"Good hair is the kind of hair that stays on your head," is often what I say in response to any kind of hair discussion, unless of course, you are bald by choice and proud of it. Michael Jordan is an excellent example of that.
Unfortunately "good" hair versus "bad" hair, the debate - often heated and always charged - continues. "Good" hair normally describing hair that is close to the texture of a white person's hair and "bad" hair referring to the extremely curly hair that is also referred to as kinky or nappy. I was reminded of the insecurities and inconsistencies of the issues that black women have with our hair during a conversation I overheard in a local Starbucks. Apparently Latte and Locks; Pastries and Press n' Curls were on the menu that day.
In the eye of the story was a women who hadn't been hired for a job because of her twisted hairstyle. Last time I checked braids and other natural styles were often associated with socially conscious and self-confident black people, the kind who would fit nicely in corporate settings that like to say diversity is a priority. But companies tend not to hire them, and black people with those hairstyles tend to gravitate toward work that's necessarily non-corporate. Yet surely we have all earned the right to wear our hair as we please.
Not so says one popular public figure. Mablean Ephriam, the black TV judge from Fox's popular "Divorce Court" - who says she lost her contract this year partly because of irreconcilable hair differences with the company - perhaps said it best in a slightly bitter parting statement that concluded with a quote from Maya Angelou: "And still I rise." Do you think she was talking about her hair?
Also consider this: A Louisiana sheriff said this month that anyone on the streets in dreadlocks "can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy" because a murder suspect answering that description remained at large. In April, Susan L. Taylor, the editorial director of Essence magazine, canceled a campus speech when she discovered the college forbids its students to wear "unusual" hairstyles - including braids, which are Taylor's signature look. This was significant because the college was Hampton University, one of the nation's oldest historically black campuses. Then it was discovered that Black Enterprise magazine had a similar ban for student interns. Talk about adding insult to injury.
But not only is it an emotional issue, it's an economic one as well. African-Americans spend billions of dollars every year on their hair, whether on wigs and extensions, moisturizers and relaxers, curling irons and hot combs, sheens and gels, scalp and follicle conditioners, shampoos and lotions, or cocoa butter and other oils. In fact, although blacks comprise only 10% of the U.S. population, it is estimated that they consume over three-quarters of the country's hair care products. No wonder Koreans and Egyptians have moved into our neighborhoods at such an alarming rate. They know a lucrative market when they see one.
But while they've moved in - the majority of us have remained stuck, rooted (no pun intended) in old fashioned ideals and shaky self esteem issues relating to our texture of hair.
Think about it: when a song entitled, "I am not my hair" is considered controversial to sing in 2006 - we've still got a long way to go.