Actress Tatyana Ali Says She Felt Alienated for Having “Good Hair” Growing Up

Another day, another “good” and “bad” hair conversation. But this one comes with a twist.
Tatyana Ali, more famously known as Ashley Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, chose a recent interview with Vlad TV as her platform for discussing the implications of growing up with the burden of having “good hair”.
Ali shares,
“When I was younger [my hair] was something that set me apart and not necessarily in a good way, from other girls that I knew. Not that I was so much made fun of but it felt like I was made to seem different.”
The “setting apart” to which Ali is referring is the legacy of centuries of eurocentric brainwashing in which phenotypically Black features are discarded as ugly and undesirable. Ali shares that through lenses like Chris Rock’s Good Hair, one side of the story has been captured quite well — the story that shares the implications of whitewashed beauty standards on self-esteem and perceived self-worth of women with darker complexions and kinkier hair. However, she believes there is a story that is less often told.
“When Chris Rock did Good Hair, I was like ‘Oh my God, he should’ve interviewed me!’ because I feel like there’s one side of the story, which he told very, very well, but then there’s another side of the story, which is…you have a group of cousins playing together and you separate the children that way, you’re doing as much damage to that child that you’re calling out for having good hair…You’re creating this separation that isn’t true.”

This is a conversation that has the potential to get really ugly, really quick. But before we digress into side-eyes and mutterings of the “tragic mulatto” (can you tell I saw Dear White People on Friday last week?), let’s set a few things straight.

First and foremost, the legacy of slavery in the US and Imperialism on a global scale has done some really ugly and heart-wrenching things to the cultures and value systems of people of color across the board. And absolutely none of it is by accident or coincidence. In the poignant historical text Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson shares one of my favorite quotes: “When you control a man’s thinking, you can control his actions.” In other words, if we continue to psychologically buy in to systems, imagery, and marketing campaigns that malign kinky and coily Black hair as “bad” and something to be devalued, then we will continue to reinforce and perpetuate said ideas amongst ourselves in thought, word, and deed. I believe this is what Ali was referring to when she proposed the scenario about families identifying their children by whether they have “good” hair or not.

Secondly, the whole categorization of “good” (and by extension, “bad”) hair exists out of a basic human need to categorize things to understand them. Labels and categories aren’t in and of themselves a bad thing. We get in to trouble when those labels and categories begin to take on hierarchies and valuations that place some at the top and others at the bottom. Beyond these labels, in the US in particular, we tend to see and process things as a dichotomy. Good and bad. Big and small. Light and dark. Black and white. And of course, by racist design, everything dark and black is bad.The last thing to take into consideration here is that we all have a unique voice and journey that brought us to where we are today. Because the natural hair community doesn’t exist as a monolith, we all have different stories to share, and different ways that this eurocentric system of beauty (and therefore social value) has impacted us. In some ways, Ali hinted at something very right — that all parties involved are affected. But that’s where my caping for her ends.I could tell you a story about how throughout my life I was the butt of all the light-skinned jokes with my friends, or that I’ve been called white more times than a few. I could also tell you about the countless times women have told me they could never do the “natural thing” because they don’t have that “good hair” like I do. If I wanted to, I could paint a really moving sob story about my constant battles to defend my Blackness.
 But absolutely none of that matters at this particular point in time. Not because I believe in marginalizing myself, but because there is a bigger picture. For me, right now is not the time for that conversation. I’m not here for the oppression olympics, where we try to one-up each other in a game of “who got it worse”. I’m not the target for erasure in mainstream media. Once proudly Black companies are not shying away from women that look like me, or women that sport a curly type 3-something texture. No one has ever told me I need to comb my hair or get a perm, or that my natural hair was unprofessional. My Black beauty and natural hair aren’t under attack and up for debate.

Sometimes you have to stand with your family first, and sort out the drama later. Now is the time to stand. Ali’s sentiments are curious, but ill-timed in my opinion. In due time, it is a necessary and healing conversation to have. But right now, there are some forces at work trying to take out some of my natural sisters — and I ain’t having it.

What do you think of Tatyana Ali’s thoughts on the “other side” of the “good” and “bad” hair conversation?

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