4 Dumb Excuses We Must Stop Making Around Chris Brown's Problematic Comments On Black Hair
"... Black hair, specifically, has been weaponized and historically used as a tool of manipulation, separation and control."
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Recently, Black people everywhere celebrated joyfully as we learned the news that California would become the first state to ban hair discrimination. It seemed that every news outlet, blog and social media platform shared this news and recognized it as a notable milestone in history.
So, why was this such a huge deal?
Because Black hair, specifically, has been weaponized and historically used as a tool of manipulation, separation and control. This voting signified a step in the direction of liberation and acceptance.
Yet, only a few days post-celebration, we find ourselves in the middle of controversy after hearing “Need a Stack” lyrics by the singer/rapper Chris Brown from his most recent album, Indigo.
(I'm intentionally not including the link to the song here because I can't be bothered.)
Before it gained so much attention, I heard it and was taken aback by the very harsh lyrics. Saturday, as I sat at my computer working away at Galvanize, my favorite co-working space, I remembered that Chris Brown released an album. “I should listen,” I thought to myself. So, I logged into my music streaming account and listened to his tunes blaze through my headset.
As I wrote, his music served as background music — some of the lyrics I caught, others, not so much. Then I heard it, the very explicit, harsh and hurtful words: "I only like black b***hes with the good hair." (I'm paraphrasing.)
I was literally jolted.
I think up until that point, I hadn't really heard any of the words of that particular song, but those words stood out. Confused and a little unsure, I rewound the words and heard them again. I wasn't sure if it was Chris' voice or Joyner Lucas, who is featured on the song. I went to genius.com to verify if what I was hearing was indeed coming out of Chris Brown's mouth.
I sat there staring at the lyrics for some time.
I remember thinking, "Damn, there's some young kid who will hear this and internalize these words.” Whether it’s a young woman believing she's inadequate or a young man thinking that there's a problem with women who don’t have what they define as "good hair."
Y’all this is problematic as f**k! Let me help you understand why.
For centuries Black hair has been an issue of discontent, forced to be tamed, covered and manipulated to mimic hair that is thought of as “acceptable.” To dismiss this experience as ridiculous or insignificant is irresponsible.
I've read a number of positions on how and why Brown's recent lyrics aren't a big deal. Everything from, "it’s just his preference" and "what is good hair,” to “we're overacting,” or “why are we paying attention to the likes of Chris Brown" have been hurled across various platforms, many irresponsibly and one-dimensionally.
Let's explore these:
Excuse 1: OMG, Sash, that's just his preference.
I am so glad you brought that one up because there's been a lot of talk about "preference" lately. Simply put, it is true — every human being has a preference. However, when it comes to the Black experience, many of our preferences are influenced by mechanisms embedded in self-hatred and bias. Each of us has a responsibility to ask a very blunt question: What is influencing my preference?
Is it a societal norm that promotes a false sense of elitism associated with specific features, or did you truly arrive at this place on your own? Is the basis of this preference the result of a deep-seated hatred of you reflection, or did you arrive at this place on your own?
These questions are hard to ask because admitting to yourself that you too are perpetuating a norm that disenfranchises people like you is a harsh reality to accept. But here we are.
It's important to acknowledge that in some cases, individuals will have arrived at this place on their own, but not without doing the hard work of asking those important questions. Those who do experience their preference without bias are also not casting stones at those who fall outside of their preferential category. Which is to say, a red flag of someone who hasn't done the necessary work is one who finds pleasure in saying things like, "I only like black b***hes with good hair." Otherwise, there is simply no need for such a statement, ever.
Excuse 2: You don't even know what he means by good hair. Sasha, you're trippin'!
Sigh. Must you exhaust me?
There are those who suddenly do not understand what the term "good hair" means. Please know that I am giving you the illest side-eye right now.
Oddly enough, these same individuals had no problem deciphering Beyonce's lyrics that suggested to "call Becky with the good hair."
So let me understand this, you understand what Beyoncé was communicating, but not Chris Brown?
You're not oblivious or dumb, you're choosing to pretend to be ignorant because it’s most convenient for you, in this moment.
There are times in which operating in bias is comfortable because it's familiar. It requires no heavy lifting, accountability or adjustments. Thus, it's easier to pretend that you don't understand why anyone on the receiving end has a problem with the aforementioned bias.
Excuse 3: Ya'll are making a big deal out of this. Chill, it's just hair.
Damn. I wonder how many times Congressman John Lewis (who was arrested 40 times during the civil rights era) heard this sort of rhetoric.
That he was making a big deal out of it. That he should chill and not overreact.
Black women are under attack from every angle. Excuse you, but we don’t have time to "chill" or be lackadaisical. The liberation of our children counts on it. The fact of the matter is, it's not “just hair.” If it was so insignificant, Chris Brown would have never made such a hostile reference to it. It’s much more than that — its representation, its culture and it signifies the essence of our blackness.
Excuse 4: Why are you all even paying attention to Chris Brown?
Like it or hate it, Chris Brown is a popular artist with considerable influence; with great influence comes great responsibility. Popular culture has the ability to reach, influence and shape entire cultures for generations. When young people listen to messaging, seeds are planted. Those seeds turn into values which, in turn, make up their fundamental belief systems.
Lyrics such as “I only like black b***hes with good hair" are damaging to our culture because they do nothing but perpetuate a stereotype that Black women aren't good enough. We, Black women, have dealt with this for far too long. Michelle Obama speaks so eloquently in her book, Becoming, about her struggle of not feeling good enough.
Daily, we fight for our place in the world — to have proper representation that is both respectful and progressive — and too often we find ourselves at odds with those who seek to bring us down by diminishing our value.
This is more than a lyric. This is a value statement that contributes to the detriment of Black families.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, "Why is there such discourse between Black men and women?"
Have you ever considered the underlying factor? The answer is simple. The destruction of Black families, period. It's really not complicated.
The foundational element of a strong community is strong families. Historically, there have been significant attempts to destroy Black families, much of them by force of external agents (e.g. separation of families, slavery, mass incarceration, etc). But today, we've progressed to a place where these overt methods are far too transparent and inhumane.
What's not as perceptible is the attempt to make us hate each other through methodical programming, thereby creating a weakened Black familial structure.
Regardless of his undeniable talent, Chris Brown is a contributor to a much larger problem. I'm not here to suggest that we boycott Chris’ music, but instead, hold him accountable for his words, ideals and biases. His actions cannot be excused because he is a talented artist or because we have a crush on him.
Despite these unfortunate occurrences, I am encouraged by the recent actions of Amber Givens-Davis, a Dallas based judge who took it upon herself to intentionally teach young girls about the importance of celebrating the diversity of their hair, regardless of who is uncomfortable with it.
I am encouraged by the men who stand up, protect and support Black women and their right to exist as their whole self in this world.
Like Dr. King, I dream of a day where Black women will not be categorized, picked apart and valued by the tone of their skin, texture of their hair or style of their tress. And I certainly, dream of existing in a time when Black women are protected by the men we give life to, literally.