First and foremost, the Natural Hair Movement was not created for racially ambiguous women with big, looping, clearly defined curls or beachy waves, and it sure as hell was not created for white women. It was created for undeniably black hair — cottony, kinky, unruly, nappy black hair. Full stop.

sheamoisturecommercial

You would think that this was an All Hair Matters Movement if you watched Shea Moisture’s latest marketing video, though. It was removed almost immediately due to the rightful anger and disappointment of consumers, but it was initially posted with the tagline: “Break free from hair HATE. See how these women have finally learned to embrace hair LOVE.”

 

They submitted this statement on 4/24/2017::

“Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up. Please know that our intention was not – and would never be – to disrespect our community, and as such, we are pulling this piece immediately because it does not represent what we intended to communicate. You guys know that we have always stood for inclusion in beauty and have always fought for our community and given them credit for not just building our business but for shifting the beauty landscape. So, the feedback we are seeing here brings to light a very important point. While this campaign included several different videos showing different ethnicities and hair types to demonstrate the breadth and depth of each individual’s hair journey, we must absolutely ensure moving forward that our community is well-represented in each one so that the women who have led this movement never feel that their hair journey is minimized in any way. We are keenly aware of the journey that WOC face – and our work will continue to serve as the inspiration for work like the Perception Institute’s Good Hair Study/Implicit Association Test that suggests that a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their textured or natural hair. So, you’re right. We are different – and we should know better.


Thank you all, as always, for the honest and candid feedback. We hear you. We’re listening. We appreciate you. We count on you. And we’re always here for you. Thank you, #SheaFam, for being there for us, even when we make mistakes. Here’s to growing and building together…”

 

A few things:

1) Impact is greater than intention. Always.

 

2) The Perception Institute’s Good Hair Study and Implicit Association Test found implicit and explicit bias against Black women’s natural hair. Not women of color. Black women. Women of color is not synonymous with Black women. Do not try it.

 

3) The issue here is not merely that they did not include a single unambiguously Black person with kinky natural hair in this particular advertisement, but rather it is the fact that capitalism, anti-Blackness, and white woman fragility and Beckery are all at play in the expansion of their company into an All Hair Matters hair care line and catering to whiteness, instead of centering Black hair as it should. There are already a plethora of hair care lines that cater to non-Black women because their hair is seen as the standard. Our products reside in the “Ethnic Hair Care” aisle for a reason. Shea Moisture became a staple among naturals because it was one of the first hair care lines in recent years incepted specifically for Black hair. Black women rocketed Shea Moisture to its well-known position today. It was our dollars and our buying power. Now they have marginalized us and relegated us to merely a sector of their consumer base, when we should be its totality. Of course, this is not a sudden change. There have been rumblings within the community about the company’s compromising since at least 2015, when they changed their formula and sold a large stake of the company to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, a company that garnered much scrutiny during the 2012 election.

 

4) This:

smstaff

5) I transcribed the dialogue in the video before the apology was issued and the ad was taken down. You’re welcome.

 

A light-skinned racially ambiguous woman with long brown 3b/3c curls: “People would, like, throw stuff in my hair. I’d just be walking and there’d be little paper balls in my hair. I hate it cuz it’s like: ‘Oh, I have this and, like, people make fun of me for it’… I didn’t really embrace my natural hair. But then, you know, as I got older, I learned how to do it, and learned how to love it… Shea Moisture, holy grail right here!… I love my hair. I love the volume, I love the curl, I love the texture. I love everything about it.”

 

A white woman with long straight blonde hair: “It was a lot of days, staring in the mirror like, ‘I don’t know what to do with it’… I think a good hair day is the best kind of day. I feel like I have conquered the world.”

 

A white woman with long red hair in very loose curls: “I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be a redhead. I dyed my hair blonde for seven years of my life, platinum blonde.”

 

A white woman with red hair in a long fishtail braid: “It just gives us all the results that we need. It’s kind of that go to product.”

 

In unison: “Everybody gets love.”

All of these women’s experiences are valid. Every woman in this world will experience some form of bodily insecurity because we exist in a society in which sexism and misogyny are foundational to patriarchy and androcentrism. Though their experiences may be valid, there is a world of difference between the kind of “hair HATE” that these women speak about in this video and the kind of “hair HATE” that unambiguously Black people experience. The hatred of Black hair is historical, as I have discussed in earlier installments of this Negro Hair series. It is a hatred so deep that we have been and continue to be legally required to alter our hair and/or forego traditional Black hairstyles in order to secure employment or education. The hatred of Black hair is so deep that parents and aunties and godmothers have forced little Black girls to get chemical relaxers, which damage the hair in order to permanently straighten it. A friend of mine was two years old when she got her first relaxer. Two. Years. Old. The hatred of Black hair does not look like simply not being content with your natural hair color or finding paper balls in it at the end of the day. It looks like having your confidence decimated by centuries of anti-Blackness. It looks like having your humanity and personhood stripped from you. This is the reality that Shea Moisture’s original consumer base has felt and continues to feel, especially now that natural hair care brands that are supposed to exist so that we can find love for our hair and ourselves in their community are now purposefully changing so that non-Black consumers can be included in a space that was never meant for them.

We need to talk about this. All of it; how it happened and what led up to it. We need to talk about how utterly and painfully basic many of the natural hair tutorials on YouTube are and have been for several years. People are doing the same wash-and-go and twistout videos over and over again, not teaching us anything new because they do not know anything themselves, because they learned everything that they know from other basic YouTube naturals. Even so, the ones with the most defined curls and the best made up face get the most “likes” and follows, and therefore get sponsored by Shea Moisture n’ dem, so they can produce even more basic videos and get paid for it. We need to talk about the lack of popular YouTubers with “type 4″ hair and about how this Natural Hair Movement is such a disappointment and it has been for a while now, because it has been and is being dominated by “type 2-3” hair naturals, and now it seems that someone has invited white women to the salon. We need to talk about how the majority of the Natural Hair Movement is nothing more than texture worship masquerading as natural hair care. We need to throw this movement in the trash and start all over again.

