Can We Please Challenge Sheryl Underwood’s Afro-Hair Comment Without Calling Her Ugly?

September 5, 2013  |  

Even though she has apologized to the black community, and the natural hair community in particular, some folks are still pretty miffed with co-host of The View knockoff The Talk and one of the “Queens of Comedy,” Sheryl Underwood.

And why wouldn’t they be? What she said about afro hair was really, putting it nicely, unaware. So it is certainly understandable that folks might want to express just how disappointed they are. However, some of the reactions I’ve been seeing and hearing from folks, particularly via social networks, has been sort of, and putting it nicely again, also unaware. Like on Twitter, where the response to Underwood’s comments have been largely peppered with all types of reaction synonymous with “ugly.”

Here is a short list of some of the most “interesting” comments:

Sheryl Underwood is ugly anyway… #c*on

 

I don’t think Sheryl Underwood is ugly. She just bears an uncanny resemblance to Wesley Snipes, that’s all. And he was fine back in the day.

 

@sherylunderwood @LILKIM <== This is a BEAUTIFUL BLACK WOMAN & you are an UGLY BLACK GORILLA!!! With a donkey face!!

 

Sheryl Underwood doesn’t know any better. Anyone with gums that black is not responsible for what comes out of their mouth. It’s a defect.

 

@sherylunderwood like a silver back male gorilla wearing a wig.

 

@sherylunderwood you a dumb black ugly b**ch. You not smart & you not pretty #Killyoself Monkey

 

you ugly a** flying monkey from Agraba! you were NEVER attractive from jump, that’s why you hate ”natural” Black Beauty. @sherylunderwood

 

It seems like Underwood is not the only one here with some internalized hate. I wish I could say that these have been isolated comments, but these reactions have pretty much been noticeably consistent since the start of the controversy. And it’s not just Twitter. I have been reading some severe dirt-dragging based solely on Underwood’s looks throughout the blogosphere. It’s quite interesting that those, who in their defense of natural hair, are using such racially charged and inflammatory language as “monkey,” and “gorilla” or making fun of her black gums (which likely is caused from having excess melanin in the skin) and comparing her features to that of a man. Being a comedian, which is basically like a sad clown, Underwood has joked off much of the backlash, stating: “@MzPearlyP1nk: I’m glad ppl notice how ugly Sheryl underwood is!! I been sayin that for yrssss Lolz

But I don’t find it funny, nor productive in the least.

Somehow folks got the impression that Underwood’s ignorance justifies their own. In some respects I get it; you want to hurt someone as badly as they have cut you. However, the real deal is that acceptance does not happen overnight. If you spent a lifetime perming, stretching and otherwise denying your hair the ability to grow and shine in its natural state, you will have a hard time believing that there is anything “good” about your hair. That acceptance only comes with patience and education. Like literally, reading up on your hair, understanding its patterns and foreign (to you) ways and basically learning how to do your hair all over again. But more importantly, it takes lots of unpacking of internal negative feelings as well as erasing and flat out ignoring the messages we receive daily in public. You have to recondition yourself to not just think but believe that you are just as beautiful with that thick, nappy mane as you were when you were perming, weaving, and otherwise hiding the natural texture of your hair. You have to accept the fact that your curls are not necessarily going to be “defined” like Cree Summer on a Different World; that “shrinkage” is not something you have to get around or stop; that there is no such thing as being too nappy to go natural; that good hair doesn’t necessarily mean long or straight hair, but rather just clean and healthy, and more. Yes folks, unless you have been rocking the unaltered textured look for all your life, there is a very real and serious process many of us have to go through to come to the point of really loving our hair.

In fact, it is the judgments of others and the fear of losing the attention of the male gaze, which leads to lots of resentment and overall insecurity. Like your mom, grandma, your friends, and maybe even your pastor, who because the hate of our natural texture is generational, will wonder out loud why you are walking around looking unkempt. Or your employer and children’s school, who tell you that your hair is unacceptable because it’s not “presentable” or unprofessional. Or the boyfriend, husband, or significant other, who keeps hinting (if not blatantly) about how much better you looked with the lace front (oh yes, it does happen. And that is another post for another day). Or even that stranger, who just decided to accost you with his or her unsolicited opinion on your nappy hair (yup, that happened too). None of those situations were helpful in getting one’s self to the point of self-acceptance, and I doubt highly that placing Underwood’s looks under that same scrutiny will do the same.

If Underwood’s experience was like the experience of a few dark skinned girlfriends of mine as well as other women I have encountered throughout life, I can tell you that she is well aware of all the negative connotations around not just her hair but her entire African aesthetic. And if this is the case, I’m almost certain that her general feelings about natural black hair is based more out of a defense mechanism, spurred out of years of ridicule and abuse about the appearance of her own. Therefore, it is certainly counterproductive to think that calling her names such as “gorilla” or telling her that she looks like Wesley Snipes will make her any more accepting of her “natural” appearance.

What’s missing most in all this backlash to Underwood’s statement is a sense of empathy. There was a number of ways to correct this black woman’s impressions of natural African hair, including offering book suggestions; sharing positive affirmations; and giving words of understanding and camaraderie. Or, simply by showing her that you’ve been there and this his how you got through it. Heck, even getting mad and explaining why you were hurt would have been more helpful than the mockery and teasing. And it would be more believable as well. After all, if your first inclination upon hearing that Underwood, a dark-skinned woman, made some unflattering comments about the black image, is to attack her based upon her dark-skinned looks, well, you have to wonder how dedicated you are to the “self-love” cause to begin with.

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