Alrighty then, let’s talk about a subject that I don’t usually broach: hair. I don’t really care about it but as it has come up a lot in recent days, let’s get down to it and all its nonsense politics.
As of recent, Beyonce put out a visual album called “Lemonade”. It definitely seems the whole world wound up watching it. I usually don’t care for anything Beyonce since I grew up with Destiny’s Child, as well as countless other acts such as 702 and Total, therefore it’s all just background sounds but I definitely saw the artistic visuals (I’m a sucker for short films) so I gave it a go. I never thought people would hyperfocus on the phrase “better call Becky with the good hair”…but then again, I’m Black and I forgot that Beyonce has a multitude of White fans, who took this and ran with it like a Klansman with a people-hunting license.
Ok, if you’re White (mainly White girls) and you’re saying “I’m Becky with the good hair”, to a Black person’s ears, you just said, “Segregation now, intergration never. Trump for president. Why don’t Black people bleach their skin and straighten their hair if they want to be accepted? Ugh, dirty porch monkeys.”
No, seriously, all that in one teeny phrase. This is why blindly stealing cultural terminology, idioms and phrases are a bad idea.
If you’re thinking, “Beyonce said all this about herself! I thought she liked being Black!” She does. When a Black person talks about a “Becky with the good hair”, she’s saying: “I am culturally disrespected time and time again because my skin is dark, my hair is nappy. I’m forever devalued, regardless what I do because I have ‘bad’ hair. Everyone likes you more if you have that ‘good’, straight hair like White girls do. What bullsh*t.” It’s mainly racist when a White person says it, an expression of the existence of racism when a Black person says it, and I’ll be going into the why below.
Let’s break it down in two compartments: “Becky” and “Good Hair” because I think if you’re going to be a mentally dense White girl (a ‘Becky’), you may want to get it straight, especially if you’re the feminist type – doubly so if you have a Tumblr because frankly, this is really stupid.
We’re going to start here with some history. Actually, no, we’re going to start here with a reference from the extremely well-written column from Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas, titled “Where ‘Becky’ Comes From, and Why It’s Not Racist, Explained“:
“For years, ‘Becky’ has been used as a general reference for a particular type of White woman….It’s actually easier for me to say whether a White woman would be considered a Becky than it is to explain the criteria. Hillary Clinton? Not a Becky. Natalie Portman? Not really a Becky. Taylor Swift? The Beckiest. Iggy Azelea? Darth Becky. There are several theories on its etymology, but the one that makes the most sense is that it stems from the first line of ‘Baby Got Back.’
“Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt”
And cue to the video in reference! “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix ALot, everyone. Pay suuuuuuuuuuuper close attention to the intro.
In the intro, the unnamed girl is talking to her friend Becky and this is what she says:
“Oh. My. God. Becky, look at her butt. It is so big. She looks like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends. Who understands those rap guys, ugh? They only talk to her because she looks like a total prostitute, okay? I mean, her butt. It’s just so…big…ugh, I can’t believe it’s so round – it’s like, out there – I mean, ugh, gross. Look! She’s just so…Black.”
And then we go into the song that is worth its own race x gender deconstruction but here ya have it, the whole kit and kaboodle. This name, Becky, is what stuck. (I can already hear some apologist going, “technically, Becky never said any of that, so it isn’t her to blame so [blah blah blah bs]”, dude…no one cares. Also, it isn’t like Becky ever says, “Chill it, Sarah. She’s ok the way she is, gawd. You’re, like, so racist. No wonder Chad cheated on you at the Spring Formal.”) Now, this first line was an ear catcher then and, trust, it is now. Nicki Minaj sampled that exact line “Oh. My. God. Becky, look at her butt,” for her pop song “Anaconda”. Actually, I believe Sir Mix ALot added to it with the hook “My anaconda don’t/My anaconda don’t/My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon.”
This, in academia, is what you actually would call “cultural intertexuality”. It’s nifty and all over the place in hip hop…because it’s a creative art form, like any other art form.
Alright, back to the racist duo, featuring Jank and Silent Becky. This is what White girls unknowingly are refering to, time and time over when they’re referencing Beyonce in “Lemonade”. Not smart. Actually, Young references what a “Becky” stereotype is:
“Admittedly, referring to White women as “Becky” isn’t particularly nice, but it’s ultimately a reaction to a certain type of privileged young White woman who exists in a state of racial obliviousness that shifts from intentionally clueless to intentionally condescending. “
I agree. And if any White girl thinks “Becky” is a slur…uhhhhhh, and “Shaniqua/Pedro/Ping-Ping/Ahmed” isn’t? White folks have been dragging us by our names for centuries. The difference is, “Becky” can still get hired, “Shaniqua” has to work twice as hard to get half as much as “Becky”. If anything at all. “Becky” doesn’t make people talk down to you like “Shaniqua” does, even if you’re decorated with degrees. “Becky” doesn’t get the worst assume of her, “Shaniqua” is treated like a criminal from the start. “Becky” isn’t a slur because it’s literally just a name to the rest of society, no baggage. “Shaniqua” has the opposite effect. And if a White girl thinks “Becky” is still a slur, how come it isn’t used against her in common media? How come no one asks her “Why did your parents name you that?” or told “I can’t pronounce that”? “Becky” isn’t a slur, “Becky” is how Black folks, primarily Black women, can commiserate with other Black folks, primarily Black women, about the fact that dealing with Whiteness as the ideal, especially gendered Whiteness, is a real downer.
