Editor’s Note: Tiya Miles is administrator of the Department of Afro-American and African Studies and assistant of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan. She is the columnist of “Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom” and “The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story.” She is additionally the champ of a 2011 ability admission from the MacArthur Foundation.
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By Tiya Miles, Special to CNN
When Gabby Douglas stood on the Olympic belvedere Thursday, a ablaze smile on her face and gold badge about her neck, she fabricated history as the aboriginal African-American woman to win top ceremoniousness in the all-around gymnastics competition.
Many African-Americans watching Douglas aggregate a alike of pride at the accomplishment, acquainted her joy, her poise, her adroitness and, apparently, her hairstyle.
I heard about this closing captivation from my sister, who swept into boondocks for a weekend appointment and opened with, “Have you heard that blend about Gabby’s hair? Type in ‘Gabby Douglas hair’ on Google; you’ll see.” I was abashed to acquisition a cord of posts by African-American women and men debating Douglas’ hairstyle and the perceived blemish that while her beard was straightened, genitalia of it had angry visibly coiled during her performance.
The allure with accustomed African-American hair
Twitter and Facebook commenters and callers on atramentous allocution radio shows questioned whether her beard was too beeline or too kinky, whether it was over-gelled or under-tamed, and what she should accept done with that billowing bun. My sister, who anticipation this battery of criticism was a “mess,” threw in the final comment: “All right, I accept if I was her mother, I would accept put a chaplet on the girl, but really, who cares?”
A cogent cardinal of people, if the account my Google chase alternate is any indication. Why were some African-Americans bedeviled on beard at a moment that should accept been set abreast to flavor a admirable achievement?
For African-Americans and atramentous women in particular, beard has continued been afflicted terrain. The accustomed kinkiness or curliness of best atramentous people’s beard places it alfresco the bound of boilerplate American adorableness standards, which emphasizes straightness, breadth and the animation and breeze of duster in motion.
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Historically, the aberration of atramentous beard arrangement has adumbrated the inferiority of atramentous bodies in the minds of some whites and alike some blacks.
Naturally coiled beard was beheld as dirty, bedraggled and airedale into the mid-20th century.
In the 1960s and later, as blacks began to accost accustomed styles, Afros, braids and dreadlocks were associated with political radicalism in ascendant American ability to the admeasurement that some atramentous women were threatened with the accident of their jobs for cutting braids to the workplace.
Over the years, atramentous women (and men) accept angry to abundant articles and processes in an attack to acclimatized their locks into looks added applicable for American association – from twists and ties to pomades and gels to straightening combs and actinic relaxers.
It is no admiration that the aboriginal African-American changeable millionaire, Madame C. J. Walker, becoming her abundance from affairs beard lotions and perfecting the use of the straightening comb.
For African-Americans, smooth, beeline beard has been a attribute not alone of adorableness but of accepting in broader American culture. And while atramentous women abrasion their beard in countless artistic ways, one basal acclimatization from this cultural history of beard abuse remains: the actualization that a atramentous woman’s hairstyle is important and alike symbolic, so she had bigger get it right. This is in allotment why Angela Davis’ Afro became iconic, why Beyoncé’s albino duster are a signature of her attending and why Nicki Minaj fabricated a burst with a twirling carrousel of cotton-candy atramentous wigs.
Praise pours in for Viola Davis’ accustomed ‘do
African-American women feel that we accept to “represent” through concrete appearance. We apperceive that back we footfall alfresco our doors, bodies do not alone see and adjudicator us as individuals, they see and adjudicator our absolute association and ancestral group.
For our own self-esteem and for the address of our group, we strive to arise our best. And to do so, we accept generally approved to carbon the artful ethics of boilerplate American association — including beeline hair.
These acts of archetype accept been internalized such that we generally do not analyze amid boilerplate standards of adorableness and what ability accept commonly been our own way of attractive at and admiring ourselves.
The accessible acknowledgment to Douglas’ actualization shows that this captivation with beard in the atramentous association has gone too far.
In the atramentous culture, a affluence of hairstory
After her beauteous win, tweeters who about accepted “why hasn’t anyone approved to fix Gabby Douglas’ hair?” and answerable “gabby douglas gotta do article with this hair!” absent the nation’s absorption from what absolutely mattered in the moment.
Defenses of Douglas acquaint by atramentous women emphasized arresting points: that she was an amateur who necessarily formed up a sweat, that diaphoresis artlessly afflicted one’s beard and that she had aloof able article none of the “haters” could alike dream of. A Facebook folio alleged “I Support Gabby Douglas and HER HAIR” has calm 220 likes.
But overall, the babble about Douglas’ beard has been aloof and unproductive. Instead of criticizing this boyish babe for her appearance, atramentous women and men could accept been application those 140 Twitter characters to bless the accomplishment of an Olympic champion.
The astute atramentous feminist columnist Alice Walker batten and wrote about the constraints of beard and adorableness ethics in atramentous ability in an article blue-blooded “Oppressed beard puts a beam on the brain.”
When we appoint in petty allocution of perms and gels in the deathwatch of a abundant triumph, we abate ourselves and absolute the abeyant of our adolescent women and girls by sending the bulletin that how they attending overshadows what they think, brainstorm and accomplish.
Instead, we should be cogent our girls that adorableness is as adorableness does. So what if 16-year-old Gabby Douglas doesn’t accommodated an unrealistic atramentous hair-care standard?
She can beat and cast on alongside confined as the best all-around woman aerialist in the world; she can bound through the air like a cutting star.
We should all aspire to lift our active so high.
The opinions bidding in this annotation are alone those of Tiya Miles.
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