When my daughter turned 2 years old, my husband bought her a Baby Alive doll for her birthday. She loved the doll with all her heart. She took it everywhere. A few months after having this doll she had not lost interest in it until she saw a commercial for the doll. I just happened to be watching her watch television from my kitchen and I saw that she was paying very close attention to the commercial. After the commercial finished, she threw the doll down. I was so confused as to what could have happened because a commercial just came on for her doll, but when I went to grab the doll and hand it back to her, she refused to take it. I asked her what was wrong and she (in her 2 year old logic) said that her doll was fake. She looked at me and said, “it’s not the real one”. Of course, I sat there telling her that it was real, but she kept shaking her head saying, “NO!”. Finally, I thought about it and realized that her little brown doll was not featured on the commercial and therefore not a real Baby Alive. In that moment, I realized that the images on television, no matter how subtle, would in one way or the other effect the way my daughter looked at herself.
I doubt that my daughter’s reaction is an isolated incident. I believe little Brown/Black girls and boys struggle with not seeing themselves in positive lights on television. The television is a babysitter in some homes and although my daughter’s reaction was quite visible, there is a high probability that young girls are internalizing what they see. I don’t think this has totally to do with race. I think this is the case in a number of situations, but what I have read on social media about Sheryl Underwood today made me think about the incident with my daughter.
For the record, I have never been a fan of Sheryl Underwood. I don’t like that type of comedy. I also don’t like discussing people that I don’t know personally because people have off days and say things that they don’t mean, but I just couldn’t let it go and find myself typing this blog. Sheryl Underwood referred to Afro type (Black) hair as “nasty” and straight hair as beautiful. I looked at the clip from her show and got really upset because I’m not so much insulted as I am hurting for her. She is a grown woman who still struggles with loving ones self and that is truly sad. It is upsetting to me that she feels comfortable enough to voice her belief that kinky, curly or coiled hair as something that is bad to have and not something to be treasured. It makes me think about my daughter and if I had a negative perception of myself. Would I have been able to tell her that her doll was so special that she didn’t need a commercial? Would I have been able to tell her that her baby doll looked like her, just like she looked like me.
I can’t beat Sheryl Underwood up for her thoughts and feelings, but I do feel very sorry for her. I come from a line of women who never felt the need to straighten their hair. I never saw my mother with straight hair. I was never told my hair was bad. I was never told my hair was nasty. Someone had to tell this woman that what she was given was not good enough or someone wasn’t their to pick up her doll and tell her that it was just as good as what society portrays as beautiful.
Truthfully, this is not about hair because some of my best friends wear their hair straight and I know they do not hate themselves. My friends also do not have negative comments about hair being bad. The issue with Sheryl Underwood is that in 2013 she still has this mentality. It all reminds of a conversation with my father I had once. I asked him why he joined that Nation of Islam when he was a teenager and he told me because it was the first time he felt good about who he was. He honestly felt that he would have become a thief, alcoholic, dead beat dad, or died in Vietnam had it not been for the Nation. I asked him why because that seemed so far from his character and he told me because at that time, being Black was the worse thing you could be. He told me being called Black was like being called trash and that because of that his self esteem was low. He thought his life was destined for mediocrity or worse. Imagine a time when being Black automatically gave you second class citizenship or the feeling of not being worthy of what life had to offer.
I guess that is why I’m mad. There are people who paved a way against REAL oppression. People (both Black and White) lost their lives for her to be sitting on that stage. No one from a different race is on a daytime television talk show referring to Black hair as nasty and for the record, if they were, Reverend Al Sharpton would be first in line to protest after he cut his perm off. I’m so sick of the hypocrisy and the self hate. It is so ridiculous because Black people are doing it to themselves. Why on Earth bring back the mentality of a time when loving ones hair, skin, features were foreign? The only thing I can think of as it relates to the type of thinking of Sheryl Underwood is that she hasn’t been taught and for that, I feel very sad for her.