When Chris Rock’s daughter, Lola, came up to him crying and asked, ‘Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?’ the bewildered comic committed himself to search the ends of the earth and the depths of black culture to find out who had put that question into his little girl’s head! (excerpted from Sundance Film Festival website).
When Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted their famous “Black doll” experiments in the late 1930s and early 1940s, their results transformed popular conceptions of Black racial identity. In the experiment, the Clarks simply asked a group of Black children to do two things: 1. choose which type of doll they preferred to play with (Black or white) and 2. fill in a human figure with the color of their own skin. Overwhelmingly, Black children (especially those in segregated schools) choose to play with white dolls, and choose a lighter shade of skin than their own, giving the color “white” attributes such as good and pretty, and calling “Black” bad and ugly.
The Clark’s experiment was instrumental in overturning segregation in public schools, on the grounds that segregation nurtures discrimination and internalized racism. In 2006, 16-year-old filmmaker Kiri Davis recreated the doll study and documented it in her award-winning film, A Girl Like Me. Despite some “advances” in American society over the past 50 years, Davis’ results were startlingly similar to the Clarks.
These experiments reveal the extent to which white standards of beauty still permeate the consciousness of young Black girls. In the new documentary “Good Hair” Chris Rock takes a comedic approach to the psychology and booming industry of white supremacy. Instead of looking at dolls, Rock tackles one of the most intimate cultural and expressions of Black women – their hairstyles. Black women have been straitening their hair for decades. Indeed, the first self-made female millionaire was a Black businesswoman who produced and distributed hair care products – her name was Madame CJ Walker. According to the documentary, Black hair is still a very lucrative business, grossing up to $9,000,000,000 per year.
After generations of media conditioning, we still live in a society where little girls like Chris Rock’s daughter Lola have a “black doll” complex and wonder why they don’t have “good hair”. I hope this film (which will be released this October) does a good job at challenging this conception, and celebrating Black beauty.