A recent conversation has prompted me to address something that I am immensely passionate about, and for good reason. Reading this article will make some of you uncomfortable, and it may even make others a little upset, but everything I write and say, I do so out of love for my people, regardless of where they are at in their quest for self-discovery.
Those of you who have spent any significant time around me, or follow my body of work, understand that one of my greatest passions is attacking the self-hatred that is so pervasive within the black collective. While self-hatred can manifest itself in multitudinous ways, some of the more prevalent and overt manifestations of self-hatred can be seen in the monumental effort that blacks, men and women, exert in order to change their appearance to assimilate into what is considered acceptable and beautiful by European standards. It can be the black woman straightening her hair because she believes that her natural curly hair is ugly. It can be the black man lightening the complexion of his skin, because he equates light skin with being accepted and admired. There are others who have plastic surgery to change certain facial features, such as their nose, to eliminate the wideness that is so often associated with being of African descent.
It is worth noting that this form of self-hatred is so pervasive that it is actually considered the norm. Fortunately, the last decade ignited a movement that empowered black women to embrace their natural self, and a substantial number of black women have decided to wear their hair in its natural glory, whatever that may be. However, there are many blacks who are constantly immersed in self-hatred, and they are completely unaware of it.
Before moving forward, it is important to understand that when I address certain actions that are indicative of self-hatred, such as the strong and passionate commitment to straightening hair, it is not the act as much as it is the reason behind it. I am not here to tell a woman how to wear her hair, but I am cognizant of the motives that drive her to wear her hair a certain way. First of all, we have to be aware of the origin of black women straightening their hair, and why.
The association of black self-hatred, as it relates to the alteration of a black woman’s natural hair, the changes to facial features and even skin tone and more is based on the postulation that the underlying cause that serves as the motive for these types of alteration to one’s natural appearance is the belief that adopting these new features improves appearance. While this postulation may appear to be arbitrary and opinionated, the understanding of basic human behavior provides the clarity that is needed to develop a more stable foundation on which to make the case for self-hatred. As a general rule, no one goes to great lengths and even takes health risks to change something that they believe is better than what they are changing to — meaning that they are changing under the guise of improving their appearance.
When the history of African Americans in this country is understood, it is easy to understand why many blacks feel the way they do about their Afro-centric features. It has been a common practice for those blacks who have the means to distance themselves from their African heritage in order to appear as close to being white as possible to do so. This inherent need to physically assimilate into another race’s paradigm, as far pulchritude is concerned, is hidden in the perception that whites represent the privileged part of American society. In the United States, it is the White social position that holds the power and has the most inherent privilege. In fact, being white in America means being automatically associated with positive characteristics, whereas being black is automatically associated with negative characteristics.
These stereotypes and programmed postulations have become so interwoven into the fiber of American culture that even blacks have come to believe them.
When I hear a young black girl demanding that her hair be relaxed because, “It is nappy.” — read, “ugly, unattractive and unacceptable” it is a reflection of a mindset that has been instilled in the child for years, and it is likely the result of a generational belief that straight hair is better than her naturally curly or kinky hair. On the surface, this may seem harmless; however, at the core, the message has developed a paradigm that attacks the child’s self-image and self-esteem. It tells her that her natural self is not as pretty as those who can naturally grow straight hair — subconsciously planting the seed that she is naturally inferior.
Whether it is hair, skin color, facial features or even speech patterns, and not forget lips, the need to distance oneself from what is naturally them sends a subconscious message to themselves and those in their periphery that who they are naturally isn’t good enough. Again, it is not what a woman does with her hair that is the issue; it is the reason behind it, and while most women will deny the existence of self-hatred by declaring that it is just their preference or they are seeking variety, a simple request to go natural for a while, will quickly reveal the true motive. That black woman who absolutely refuses to consider wearing her own hair as it grows on her head is wrestling with some demons that she is either, unaware of or not willing to confront.
Now it is important to understand that self-hatred is not exclusive to the black woman and the straightening of hair. Black men suffer from self-hatred as well. As much as I love Michael Jackson, he may be the most lucidly expressed example of this. There is also retired baseball star, Sammy Sosa, who has gone to the extreme in lightening his skin complexion.
When it comes to skin complexion, there are black families who are actually split based on complexion and hair texture. Darker children, or children who have “bad hair” are isolated and ostracized by family members. There are also black families that teach their progeny to marry light in order to protect the light complexion that is common in the family. This is extremely common in the South, especially in Louisiana and Texas.
What I have found interesting when it comes to the phenomenon of self-hatred in the black community is the fact that the vast majority of blacks in America are highly religious, practicing one form of monotheism or another. However, these same black people who believe that God created them, somehow believe he made a mistake when he got to their facial features, skin tone and hair texture. To believe that the God they serve is perfect and does not make mistakes, while at the same time believing that their natural appearance needs alterations is oxymoronic.
While it is easy to sit here and type these words, I am completely cognizant of the powerful force at play, and understand that addressing black self-hatred cannot be done from a place of judgment and hostility. The impetus that drives this negative force is extremely powerful, and the notion of black inferiority has been deeply embedded in the black psyche. The only way that any black person will escape the shackles of black self-hatred is through self-discovery — developing an understanding of who you are, developing an awareness of where you descend from, and the power of the melanin in your skin and hair. Understanding why your hair, in its natural state, serves to increase your spiritual perception and more.
While many will become offended by this article, and even more will fail to gain a lucid perspicacity of what is being stated, I will say that there is nothing more beautiful than blackness in its purest form.
To say or think that some other feature or appearance is better than the one you are naturally gifted with is an admission of inferiority, which will immediately give the one who does naturally possess the traits you seek an advantage over you. Self-discovery leads to an apprehension of the truth that you are the strongest, most beautiful and gracious when you are at your natural best. ~ Dr. Rick Wallace, Ph.D.