Even when White girls think that they’re being tongue-in-cheek cute by calling themselves “Becky”, they’re kinda saying “I’m White and proud of it” without throwing up the “Heil Hitler” salute. (Same for “basic”, they’re just saying they’re “worthless, White and proud of it”. That’s just pathetic.) Basically, to the ears and eyes of Black folks – primarily Black women – this is how it comes off:
But hey, they do have what is culturally defined as “good hair”. And there’s a chance one of them may actually be named “Becky”. They’re just *really* proud of that fact.
Remember, Black girls have a massive hill to climb because of misogynoir (the combo hatred of race and gender). We’re always ragged on by everyone, from mainstream society to even in Black culture, about Whiteness and how we don’t add up. Bottom of the totem pole, last one picked, you get the idea. In Black culture, there’s even an idea of “marrying up” when you have a White partner, especially for a Black guy. Because of that ideal, that means the most basic Becky can show up, and she’s a hot commodity (think about the rise of Iggy Azelea) but a Black girl means nothing until she does something about her skin, body features and that hair….Oooh, that nappy, headed hair has got to go! ‘Cuz she ain’t gonna find herself no man until she got some good hair he can run his fingers through.
Speaking of ingrained cultural bullsh*t, let’s get to the second part:
Ahh, the hair debacle. If you’re a White girl, you’ll never have to go through this. Black? It’s a load of misery, regardless of texture.
It was an absolute pain for me when I went natural (stopped straightening my hair) because, maaaaaan, is Black hair politicized to the point I felt like I needed a Post Doc just to buy shampoo and a comb. It’s the first thing everyone will pick on in regards to success in life for a Black woman/girl. Wanna get a job? “You’re not gonna straighten your hair? They won’t hire you.” Wanna get a date? “No one is gonna love you with that Angela Davis nonsense you got on your head. Men don’t care about that, they like straight hair.” Wanna be seen as not threatening? “You look like a Black Panther. Lolz, why do you hate White people? All I said was it was ‘All Lives Matter’ makes more sense than ‘Black Lives Matter’.” Wanna have your humanity respected? “I just had to pet you, you remind me of my dog! So fluffeh! I just wanna shave it all off, stuff it all in my pillow and sleep on it” Wanna buy shampoo that’s for your hair texture? “Try the ‘ethnic’ aisle. It will be an arm and a leg. But there are perm kits there, too! Get all that ‘jungle’ out your hair and look cute.”
Now, let’s get into the Bad Hair/Good Hair debate.
Thankfully, there’s India Arie “I Am Not My Hair” music video to give us all a great starting point.
To pinpoint, her description is “Good hair means curls and waves/Bad hair means you look like a slave”.
Y’see, “good” hair emulates mainly European hair, which is a “nice” curly to an “ideal” straight. “Bad” hair basically means you have African ancestry because no one has hair like us. In its natural state, Black hair can break combs, be absolutely huge, and – when not cared for correctly – be a big pain in the rear for the person who decided to go natural.
Good hair/Blac- I mean, Bad hair has been ingrained in Black folks since we were first dragged here. Ditto with skin bleaches and “fixing” your nose. To get straight hair, you have to chemically alter it or use plain fire-like heat. You’ll have chemical burns on your scalp (just google the ingredients on a Black hair perm kit…try the brand “African Pride”. (Yes, the name. The internalized racism)) or third degree burns on your ears and scalp. But society will like you better for it, though! Just yells “Less dangerous” and “not angry” and “totes believe racism died when Obama went into office.” Don’t like using harsh science to fry your scalp? How about shelling out major cheddar for weaves, wigs and braids? Think you won’t need it? Fine, go see if you can land a job.
Actually, T-Pain said it best (yes, guys got their hair conked as well. What, you thought European ideals of beauty only affected Black Women?):
At this point in history, the present, Black girls are kiiiiiiiiinda tired of the “straight hair is good hair” chicanery. Especially with the waves of women going natural, the prejudice is still buried deep. Good hair should mean “hair that is well cared for, regardless of texture”, not “hair similar to White girls”. But still, it doesn’t. And it still can make Black women and girls feel like crap about themselves. Even Beyonce. Her hair is not naturally straight. If you’ve seen a picture of Solange Knowles, her sister, then you basically have a pretty accurate picture of what Beyonce’s hair would look like in a totally natural state. Why it isn’t in the natural state is perfectly up to Beyonce. Because it’s her hair. Because that’s how personhood works.
Luckily for everyone, there’s a documentary about this, called “Good Hair”, made by comedian Chris Rock. That’s where the T-Pain and co. clip came from. Here’s some more!
That’s a playlist of varied snippets. I really recommend watching the whole documentary. It is as comedic as it is informative.
And here’s a last bit from Tatyana Ali in her interview with VladTv, it’s really good.
Basically, considering yourself a “Becky with the good hair” is pretty insulting to Black people because of all the issue it’s brought us. Oh, and if you think you’re clever, Nivea thought the same with this ad:
Yeah, not cool. It’s ok to say, “I have nice hair”, but don’t recite Beyonce on a socio-cultural and racially gendered struggle you literally have no idea about. It just sounds so…basic.