Recently, a post on the Son of Baldwin Facebook page addressed the issue of double standards and grooming/beauty practices within the African American community. A snippet of the post reads as follows:
We say that when black women relax/straighten their hair, color it something other than its natural color, or wear weaves and extensions, they are subsumed by white supremacy and are trying to escape the innate blackness the kink of their hair represents.
We don’t say that when black men wear wave caps to wave our hair…I offer that this is a double standard rooted in patriarchy and sexism…black men deem themselves the sole arbiters of what is or is not black for the expressed purpose of never having to be subject to critical analysis when their own behavior is hypocritical and problematic.
Now, I know some of you might be thinking, “Is this going to be a post pitting black women against black men?” No, it is not. I do, however, want to address an issue that is often glossed over in our discussions of beauty, race and gender.
First and foremost, this post highlights what I think is a pretty obvious double standard: The level of criticism leveled against women who choose to wear weaves or chemically process their hair is nearly non-existent for men who wear S-Curls and religiously keep their hair “lined up” in order to avoid unkempt (read: displaying natural coils and kinks) hair. There is nothing inherently wrong with these styling preferences among men. The problem arises when similar beauty practices made by women are labeled as “vain”, “materialistic” or indicative of “mental enslavement” to a European beauty aesthetic. Honest self-reflection within ourselves and towards each other should allow us to be critical but fair and observant yet balanced in how we comment on styling choices.
While the post by Son of Baldwin directly addresses the African American community and black men in particular, the double standards black women face are not unique to our community. Patriarchy, in all of its forms, knows no racial boundaries. You don’t need to be a Woman Studies major to know that across racial and ethnic lines women are subject to greater scrutiny and criticism about their physical appearance than their male counterparts. For black women, however, this scrutiny takes on particularly insidious forms that are rooted in deeply embedded historical and sociological issues. The unbalanced criticism is unfair to all women; but as black women who sometimes engage in beautification practices similar to brothers, it is baffling and sometimes hurtful that we are highlighted as if our choices are unique or anomalous. I’ve heard brothers criticize a woman for wearing a weave who would never mention anything critical to his male friend who uses chemicals to maintain his “waves”. Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t want men to begin criticizing their male friends but it is pretty disingenuous to scrutinize women while ignoring the obvious hypocrisy that exists simply due to gender.
Like many of you reading this, I wear my hair in its natural state, so I am not the source of this type of criticism regarding inauthenticity or “fakeness” in my hair practices. Still, I feel that for many women these are simply just beauty decisions. A woman can wear her hair relaxed and be self-assured, confident and comfortable in her blackness. I resent the notion that all sisters with weave or relaxed preferences are mentally enslaved as much as I resent the false notion that men who wear and S-curl are less masculine or vain.
In reflecting on this issue, I’ve decided that the next time I hear a brother criticize a sister solely for wearing a weave, I’ll inform him that just because I wear my hair naturally doesn’t mean that I’ll join in or validate his claims. Kindly and in love, I’ll ask him if he criticizes his brothers who have hair practices that are less that “natural”. In response, maybe he’ll brush me off or change the subject. But maybe, we’ll engage in a progressive conversation.
Do you believe that that a double standard exists for hair practices within the black community? Why do you think those double standards exist?