What 'Becky With the Good Hair' Is Telling Our Black Daughters

Lemonade Beyonce

Last week, Beyonce released what is arguably her best work yet -- but she also unleashed massive speculation as to the identity of "Becky with the Good Hair." I love me some Queen Bey, and I am saying this with all the love I can hold for someone who has no clue I exist: Take responsibility for your words. Children are watching. Let's be done with the "good" hair thing. It's outdated, racially charged, and counterproductive to the positive self-images of our black children.

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I find myself having a completely different reaction to public discourse about race and children now that I'm a mom. Before my son was born, I knew about the differentiation between "good" hair and not-"good" hair but it didn't affect me because I have what can be perceived to be "good" hair. I grew up in Trinidad, but that didn't stop me from receiving messaging from the American media about black hair. My mother is of Indian descent and my father is of African descent. My hair is curly.

Yes, some days I can wake up and go. Yes, my hair behaves for the most part. And yes, my hair has been the subject of many admiring looks and comments. I have what is considered "good hair." By the way, I say this objectively because I don't feel any ownership over it. I didn't do anything to get it and if it were all gone, I would still be me.

Nevertheless, I don't have some of the issues around black hair that I saw my friends with black hair face. I saw them go through the perming phase. I saw the washing, drying, and pressing process that took hours. I saw their aversions to being caught in the rain. I also saw the damage from years of perming. There was no quick "pull back and go." They spend time and significant products to get desired styles. There are now many bloggers who help educate about natural, black hair and how fuss-free it can be. This is so important because many young black girls are looking to older black role models to see how they should react to their black hair. As Beyonce put it, though, it can be a differentiating factor for some people, especially men. (Some black men may view it as an asset...)

For the black woman, when your man goes for the woman with "good" hair over you, it can be seen as a slap in the face to the essence of a black woman, similar to when a black man dates a white woman. Add that to the expected range of emotions over seeing a man you love with another woman and it is not pretty. But no good can come from perpetuation the idea of "good" hair. It only serves to make one group of women feel inferior -- and the other group either superior or guiltily complacent. And it sends our black sons and daughters the same old message.

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As a mother, I think about the messages about hair that my son will soon get from the media. I plan to raise him on Beyonce, Rihanna, Citizen Cope, Coldplay, and more. I have no intentions of shielding him from the music of his generation. I will hold these musicians accountable for their power and I plan to discuss with him anything that sends a message that can have an impact on his self-image. For now, the messaging about his hair predominantly comes from me. He has soft curls. It gets tangles but it is nothing compared to the ones on my head that I do battle with in the shower.

His hair is factually a few things: It factually is more manageable than mine. It factually is straighter than mine. It factually takes less time to comb than mine. It is NOT factually better than mine. As a mom, I don't want him to internalize the differentiation of "good" or not-"good" hair. Good implies positivity, and there is nothing negative about black hair. All mothers have a responsibility to teach proper self-image to their children, and hair is just one of those areas.

Even Beyonce has a responsibility to her daughter to teach her self-love. I'm not quite sure how she will explain "good" hair to her daughter and the energy with which that word is used. Black mothers have it especially tough. The media projects the image of the blonde, blue-eyed girl as beauty. It starts with cartoons and carries all the way through adulthood. Mothers need to constantly reinforce to their kids that beauty comes in all shapes, textures, and sizes. This job is made a bit harder when messages from pop culture contradict this. It is even more confusing when it comes from fellow moms.

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If you've been following along (thanks, Facebook), you would have noticed that Rachel Roy, the perceived Becky with the good hair, does indeed have lovely, flowing locks. What is interesting to me is that I always perceived Beyonce as having gorgeous hair. I know she lives on weaves and wigs, as all stars do, but was I fooled when I saw a picture of her on vacation with a headful of brown curls? Solange's hair has spurred many an envious woman to make the cut.

I feel weirdly uncomfortable with the idea that the phrase "good hair" was used as merely a tool to cause division among black women, as opposed to the rest of Beyonce's album, which is actually empowering and honest. I've watched as the Beyhive has attacked Rachel Roy's 16-year-old daughter on social media. Someone told her to die. Someone else called her mother a slut. I'll spare you my conspiracy theory that this is all part of a masterful marketing ploy to sell music.

People, in their anger toward Becky with the good hair, are forgetting that this is a real live person with innocent children. This isn't a soap opera. These children go to school, have playdates, come home to their mother. They are reading and seeing what adults -- yes, adults -- are spewing at them. What is the goal here? Again, what message is all of this ultimately sending?

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I long for the day when "good" hair is no longer a thing. I can't wait for the day when all these hair bloggers overtake the mainstream messaging and make it so uncool to think anything but positivity about all types of black hair. I will be sitting my son in front of his laptop to watch hair tutorials when that happens. My hope is that young girls look to positive sources like that for guidance and not pop stars who use trigger words for reactions (I love you, Bey, but be responsible, girl).

Instead of using phrases like "good hair" I'd like to see Beyonce do a music video showing her natural hair and singing about how beautiful it is just the way it is. Young black kids need that more than they need a message that draws a line in the sand between them and their friends with different hair. 

 

Tabitha St. BernardWhen not exchanging quippy garbs with her 15-month-old, Tabitha St. Bernard can found waxing poetic about her zero waste fashion line, Tabii Just. She lives in Brooklyn with said son and husband.

 





 

Image via Parkwood Entertainment

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