My Baby Hairs And Afro: A Rant
Mid-June of 2016 a white Volkswagen bug sped amicably forward on a mission to the northern crags of Washington. Inside of the vehicle, my friend and I were discussing a sociopolitical class she had taken at Princeton University. She had mentioned they had done a full analysis of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and at one point had discussed Lemonade.
“I just think that #BlackLivesMatter is something that’s really trendy and getting a lot of attention right now. Beyonce used that hashtag to garner more attention toward her new album and I think that’s kind of fucked”.
I stared at the forever expanding freeway before us; my brain trying to process this new viewpoint that I honestly had not previously encountered, connect it with what I knew, and rationalize the two.
She went on to say “I really think that she just decided to embrace herself as a black woman when it became profitable for her career. And anyway, what does baby hair and afros have to do with gun violence?”
I remember wondering to myself if she was simply repeating the words of a collegiate professor; something we’ve all been guilty of centering our opinions on. For the sake of this piece, I will give her the benefit of doubt and assume these are all 100% original and unbiased opinions.
At the time I remember trying to explain Beyonce’s reasoning for mentioning baby hair and afros in Formation. “Well, it’s just about the fact that my natural hair is deemed unprofessional depending on what field of work I’m in”.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that regardless of what I do with it I am automatically at a disadvantage in the job market because the hair I’m born with isn’t recognized as professional in certain fields.”
“I don’t get it. How is your hair unprofessional?”
“Because it just is” I said trying to avoid saying it will never look like a white woman’s hair.
“Can you explain? I just don’t get it”.
“Okay. My natural hair, unprocessed and untouched will always leave me at a disadvantage if I was on the job hunt. I’d have to straighten it, or braid it, or weave it or something to have a prayer of competing with other women for certain jobs because the look is half the battle”.
“Well duh I mean, that goes for everyone. If I just rolled out of bed and didn’t do my hair I wouldn’t get hired either”.
I stared at her, silently baffled, before giving up entirely.
“Can you explain some other time, I really want to try to understand” she had said as my frustration was much more palpable than I had intended it to be.
And this illustrates a problem we have on a larger more general scale.
From time to time if feels that somewhere between Caucasian Americans and people of color there seems to be a disconnect in the way of worldview and event processing. Realities of day to day living that are second nature to some, are some sort of inconceivable puzzle when explained to someone from another walk of life.
In my opinion, the lyrical content of Formation does not directly speak out against gun violence much at all. Beyonce states her love for her baby hairs and afros, her Jackson 5 nostrils (which was deemed too wide and flat by 1970’s media), and says the country she was born and bred in will always be a part of her – hence the hot sauce in the bag.
Formation is less inspired less by the Black Lives Matter Movement, but more inspired specifically by an ideal that I will call Black Lifestyles Matter. This is an important aspect in the all-encompassing Black Lives Matter idealism that a lot of civilians (supporters and suppressors alike) have overlooked until now.
By Black Lifestyles Matter I’m talking about the downright religious nighttime routine of conditioning, sealing, and wrapping our tresses before going to bed. I’m talking about a spicy thanksgiving dinner. Laying unruly edges with Eco Styler Gel and a toothbrush. Embracing the booty and the curves that can’t be dieted away. Soul music. Underground hip hop. Dancing at every event (including baby showers and sometimes the odd funeral or two). We would very much like to cease being stereotyped for unashamedly existing amongst humanity in the bright patterns of our ancestry and the music of our heritage.
Growing up it was simply an easier means of survival to just blend in as much as possible. This meant straightening our hair with chemicals and forgoing foundation entirely because god forbid you find a color in your shade. Only until recently has there been this uprising where people of color everywhere are strongly embracing the cultures so essential to us that have been watered down and covered up for so long. This is evident in the fact that Dashiki’s and Kente Cloths are integrated into everyday fashion, the market for natural 4c hair care products is steadily growing, a head full of cornrows is not only rocked by Asap Rocky and Alicia Keys but Chrissy Teigen as well.
Now take the struggles previously illustrated and multiply that by a couple measures. Now you've lightly touched the gravity of living as a black woman in the limelight of Hollywood. Hollywood in the 90's and early millennial stages where Beyoncé rose to fame amongst her caucasian peers dominating not only what's accepted and elevated amongst the red carpet dazzle, but what is consumed by the media as well. Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, Keri Hilson, etc, have all climbed an uphill battle to elevate not only themselves but women of color in general to where we are today.
Yes, it can be argued that white America is stealing our thunder, appropriating our culture, la la la.
That is a rant for another day.
Today that is not the point.
Today the point is that for generations black culture has struggled in secret to make peace with our differences against the socially appointed norm. The battle for accepting oneself as beautiful and special in our chocolate skin has finally graduated from adolescence into full adulthood. Together as black women, we love who we are and where we’re from. We love our work ethic, our curves, our wild hair, and the wild blood of our native ancestors that cavorts through our veins to this day.
Hearing how we’ve come to feel about ourselves embodied in a song that not only urges us to rock what we got but stand down because there is always more work to do; feels more remarkable and empowering than you could ever know. How dare someone look me in the face and insist that this was something she did for the name and the profits.
The core meaning carried in Formation could not be produced by someone who did not grovel in the depths of it. For someone to take a new anthem upheld by a battle-scarred population and dismiss it as nothing more than a money hungry ploy for attention is incredibly insulting. My rationalization is that for one to arrive at such a conclusion, the reality at play is that he/she simply lacks the empathy and ability to encounter a societal circumstance in its context and comprehend it for what it is beyond the initial discernable value heavily subject to culture by one’s upbringing. On the topic of modern culture and Afro-American social groups, ignorance is not a great excuse considering all that has been thrust into the limelight regarding our realities. If anyone reading this cannot understand that in and of itself then there’s not much else I can say except, shame on you.