The Taming of Blackness

[This post is part of a round table discussion I am a part of at Anti-Racist Parent about a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article written by Michelle Hiskey called “Perfect Braids Show Depth of Dad’s Devotion. The AJC article raised a number of issues around beauty standards and norms surrounding black hair. The piece describes a white father, Clifton Green, and his care for his Black Ethiopian daughter’s hair.]

The way writer Michelle Hiskey describes little Miriam’s hair and her father’s dedication to “taming” it makes me cringe. By using words like neaten, hygiene and behave, Hiskey implies that Miriam, like her hair, is messy, dirty, and untamable. It seems that without her doting father’s intervention, this poor little girl would be nothing more than a wild, uneducated pickaninny with big eyes, huge red lips and-surprise-nappy, un-styled and unkempt hair. The whole piece smacks of modern day colonialism where the noble white man civilizes and saves this exotic little girl from a far away land, not only from herself, but for her own good.

It’s sad that this dedicated father is portrayed as an anomaly who goes above and beyond the call of duty of any man, especially any white man who is the father of a black child.  To celebrate him and his wife for wanting the little girl to be accepted regardless of her looks is just plain wrong. It’s great they want her to be accepted, but what is wrong with her looks?

The writer’s heavy-handed voice distracts from the real and more interesting issue:

How do White parents navigate the murky cultural waters of raising a child from a different culture and of a different race? Do they adopt the narrowly defined standards of beauty that exist in both the White and Black community? Or do they blissfully ignore these standards and expose their children to the alienation of not fitting in the name of freedom?

By knowing how to make straight parts, neat twists and careful braids [he] has earned high-fives from stunned African-Americans.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Does this White man really walk down the street with his neatly coiffed Black little girl and get high-fives from the shocked Blacks he passes? I haven’t gotten a high-five since the ’90s, so to picture this scenario is not only funny, it’s absurd. I can only assume (and hope) that Hiskey is speaking metaphorically. In a failed attempt to seem “down” she reveals her ignorance and cultural bias.

Related content:

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The Hair Up There

Chris Rock’s New Documentary Gets to the Root of Good Hair

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (Hardcover)

What a Tangled Web Around Hair We Weave

The Politics of Black Hair Can be Snarly

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