I say this as someone with “type 4” hair and who has still been told on countless occasions that I have “that good hair” or been asked what I am “mixed with” because, even though my coils are tight, I still have a fair amount of definition. It took me too long to realize this, but this movement is not always for/about me either. Nor should it be.

This movement was not supposed to catapult Zoe Saldana and Christina Milian-looking women to the front page of the Natural Hair Movement. It was not supposed to center Tracee Ellis Ross and Lisa Bonet-looking naturals. Big, looping curls and ringlets and laid edges. Perfectly coiffed defined curls with natural sheen and tame-ability. North West-type naturals. Kerry Washington-type naturals. Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas-type naturals.

This is beyond colorism, though it is certainly linked and the two cannot be divorced from one another. Texturism and colorism go hand in hand, and they are both rooted in anti-Blackness and White aesthetic worship. This is why women who look like Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Viola Davis are not the most popular YouTube vloggers and Instagram curl crushes. And it is also why mixed babies get fetishized, especially girls, before they are even conceived. This is about desirability politics. This is about social capital. This is about micro-aggressions as well as macro-aggressions, from people of all races. But these “what are you mixed with?” questions that I get come exclusively from black people, especially men. They think that these are compliments. They are far from it. All they are doing is congratulating me on what they perceive as a diluting of Blackness. How and why is this something to be celebrated? How and why is diluting Blackness something for me or anyone else to aspire to? It makes me sad, and it makes me furious.

The Natural Hair Movement was supposed to be about the celebration of Blackness itself. Our hair is one of the things that sets us apart and makes us so different from other races. Our hair is one of the things that has historical significance in the way that it has specifically and intentionally been altered as a way to strip it of its Blackness. The Natural Hair Movement was supposed to be about actively combating White ascendant ideologies and deliberately throwing up middle fingers to the White fears that brought about the Tignon Laws and that continue to create instances in which Black women get fired, discharged, or denied jobs and little Black girls are removed of spaces of learning because of their natural hair. How did this movement that was supposed to celebrate Blackness become about celebrating the diluting of Blackness instead?

The fact that Black women with “type 4” kinky/nappy hair are regularly told that “natural ain’t for everyone” is absolutely infuriating and beyond disgusting. Black women with “type 4” kinky/nappy hair face all sorts of misogynoiristic micro and macro aggressions, even from people within the natural hair community,  even though this movement was created for and by us in the first place. What Shea Moisture has done, like Carol’s Daughter before them, is an egregious erasure of kinky hair, Black women, and a purposeful distancing from Blackness.

Anyone who actively or passively perpetuates this colorism and texturism that erases the very people that this movement should be centering and amplifying, I am talking to you. Look. Do not tell us that you support natural hair when every portrait or piece of art that you post is of a naked or nearly-naked woman with curves in what y’all have deemed to be all the “right” places and 3c/4a hair that flows past her shoulders or reaches up to the heavens. Do not preach to black women about what they should do or not do with their hair in order to be more desirable to you, while you openly talk about how adorable North West is but denounce Blue Ivy’s parents because her hair is nappy.


If you do and say things like this and claim that you support natural hair, then you are lying. You only support natural hair of a particular kind that grows from the crown of a particular kind of woman with a particular appearance. What you are really saying to us is that it is okay for us to be natural as long as we still meet racist and colonialist standards of conventional attractiveness. It is okay for us to be natural as long as we still provide you with easy access to our bodies. And it is okay for us to be natural as long as we still appeal to your objectifying gaze.

If you do not support the naturals with dark skin, double chins, belly roles, flat asses, wide noses, 4c through 4z kinks, tapered fros, and TWAs, then you do not support naturals and you do not support the Natural Hair Movement. Period. Y’all can stop lying now (Sidebar: Y’all can also stop using images of naked black women to further your asinine Black patriarchy movement, the very foundation of which is misogynoir at its finest. Because when y’all are not using images of naked black women to make your faux intellectual points and arguments that only benefit you, y’all are slut-shaming those black women for being naked in the first place. Do not bring me anymore portraits of a naked Black woman with Tracee Ellis Ross hair captioned with “The Original Mother” and “African Queen” and then turn around and accuse the rest of us resurrecting Sarah Baartman every time we twerk. Bye).

In case I had not already made this exceedingly clear, everyone who constantly worships and faps to racially ambiguous women with 3a-3c hair, making them the most visible and the most celebrated, are the main reason why white women keep trying to infiltrate this movement. You keep uplifting this palatable, acceptable, diet Blackness and then white women think that they can take up space, and they do because y’all let them.

This is why there are YouTube videos of white women damaging their hair and failing at twistouts and bantu knots and thinking it’s cute. This is why there are white women on Instagram calling their hair kinky/nappy and using natural hair hashtags created by and for Black users. This is why there are YouTube tutorials on how white women can create “the afro look” a la Rachel Dolezal. And this is why there are now white women involved in Shea Moisture marketing.

If you engage in texturism and colorism, I am talking directly to you. You should blame yourself for this. You have directly contributed to a culture which allowed, nay, welcomed white women to come in and take up this space. This is your fault. Own up to your pathetic anti-Blackness and make amends. Whiteness is not invited here.

 


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Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She writes pop culture and media analysis, and is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies.

PayPal.me/SherrondaJBrown

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