Friday, December 04, 2009

Acne and frizz

-What to make of acronyms from non-English-speaking countries that, while derived from English words, spell something ridiculous in English? See here and, especially (url potentially NSFW, website itself perfectly Rated G), here, and if you can think of others, that's what the comments are for.

-Race and hair: Oh the eternal question. To answer it, kind of: yes, it's different for a white person to have hair that does not fit conventional beauty standards than it is for a black person to be in the same situation. Curly-haired Irish-American =/= African-American with the same hair texture.

But! A couple things. One, racially-charged beauty standards do not stop being racially-charged when applied to non-blacks. The red-headed Irish person is fairly safe today in America from being thought non-white, but plenty of other 'ethnics' fuss about frizz for reasons very much tied to race. (Thus "Jewfro.") For ethnic groups with a history of oppression, in the US or elsewhere, on the basis in part of non-fine-hairedness - and that could be, oh, many formerly colonized nations - hair is a charged subject. Admitting this does not deny the specificity of racism against blacks in America, past and present, it just helps as a way to avoid conflating 'non-black-with-frizz' with 'racially-ignorant-white-person'.

Next, while there are certainly political advantages, there are also disadvantages, beauty-standards-wise, that come with your minority group being classified as 'white.' When Jews were thought racially distinct, Jewish women were judged as Jews, the same way one judges bagels (bear with me here) on the basis of how good they are as bagels, rather than on the basis of how good they are as baguettes. Overall preferences may have tilted towards baguettes, but there was still a place for bagels. But if we were to judge bagels on the basis of how well they approximate baguettes, we'd find most bagels quite disappointing. The same goes for Jewish women being judged as white women. Because let's remember that those who insist that 'Jews are not a race' typically mean by this that Jews are part of a race, but that that race, in most cases, should be called 'white' and not 'Jewish.' Those who say 'Jews don't look any different' mean, 99% of the time, to suggest that Jews do not look unlike other white people, and that to say otherwise is racist. Whereas Jewish women used to be the exotic alternative, we are now just a group of white women on average less likely to fit a fine-haired, blond ideal. Does any of this make being Jewish in America more difficult than being black in America? Clearly not. It's just something to think about when thinking about race and hair and whatnot.


Withywindle said...

When I look at medieval paintings, I get the sense that any exposed hair at all was erotic. When did we (Europeans) get to the point where seeing hair was normal enough that we distinguished between, and fetishized, the different varieties?

Matt said...

Do you think there's a strong premium put on blond, straight hair in the general pubic? (I mean, not among, say, those doing fashion shoots. I don't know or care what they think and really don't think others should much care, either.) I'm not saying there's not, just that it would surprise me if it were very strong. (I have no special preference for any hair color or degree of curl- all could look nice in the right setting.) Do you think this is especially so for women or more generally? (I was blond for quite a while, but at around 12 my once nearly white hair started darkening and now it's a very normal brown. I liked the blond because it was a bit unusual, but I was too young to know if would have had advantages.)

Jeff said...

the Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Britta said...

I agree with you Phoebe. I think part of the problem that people like Latoya get frustrated about is that the conversations about how whiteness has changed over time and the the experiences of groups on the margins (Irish, Jews, Italians, etc.) end up taking over a space designed to talk about blackness. That doesn't make them not important to have, but I think it ends up feeling like black people, yet again, are marginalized, even in spaces they create themselves to talk about AA problems.

Also, I think there are enough clueless white people who write things like, "I know what it's like to be oppressed based on skin color, I can't get a tan, and then my sister makes fun of me!" that it becomes hard for people to distinguish the dismissive/diminishing comments from the nuanced ones. I'm not black, and I want to punch people who write comments like that, so I'd imagine if you'd just opened up about a highly personal experience of racism and you get even some white people writing things like that, it's pretty difficult to keep calm and feel generous. That, of course, combined with the idea that black people are supposed to be endlessly patient about white people's racial ignorance, and to always be the ones who say, "that's ok, you didn't mean to be offensive" or "congrats for talking about a difficult subject." Obviously Latoya has chosen to engage race conversations in public (and is indeed extremely patient) but the urge to at some point go "fuck you" probably is overwhelming.

On the other hand, I think one reason white people do have problems (sometimes I do too, even though I would never in a million years claim to be in any way racially marginalized) is that they are often written in a way that posits certain experiences are only had by members of some groups. Like, "As a white person, you've never done/felt XYZ," or as "a black person, I've done ABC and you can't understand it." Although actual experiences are really different and hard to compare, if you are white and have done XYZ or ABC, the first instinctual response (at least for me) is "no, I've done those too."
I think it's partly there's a certain performative style that's used when recounting racism, and the, "you've never done XYZ" is a common trope, and not necessarily supposed to be literally interpreted as no white people have ever done XYZ, but you have to be familiar with the style to know that. Also, people use experiences as a shorthand to describe racism, so it's not that that experience in itself is what experiencing racism is. So even if white people do the same things, it's not the same, but again, that's hard to interpret if you just read a post/article where that's not explicitly made clear.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I suppose you'd have to look for the first literary reference to a man describing the hair color of a woman outside his family?


Yes, blondness means privilege. Leaving aside historical 'fair'-'dark' dichotomies and sticking to the present, see: money spent on blondification; the percentage of models who are (often natural-looking) blondes versus the percentage of the overall population. A college classmate of mine, of an ethnic background unlikely to produce blond offspring once told me how much she wanted her children to be blond. I was surprised she said it, but not that she thought it, as blondness in children (the only place it's found in great numbers) is prized.


But do they use the expression in English?


I agree with your assessment of the post and comments. I guess I think there's a difference between a white person responding to that post with 'OMG I totally get bad hair days too' (which, granted, was the gist of some of the comments), and someone from an ethnicity other than that of the blogger explaining that her group, too, has hair-race issues stemming from historical or present-day oppression. The point of this post was not to defend the 'most white people don't look like Barbie' commenters. What I'm getting at is that there are many non-black women out there who have not only experienced frizz, but who have experienced it within a political context not so very irrelevant to the discussion at hand. To complain about frizz generally is to derail the discussion, whereas to point out these similar but not identical cases helps not only to offer a big-picture view of hair politics, but also to show what does make black women's situation in America distinct.