnet is while touching her hair.
While pushing her pen, co-writer Halcyon Person noted the importance of hair to Black culture, as well as the necessary implementation of self-love as a young Black girl in these spaces. From the inception of Karma’s World, the writers’ room acknowledged their responsibility from the jump and knew this was a story they’d had to tell. “We knew that with a character like Karma, we had this opportunity to celebrate not only her beautiful hairstyle, but all the hairstyles that kids are wearing,” she told ESSENCE. “Figuring out how to tell it in a way that it hadn’t been done before was the real tricky part and the part that we worked really hard to try and get right. Being vulnerable with one another to talk about our own experiences with our hair, with our own body image was tough, but we knew that by exploring those ideas and feelings, we could find really authentic storytelling and true feelings about what it feels like to be micro-aggressed against.”
Person and her fellow writers collaborated to address the topic of microaggressions and hair love with care while making it digestible for the younger audience and a conversation starter for parents. What started as a conversation about the team’s own diverse experiences with microaggressions blossomed into a huddle and brainstorm of how to integrate the ideas into the show. With a show like Karma’s World that includes diverse characters played by a diverse cast, Person wanted to dig deeper than the standard bullying story to address these issues that young Black girls face.
“With this show, [we] have the ability to really go a little bit deeper and talk about what it means when a friend, someone you care about, someone that you would even call your bestie is the one who micro-aggresses against you, how you deal with that, how you can talk about creating boundaries, telling people how to treat you and how to talk about your hair and about your culture felt like a new type of story,” she explained. To further amplify the depth and reality of this episode outside of the 12-minute length, Person revealed that the writers’ team collaborated with the Perception Institute, an organization compiled of a consortium of researchers that uses data, psychological findings, and neuroscience to analyze the perceptions of people as they’re watching media. Moreover, Perception Institute, according to Person, “figures out ways to counter-stereotype and to put new, less non-harmful images on TV to help folks see a bigger, broader, more nuanced, less stereotypical world.”
During the climactic sleepover scene, Karma’s friend Switch asks, “Can you do your hair like normal people can?,” to which she responded, “Do you mean can black people do their hair like yours?” Though it may have been uncomfortable to the character, Person knew that this pivotal moment in the episode would be sure to stand out for good reasons. “I love that Karma immediately sees that and calls that out in a way that we hope models that behavior for kids. That if they hear that amongst their friends, if they hear that on the playground or in school, they can call that out,” she said hopefully. “We really wanted to highlight that point when a white character, a character who’s Karma’s friend, ‘others’ her in this really common way that a lot of Black folks and folks from marginalized communities are othered all the time. Karma had a moment to say, ‘Wait a second, here’s what you’re actually saying’ because that’s a thing that’s said all the time.”
Following her sleepover, Karma has the urge to straighten her hair and while she loves the idea, she’s not too sure if she truly wants to or if she just wants to fit in. With the advisement of her mother Dr. Lillie Carter-Grant, Karma learns that her hair is beautiful in any way, shape, or form as long as it’s on her head. During their deep conversation, Dr. Grant empowers her daughter by letting her know that they come from a long line of beautiful Black women with diverse hair textures from Karma’s pillow-soft curls to her own tighter coils.
“At this point in my career, I’ve learned what I really enjoy doing and what I don’t enjoy doing. And I learned that I’m not too fond of doing voiceovers,” Danielle Brooks laughed with ESSENCE exclusively. “When I did this one, I was brought back to the love of it. It made me want to do more of it, and I know it’s because of the stories that were being shared.” The Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia actress shared her appreciation for Karma’s World because her daughter Freeya will be able to watch a show that’s reflective of the diverse world around her, which she admitted to not having while she was growing up. “I’m glad that it leaves a safe space and a starting point for parents to talk to their kids. Even with Halloween, seeing a mother-daughter duo dressed up as Dr. Carter-Grant and Karma was really cool because people are taking to this. They see themselves and these little girls are able to smile and love their hair the way it is naturally.”
Unfortunately, similar to her character’s daughter, Brooks admitted to experiencing microaggressions at a young age as well when it came to her natural hair. “I didn’t even have microaggressions at the time. They would straight up tell me, ‘Your hair looks like worms,’ because my hair was curly. When I had it in a natural fluffy bun, ‘it looks like you have a rabbit tail on your head’. I got it from a very young age and it wasn’t micro at all, it was in your face and the most hurtful thing, it wasn’t only from other races, it was from my race,” Brooks confided. The Orange Is The New Black actress confided that older women would approach her as an 11-year-old and tell her to consider straightening her hair but the one person who always championed her beauty and created an unapologetic safe space was her mother.
“Mothers are super special in our lives, regardless of if we want to accept their advice or not, we always double think about it. Anything our mothers say, we always put it on a pedestal,” she added. “Everybody might not have a mother like Karma’s mom, right? You’re not going to get that in every household, but I think that’s why it’s so important to have that representation, whether that’s in Karma’s World, or you’re looking at Teyonah Parris rock her hair, myself, or someone like Adrienne Moore, Ashley Blaine Featherson, [or] Tiffany Haddish, who did her chop. The more that we embrace it, the more it’s that infinity sign.”
When asked by ESSENCE what she hopes the lasting impact of the show overall, Person championed the show as one that she and the other writers wished they’d have during their childhood. “If you were a Black girl growing up in the world, you’re already dealing with these things; these things are already a part of your life. This message has power whether you are 33 today or you are just seven, eight, or nine,” she explained about the topics explored throughout Karma’s World. When speaking directly to eight, nine, and 10-year-old girls, Person shared that these girls expressed their experiences which aligned almost exactly with Karma, which further solidified that she, Bridges, and the team were going in the right direction for this show.
“We love that Netflix has given us this opportunity to tell this type of story and that it’s one of many we can tell about Black culture and celebrating Black culture in all its unique, nuanced, and different facets,” Person shared passionately. “Blackness is not a monolith. We love that Karma’s World allows us to do so much and tell so many specific, authentic stories. This episode scratches the surface of what Karma’s World can do. It’s my favorite because it really does speak to who I was when I was a kid, who Danielle was when she was a kid, and I think it’s speaking to kids now in a way that feels so beautiful and impactful.”
Watch the official “Proud of My Hair” music video from Netflix’s ‘Karma’s World’ on YouTube below!