Chris Rock Examines Black Women & White Standards of Beauty in “Good Hair”

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.

7 Comments to ‘Chris Rock Examines Black Women & White Standards of Beauty in “Good Hair”’:

  1. Sundiata Salaam on 6 Aug 2009 at 11:23 am: 1

    Watching this made me have two conflicting dispositions. First, it reminded me of the historical hatred and devalue of everything AFrikan and how we internalized this. So much so, that we have no desire to connect with anything “Afrikan”. Secondly, I thought about free choice, and women having the right to choose their hair. But as always, it seems that this “free choice” is a very murky grey area….

  2. Olokun Olugbala on 6 Aug 2009 at 12:32 pm: 2

    Is it a choice if you have been tortured and conditioned to opt for something self-mutilating?

  3. Sundiata Salaam on 6 Aug 2009 at 4:34 pm: 3

    Hence the reason i said this choice was a very grey area. Whereas I agree with you, I do believe that it would be a failure to assume that every black woman who has gotten a perm is not conscious of this self mutilation. As well as conscious of the conditions that led to the fad of self-mutilation. And to assume that these women who have made a choice (as grey as the area may be) to perform in this task, are not thinking people who love their Afrikan self would be a wrong assumption I think.

  4. Chris Alexander on 14 Aug 2009 at 6:27 am: 4

    Clearly African-Americans, and other non-European minorities in western societies, have a long way to go at it relates to beauty and self identity. Many already know that this is not breaking news.

    To help mitigate the observations made by Drs. Kenneth and Mammie Clark in 1939-1940, and confirmed yet again by Kiri Davis in 2005, my wife and I co-founded BlackDollShows.Com. We just completed a very successful black doll show in NYC and will be producing another one just in time for the holiday shopping season on December 5th. After attending one of our shows, I can guarantee you that every little girl, boy, woman and man will feel empowered because we celebrate the hues, noses, lips and hair which constitute the features of the African diaspora. And it is all available for purchase! Our black doll shows serve as a counter-weight to the incessant still and moving images of “euro-centric” beauty that bombard people of African decent. Check us out!

  5. aron ranen on 29 Aug 2009 at 2:05 am: 5

    Please take a moment to check out my documentary film BLACK HAIR

    It is free at youtube. 6 parts including an update from London, England.

    It explores the Korean Take-over of the Black Beauty Supply and Hair biz..

    The current situation makes it hard to believe that Madame C.J. Walker once ran the whole thing.

    I am not a hater, I am a motivator.

    Plus I am a White guy who stumbled upon this, and felt it was so wrong I had to make a film about it.

    self-funded film, made from the heart.

    Can it be taken back?


  6. Anonymous on 9 Sep 2009 at 7:38 am: 6

    I am eagerly anticipating the release of this movie. Mainly to see if it really explores how black women attach beauty to the condition of, length and straigthness of their hair. I am a recovering “creamy crack” addict, on my second try at maintaining a more natural look, so I am well aware of the growth that must occur when one chooses to reject the societal norms of hair straightening.

    As far as the hair care industry being overtaken by people who have no real interest in promoting healthy black hair, I only purchase products from Black owned companies. Yes, it is an incovienence and it is quite often decidedly more expensive (many items must be ordered and shipped) but it worth knowing that I put dollars back into a business that was probably formed by a sister who just wanted a good moisturizer.

    We must stop indoctrinating our daughters with this myth that nappy, curly, and/or kinky hair isn’t good or beautiful. We must affirm that beauty radiates from within and that hair is an adornment of the spirit. When you put hair in perspective, it will no longer be the centrality of who you are, but an expression of the inner self.

  7. Kim on 10 Nov 2009 at 10:01 pm: 7

    I’m a Caucasian woman with challenging, thick, curly hair that defies straightening irons and the dryer-round-brush-yank method. I actually had it permed years ago–once. Awful, awful experience. I wanted to see “Good Hair” for the MYRIAD of women who have different ideas than their hair might.

    As I watched the film, it occurred to me that none of my close black girlfriends have been anything but natural, and I adore their hair. I love their fros wrapped dramatically in colorful fabric, or bouncing freely as they walk down the street. I love how one of my friends looks like Nefertiti, with short hair that sets off her elegant neck. One friend’s dreadlocks are fierce. They’re all her, all day. I find natural hair atop the heads of many of the most intelligent and talented women I know.

    To tell you the truth, straightened hair looks strange to me, often like a helmet.It also seems like such a homogenized imposition of “style” on someone who would often look better with their unique hair, conditioned and cared for.

    And the weaves…I throw up the surrender flag there. Despite Chris’ best efforts, I will never understand the weave. If it’s to achieve the white-girl flip…well, you’re not missing anything. And this is coming from someone whose hair doesn’t do it, either.

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Published on August 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm. 7 Comments.
Filed under black culture,black image,women's issues/feminism.