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Oprah and the ‘Good Hair’ affair

Oprah Winfrey

I watched Oprah Winfrey late last night, something I rarely do. Chris Rock was the guest, back from last week because of the controversy he’d stirred up.

It seems he has a new movie out, “Good Hair,” which I gathered is more or less a documentary about black women and their hair — what they do to it and the time and money they spend to do it or have it done. And it provoked quite a reaction among black women. Why? I wondered. Apparently so did Oprah.

As a very sheltered older white woman, I freely admit I don’t know much about black hair. I have sort of absorbed what I think I know over time: black hair is more brittle than mine, with a natural curliness/kinkiness that can make it very difficult to manage. Black women, like white women, color their hair, straighten it, add weaves, restyle it, etc.

Apparently the movie tells all about this. I’d be interested in seeing it just to learn what I don’t know and correct any erroneous notions I might have about black hair. But Oprah got tons of letters from black women angry that Rock’s movie reveals their “secrets” to the world. Huh?

Last night, Rock explained that, first, since he’s black, his movies tend to include mostly blacks. And second, that some older black women who grew up in the era of segregation and discrimination, tend to feel that whatever they do with their hair is something to be kept secret from whites.

Okay, fine. But times change, attitudes change, and we older women just have to roll with it as best we can.

I was puzzled, though, that a young professional black woman in the audience spoke about how offensive it is when a white woman approaches her and asks if her hair is a weave. My reaction was Duh! Any woman would be offended to be asked that, and any woman who would bluntly ask is too rude for words. The black/white thing has nothing to do with it. Manners are manners.

On the other hand, there was a white woman who called into the show who admitted that yes, she colors her hair because “all white women want to be blonde.” What cave does she live in?

Two black women in the audience wanted to know if Oprah’s long, flowing hair was all hers (something I’ve wondered myself), and they were invited up on stage to find out that it is indeed all Oprah’s.

Frankly, I’ve long thought, or assumed, that most women are hair freaks. It’s a vanity thing, not a race thing. We curl our hair or straighten it; cut it short, grow it long, or even shave it all off; we color it and recolor it. Our hair is too thin, too thick, too dry, too oily, too brittle, too straight, too curly, too frizzy, too dark, too light. We try to please ourselves, impress our friends, wow our men. Our hair is just another part of our make-up, our attitude, the person we present to the world.

On the other hand, maybe I’m way off base about the whole hair/race/attitude thing and don’t even realize it. If I’m being an ignorant old white woman, I invite black women to enlighten me. Please.

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