The taming of blackness

[Editor’s note: Last week, while folks here on Anti-Racist Parent were discussing Renee’s compelling post on Zahara Jolie-Pitt’s hair, some of us behind the scenes were talking about a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that also raised issues of beauty standards and norms surrounding black hair. Below, is another installment of a multi-part discussion of the piece and black hair politics.]

 written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Pia Guerrero

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.
Its 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.

Pia blogs at Adios Barbie

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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