Making sense out of “nappy” roots.
Musical artist Chris Brown raised eyebrows with the recent release of his album Indigo on June 28th, in which he delivered a controversial line about Black women’s hair on the ninth track entitled “Need a Stack.” The line can be heard during the song’s third verse where Brown raps, “Only wanna’ fuck the black bitches with the nice hair.”
How one line made waves.
Following this, many on social media engaged in discussions about dating preferences, hair attractiveness, and discrimination — all the while failing to address how calling women “bitches” is also problematic. Some came to Brown’s defense such as Twitter user @jasminshellz, who wrote, “Anyone who got offended by Chris Browns lyrics, clearly think they have bad hair…… that’s no ones problem but your own sis.” Others shifted the conversation to point out an apparent double standard, including @troyross_4 who asserted the following:
“Females thats mad at Chris Brown the same ones that say they don’t want a short dude, a light skin or whatever they prefer 😂😂😂 hypocrites.”
Yet, for every supporter it seemed there was also one who found fault. Indeed, many on social media chastised Brown. Some opposed to the artist’s Black hair comment also made mention of his previous romantic relationships. For example, @jamiebadu noted:
“Y’all know wtf Chris Brown meant. Coming from a man that notoriously only dates racially ambiguous women with loose textured hair. Y’all are dense. He’s a colorist. I’m not arguing it either. I’m tide of arguing with y’all that can’t grasp the concept of colorism and texturism.”
“Why are we acting like Chris Brown is a Black haircare enthusiast and not a color struck, internally racist and abusive negro from Tappahannok, Virginia?”
Brown, like all others inhabiting the US, is within his rights to have dating preferences. Nevertheless, the way he conveys this is key. One can prefer a Black woman with long, short, wavy, or curly hair. However, Brown’s desire for “nice” hair can be called into question. What, exactly, is nice hair?
Given Brown’s relationship history with women such as Rihanna, Karrueche Tran, and Ammika Harris, all of whom fall under the umbrella of blackness, it can be inferred that his definition of “nice” hair means straighter/Eurocentric-looking hair. The artist gave further credence to this conclusion with his follow-up activity via social media. Notably, when blackgirlsareit condemned Brown’s lyrics via their Instagram page he responded with hostility, saying, “IM START GIVING AWAY FREE LACE-FRONTS FOR ALL YOU WIERD FEMALES WIT THE SKID ROW EDGES AND LOW SELF ESTEEM.”
Let’s set the record straight.
A desire for women who sport straighter hairstyles is deeply rooted in American society. According to Ellis-Hervey et al. (2016), beauty is heavily influenced by the White population and includes a preference for straighter textures of hair. This, in turn, negatively impacts Black women whose hair is often called kinky, tightly coiled, or nappy — repeatedly used in a derogatory manner. Awad et al. (2015) stated that today Black women’s bodies and beauty are largely devalued and rejected by mainstream culture. Issues surrounding hair texture preferences are primarily the result of slavery in the Americas, during which African people were dehumanized. According to Neil and Mbilishaka (2019), enslavement of Africans was justified by branding their hair “as ‘wool’ to make cognitive associations with livestock” (p. 160).
Moreover, hair texture was weaponized by White slave owners to create a hierarchy in plantation life, where African/Black people having straight hair textures were afforded certain privileges such as domestic work. Those with kinky hair, however, were made to endure grueling manual labor in the fields. Additionally, Ellis-Hervey et al. (2016) purported that slaves were at times forced to hide their “undone” hair by wearing rags on their heads or ironing their hair to avoid offending White people and appear more acceptable by European standards.
Thus, American society has come to chastise Black women who wear their hair in its natural, kinky, tightly coiled state and many Black women have continued wearing wigs, as well as weaves, to maintain the status quo. In certain cases, straightening one’s hair or hiding one’s hair texture is needed for survival. Numerous Black women have been made to change their appearance to gain or maintain employment and make others, primarily White people, more comfortable.
Powell (2018) stated that tightly coiled Black hair has become “categorized as unacceptable, unprofessional, deviant, and too political” (p. 944). This constant reinforcement has been internalized in various members of the Black community, therefore causing both Black women and men such as Brown to desire more Eurocentric hair textures. Furthermore, Donaldson (2012) asserted that the White beauty standard is so strong in America that Black women who alter their hair — do away with a kinky appearance — are not necessarily trying to be White, or hate themselves, but are working within internalized beauty paradigms to achieve “one small piece of what society defines as beautiful” (as cited in Ellis-Hervey et al., 2016, p. 874).
Given Brown’s popularity — 30.5 million Twitter followers and 54.8 million Instagram followers to date — one can argue that his words carry weight. Therefore, it is highly irresponsible for him or any other person of influence to single out an entire demographic in a negative manner. This can likely cause harmful consequences, in this case further stigmatization of Black women sporting kinky, tightly coiled hair. Once again, Brown’s preference for straighter/Eurocentric-looking hair is not the issue. Instead, his talk of only wanting Black women with “nice” hair, which here means non-kinky hair, is problematic. The antonym for nice is unpleasant. Davis Tribble et al. (2019) asserted Black women go about their lives facing prejudices and judgment about their hairstyles. The persistent questioning and criticism itself is a microaggression since it leads one to believe a Black woman’s hair is something unusual or alien (Awad et al., 2015).
Despite his views on Black hair textures, Brown’s album is projected to debut №1 on Billboard’s Hot 200 chart once the official numbers come in. Moreover, when asking fans about their favorite songs from Indigo on his Twitter page, many Black females responded positively — notably those having wigs, weaves, and straighter hair. Thus, Brown’s popularity and fan support do not show signs of fading.
It seems the artist’s critics, though vocal, will not change his attitude or framing of messages concerning Black women’s hair. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that beauty is subjective. Having “nice” hair can apply to any racial/ethnic group. Regarding Black women with kinky, tightly coiled textures, a strong case can be made that they in fact have good or nice hair. According to Johnson and Bankhead (2014), “one of the unique features of African textured hair is its ability to be sculpted and molded into various shapes and forms” (as cited in Neil & Mbilishaka, 2019, p. 161).
Instead of discriminating against Black hair textures, thus continuing years of racialized oppression, there must be an effort to recognize beauty that exists beyond societal norms and, if possible, change societal norms altogether. It is rudimentary to remain rooted in antiquated beliefs about one’s roots.
Awad, G. H., Norwood, C., Taylor, D. S., Martinez, M., McClain, S., Jones, B., … & Chapman-Hilliard, C. (2015). Beauty and body image concerns among african american college women. Journal of Black Psychology, 41(6), 540–564.
Davis Tribble, B. L., Allen, S. H., Hart, J. R., Francois, T. S., & Smith-Bynum, M. A. (2019). “No [right] way to be a black woman”: Exploring gendered racial socialization among black women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 0361684318825439.
Ellis-Hervey, N., Doss, A., Davis, D., Nicks, R., & Araiza, P. (2016). African american personal presentation: Psychology of hair and self-perception. Journal of Black Studies, 47(8), 869–882.
Neil, L., & Mbilishaka, A. (2019). “Hey curlfriends!”: Hair care and self-care messaging on youTube by black women natural hair vloggers. Journal of Black Studies, 50(2), 156–177.
Powell, C. (2018). Bias, employment discrimination, and black women’s hair: Another way forward. BYU L. Rev., 933.