Can TV news handle natural black hair?

Posted on 13. Oct, 2009 by in Arts and Culture, Rebecca Leung

I have no idea what my hair looks like. I haven’t seen it since I was seven.

That’s how old I was when my mother took me to the salon to get my first relaxer – a process I have repeated every six to eight weeks since. I don’t remember much about that first experience, except that it hurt like hell and I was happy. Happy, because it made my hair pretty.

And by pretty, I mean not “nappy.”

It’s an uncomfortable, psychological conflict that I and many other black women in America struggle with. For black women in broadcast journalism, the hair issue can be especially discomforting. Natural hairstyles are underrepresented on-air, notes media blogger Richard Prince. He quotes women in the industry saying that ‘fros, ‘locks and braids are a distraction and not relatable to viewers – two nono’s in broadcast news.

Black women have been taught – maybe by our parents, maybe by society, maybe by those painful mornings sitting between our grandmothers’ legs as they tussle with our kinks – that our natural hair is bad. I mean REALLY bad. So bad that we spend $9 billion a year to manage it.

At that price, black women could buy Facebook, cover Apple computers’ earnings for nearly a quarter, or pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for 24 days.

Comedian Chris Rock explores the issue in his movie “Good Hair,” released this month.

My favorite all-natural sister on air is Monica Kaufman, who anchors for WSB-TV Channel 2 in Atlanta. She is known for her changing hairstyles and has bravely sported a blond short cut for years now. But, as she told Prince, that’s not how she started. As a young reporter, she wore a wig to her interviews:

“I needed to look middle class and reliable. If people were distracted by your hair, then they weren’t listening to what you were saying. The decision I made: I wore my hair natural on my weekends and wore my wig on the air.”

Most disturbing is that when Kauffman finally let her natural hair show, the complaints mostly came from other black women, she told Prince.

“They said, ‘You need to get a wig. You represent us.'”

This begs the question: is the pressure that black women in broadcast feel to get their hair permed, pressed or weaved external or internal? Are we the only ones who still see a stigma or political statement in a ‘fro? Or is our natural hair really still a distraction to white Americans?

Tags: , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Can TV news handle natural black hair?”

  1. elizabeth.eckert

    13. Oct, 2009

    I love that the wig guy was saying he wanted “natural” looking hair when that look is achieved through hours of sitting with horrible chemicals on your head. Couldn’t be farther from natural.

    Maybe it’s my generation or my interest in fashion talking, but I’ve never seen nappy hair, fros, braids, or anything like that as a political statement. Fashion statement maybe, but so is every other conscious decision we make about our appearances. But that’s just me.

  2. anne.byrnes

    14. Oct, 2009

    It’s funny that you posted this because I was walking in from lunch with Chika and we saw a female black newscaster on NY1 with a serious case of helmet hair. It’s funny because for me, her fake hair was a distraction, whereas her natural hair would be less so. I think it was distracting because it seemed so contrived.