Monday, December 14, 2009

Good Hair, Bad Hair, et al.

Do you have good hair? Straight hair? Bad hair? Nappy Hair? Wavy hair? Does it make a difference? According to our culture it does! Preference is an interesting word….Some people cry out against “special preference” given to others while they themselves have experienced preferential status all their lives. Maybe they were tall enough, light enough, smart enough, rich enough, male enough, and the lists of preferences goes on. It’s in the language that we label, categorize, stereotype, prejudice, prefer. The image of straight hair is clear in your mind along with its connotations of place in society. You understand its label, category, stereotype, prejudice, preference as well as the characteristics of its “antithesis” nappy hair. However, anyone using their common sense knows, good hair is healthy hair and bad hair is unhealthy hair which of course has nothing to do with the curl of the hair. But beauty does. And we have ascribed certain traits (words) to beauty.

Language and culture create a shared meaning. Some labels are so toxic they induce self-hate. How can you love something called “bad hair”? Some words are supposed to evoke envy such as thin and rich. Language strongly influences reality. (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, 1920, 1959, 2008). The words being used are the ones that are creating the realities we are living. Why would Black Women of all spheres of Black life invest in “taming” their hair into culturally accepted European styles? Maybe they do not want to be seen as having bad hair.

Yes, I am a survivor of the language of oppression and its deep scars that have tried to rip my self-esteem and self-worth asunder. I survive to spread the words of conscious acceptance or rejection choosing to create a new vocabulary of empowerment. Let’s take this “insightful” moment as an opportunity to have a deeper discussion about WORDS and their power. Movies like “Good Hair” and “Precious” are trying to have a serious dialogue with us on far deeper levels than most feel comfortable acknowledging. Maybe its time for a new language; maybe its time to choose different words. We can make different choices – we can use our words to heal, uplift and create inclusive beauty – its all in what we say and it’s always your choice!

By P.S. Perkins, Author, The Art and Science of Communication, Wiley, 2008

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