By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
A popular 60s and 70s television commercial advertising hair dye suggested that blondes simply have more fun. This proposition seemed as relevant to Black people as advertisements featuring tanning parlors and sun tan lotion.
But since that period of Blacks leaning toward the more natural look of afros, dreads, braids and even straightened hair restricted basically to black and brown, that racially-charged suggestion of blonde superiority has come full circle. Not only is the proposition no longer offensive but it has gained a startling level of endorsement among Blacks.
It is as if the answer to the question of whether blonde is best has become a resounding, “Yes!”
I anticipate backlash for even broaching the subject. And please note that some of the most enlightened, intellectual, artistic, spiritual and principled women that I know sport the golden coif. I am not writing to suggest that something is inherently evil in the concept of Black folk wearing blond hair.
Rather, I pose two questions. How does this style influence self-perception among Blacks (especially the more impressionable) and does the blonde look reinforce stereotypes? And why does the blondie seem more of a prerequisite for true celebrity status among Black women than a mere fashion option?
When the legendary Tina Turner sported her blonde “hairstyle,” she was an anomaly. In the new millennium, blonde hair is a virtual standard for megastar status.
The script has totally flipped. Black blonde socialites, celebrities, entertainers, and athletes start at the very top of the marquee with Beyoncé. Then there is Keri Hilson, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Keyshia Cole, Eve, NeNe Leakes, Nicki Minaj, Ciara, Leona Lewis, and Amber Rose – to name a few.
Fact: the absence of melanin genetically enhances odds of being born with blonde hair. Fact: Whites lack melanin and African Americans have lots. Though many boast of knowing first hand of exceptions, the truth is the probability of Black folks born with blonde hair is about ten times less likely than winning Powerball ticket numbers.
To many the prevailing response is SO WHAT?
Here is where I agree that a person has a right to any expression of self that they choose. I reiterate that it is not to assess morals, intelligence or even the racial pride (though the latter is most debatable) of Africans who opt for an Aryan look. But there is something perverse and debasing about the obsession to be something that you are not.
In terms of my first question, I do believe that those things people find physically attractive influence the psyche.
As a general proposition, tall people are preferred over short; thin or sculptured body types ahead of overweight; lighter complexion human beings are more often than not more privileged, even among races of dark people, and in general, beauty is defined by media (predominately by whites). They set the accepted “look” for idols, for royalty.
The humiliating test done with dolls of varying hues clearly demonstrated in the 1950s that dark was bad – light (and all associated with it) was good and smart. That test led to Brown vs. Board of Education desegregating schools. The test was administered recently, 60 years after the first shocking results, and with all the advancement among Black Americans since the 1950s – the results were essentially the same.
Let’s not be naive. When African Americans remain last hired and first fired, pride suffers. It is a fact that abuse by law enforcement and the judicial system, nurtures a culture of inferiority. Subtle, institutional racism thwarts the plight of people vying for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The frustration is deep rooted: facing disenfranchisement every day after all Blacks have invested in America.
One of the saddest photos that I’ve ever seen was that of sanitation workers in Memphis on strike carrying signs to decry, “I Am A Man.” Almost 50 years later, we plead for America to simply acknowledge that Black lives matter and those cries fall on deaf ears. Our struggle is real and pervasive. There are no simple solutions.
But the one thing that seems reasonable is for Black people to consider more outward manifestations of inner pride – to help us get over ignorance that results from generations of entrenched self-hatred.
We need to express in words and deeds the irrefutable sense of self pride that makes children believe they descended from kings and queens; confirming that their worth is non-negotiable and that their dreams don’t have to be compromised by false standards dictated by others.
Stop making Black girls think acceptance requires their being tall, light skinned, buxom and blonde. That may be too much to ask in the “me-ism” of our “do what I want to do” and “think what I want to think” society. But if Blacks are derelict in responsibilities to each other, we really have no right to point a finger at our oppressors.
And if it is true that blondes have more fun – for those who can only pretend to be, the ominous question becomes – at what price?
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].