As a female member of the black collective, I admit that hair matters far more than it should. In making this assertion, it is also imperative to note that this prominence is far from a self-inflicted wound—but a gash produced by those who drink black blood like Popeye drank spinach, morphing into a “stronger” “white supremacist version of self.
Hair has been used to produce capital for those who oppress blacks, from perms, to wigs and weaves. So while many inside and outside the black collective will argue that black hair insecurity reflects black issues with esteem, this distorted self-image is the product of western creation. The western world has largely succeeded in creating black insecurity for exploitation and consumption by whites. This exploitation and consumption continues even with the natural hair movement, which suggests an “acceptance” of natural black aesthetics by industries that perceive blacks as subaltern humans— an acceptance that merely veils the exploitation consistent with a global practice of anti-blackness. This anti-blackness surfaced last week when J Crew released an advertisement that featured a black model with natural hair. The style, as seen alongside this text, does not feature an afro, wash and go, or braid-out, but an unkept, disheveled, ponytail. The image caused an outrage to which the model responded with the following:
“We all want more but still complain.”
The comment reveals that J Crew selected the right person to inflict this symbolic violence onto the black collective— a collective her career most likely convinced her she is no longer a part of . Her comment reveals that her priority is inclusion and what she perceives as visibility. This is of course a pseudo visibility, as the model exists as a master’s tool, functioning to display not herself but how whites view black bodies.
This picture is insulting, not just because it is unflattering, but because it is untrue. As mentioned earlier, hair is a source of pride in the black community. In past and present black communities, even the most conventionally impoverished black family will find a way to ensure their children are clean and if there is a daughter—her hair will be done. There are of course exceptions, but the “messy bun” and “tossled pony tails” that often occupy spaces atop the heads of white women and girls, are simply not a part of black hair care. Most black women sleep in silk scarves and satin bonnets, meaning that even before we’ve dressed, our hair is laid. So, we do not wake up like this picture would lead many to believe.
We do however wake up in a world of white supremacy. A world that desperately needs black inferiority. Anti-Blackness is never an accident but an intentional facet of a world that needs black inferiority like the human body needs water. Thus, it is not a complaint to call out anti-black images like these. But it is counterproductive for and human of a global subaltern status hose who still shop at this store, or any other company that caters to a white demographic whose esteem heightens upon seeing images like these alongside a fictive version of themselves in the company’s ad. Realistically, the advertisement reflects the kind of melanated individual who would I fact shop at J Crew with their “white friends” seeking to buy clothing they only like because of its proximity to whiteness. The hairstyle reflects the lengths some melanated folks will go to ensure that their white counterparts feel unthreatened by their presence.
Moreover, while the image is certainly problematic, even more so are the subtleties. Namely, the outrage prompted by this advertisement unveils that their are many blacks and non-blacks waiting for whites to showcase black beauty. It is imperative to mention that this anticipation causes many blacks and non blacks to celebrate blacks featured in mainstream global culture who possess a conventional beauty. This act should foment challenge not celebration, as whites should not determine what or if the black body is “pretty” or “ugly.” This depiction of a black woman as unkept and unpolished resumes the same narrative that has consistently portrayed black people as uncivilized, dirty, dangerous, and overall inferior. So why is this news? Why is their outage?
The answer is that the subjugation handed to the black collective by way of white supremacy makes it so that blacks depend on white dictation to determine their own self-worth. As a collective, we must learn to acknowledge white perception of black bodies and expect nothing less. It is also imperative that we avoid looking into the white supremacist mirrors, be it television, advertisements, or any form of white media, for beauty. Seeking conformation of black beauty in white supremacist mirrors like white media provide a lethal validation to those who cannot see the beauty in blackness unless projected by whites. We as a collective should not even look into a conventional mirror to find beauty,, but to the beauty of the legacy to which we were born.
With this said, I’m happy that J Crew posted this advertisement and unveiled their perception of blacks. Should we be so lucky with all white establishments from clothing to technology, who want black money but couldn’t care less about black people.