Apparently, Sheryl Underwood stirred up a small tsunami this weekend when she called afro hair “nasty” on her show The Talk that she co-hosts with Mrs. Osbourne ‘n dem. I missed it, because a) I don’t watch The Talk and 2) I was on the road on my way up to Ohio for Labor Day. I don’t have any issues with The Talk. I’ve always thought the show was really boring and hardly worth the effort to deride it – it’s just that irrelevant. But when they brought Sheryl Underwood on to replace Holly Robinson a few years ago, it got a little livelier. Coonery is always more ‘entertaining’ than contemplative thought and properly enunciated speech; which is the essential difference between Holly and Sheryl. I can just imagine the casting and contracting process between CBS and Sheryl Underwood.
“Yes. We want a Black perspective on The Talk… but can you make sure it’s ‘more Black’? We really want a BLACK perspective, you see. Holly couldn’t do that for us.”
“Yeah! Yessuh! I sho’ can do that for you!” says a broadly grinning Underwood. “How Black do you wont it? I can gi’ it to ya!”
Forgive me. Please don’t think I’m mocking my brothers and sisters from the South. An accent has nothing to do with intelligence… and I’m sure Ms. Underwood has modicum of intelligence. After all, she has been able to make a career – and a very lucrative one – of self-depreciation and making a mockery of her own race and culture. After all this is the same woman who described her lips, which are full and straight from Africa, as ‘DSLs’ or ‘dick sucking lips’. The only way she has ever been able to keep a man in a relationship is by providing him with great fellatio. Cue the uproarious laughter: The only way a dark-skinned, heavy set woman with a deep Southern accent can keep the affections and attentions of a man is when she is on bended knee with her head in his crotch.
There is some truth to al comedy, and this is probably part of Sheryl Underwood’s truth. That’s why when she said afro hair was “nasty” on The Talk, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. She (probably) honestly thinks it is.
In case you missed it, here’s the clip from the show that has Black Twitter in an uproar:
The audience’s uproarious laughter, Aisha Tyler’s reserved chuckle, and Sheryl Underwood’s cooning grin, shrouded in a halo of some strange Indian/Brazilian woman’s shorn hair didn’t bother me at all – until I thought about my daughter. Because as much as I’ve tried my best to protect her from negative images and messages (and God Himself knows how hard I’ve tried), subtle comments and reactions like this always find a way to seep into her and every child’s consciousness.
I don’t know where I went wrong with Nadjah, who has proven to be the most intelligent of all my children. Each of my kids has their own strengths: Aya is the sweetest; Stone is fiscally focused; and Liya is adventurous. So when my husband told me about a conversation he had with the two oldest girls on the way to the bus stop about skin color, I was troubled. I thought we had already cleared this hurdle? Why are we bringing up color yet again?
“I wish I was a different color,” Nadjah sighed wistfully. “Like light(er) brown, with long hair. All my friends are that color.”
“You don’t need to be a different color!” said sweet Aya. “You are pretty just the way you are!”
“Yes… but no one likes me in my class,” Nadjah replied when my husband asked her why she wants to be different color.
So of course, I set about setting her straight when she got home. Her best friend Kayla – who is a beautiful royal blue – is about six shades darker than she is, and is one of the most popular girls in class. Kayla is also one of the kindest girls in class. Nadjah is bossy and has a quick temper.
“Do you think people like Kayla because of her color?” I asked.
“No…” she said reluctantly.
“No. It’s because of how she treats people. If you treated people a little bit better, you might have more friends.”
Nadjah nodded obediently. (She learned some time ago that she cannot win an argument with me, although I will secretly confess that I am looking forward to the day that she DOES challenge me in a battle of wits and wins. That’s when I’ll know my job as a mother is done.)
I looked at her face, which was transfixed on our filthy carpet and asked her what the real problem was. Why did she really want to be a different color? Her school is racially diverse, with Mexicans, Iranians, Peruvians, Jamaicans… what was it about this other kids that made her want to be different?
“Well… it’s just none of the girls that look like me are in motorcycle gangs.”
“Like they don’t ride motorcycles, Mommy…”
“Motor cycle gangs aren’t necessarily a good thing, Na. They start bar fights and don’t bathe for days.”
She seemed stunned by that revelation. But just then a light bulb flickered above my head. I got it. She was talking about ability and where her race fit it; or rather where it didn’t fit in.
“If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying that girls that look like you don’t do cool things: like ride motorcycles or go on adventures.”
She nodded her head forlornly and continued to look down. I lifted her head by the chin and looked her square in the eye.
“Baby, that’s just NOT true,” I said through a tight throat. I didn’t expect to be so emotional about it. I was damn near frantic.
I took her to the map of the world we have hanging on the wall, pointed out Mount Kilimanjaro and whipped out my iPhone to show her a tweet on my time line.
“You see this here? My friend’s sister just climbed this mountain. It’s the tallest mountain in Africa. Here’s her picture.”
“And you know I bungee jumped in South Africa that year we all went together,” I continued.
“You went bungee jumping?” she asked, her eyes wide.
“Yup. From the tallest point in the world. Off a bridge.” How did she not know that? “And your auntie Aga once spent three months in a submarine!”
(I neglected to tell her it was for work and hardly a glamorous experience. It was cramped, stinky and sticky, in fact. Why ruin the sense of amazement? Three months underwater was cool!)
“The point is, girls and women that look like you do cool and amazing things every day. We just don’t get to hear about them as often. Okay?”
I sent her on her way and sank into the bed, thinking about what Kola Boof has pronounced dozens of times before. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell your brown girl that she’s smart and beautiful, the media’s message is stronger. And it is. It’s stronger because it’s more consistent. The cumulative two minutes I spend a week telling my girls how wonderful I think they are hardly stacks up to hours of television commercials, billboards, or magazines innocently flipped through. Compounded by ignorant comments like Sheryl Underwood’s, whose persona of black self-hatred that they will certainly encounter in real life at some point, my job as a mother is only made that much harder. My charge – among other things – is to prove to her that she can do anything DESPITE her color.
It’s so stupid. I ought to be able to tell my kids to wash their hair x times a week and use shea to moisturize yours, or argon oil to moisturize yours, and get out there and kick a ball or prove a theory. Our conversations about something as mundane as HAIR should not sound like a snippet from some indoctrination symposium.
Black women can’t spend three months in a submarine because Black women can’t get their hair wet.
Black women can’t ride motor bikes because the helmet won’t fit over their tracks.
Black women can’t be Olympic gold medalists. Look at what all that jumpin’ around did to Gabby Douglas’ hair!
Black girls just can’t do THAT!
But you know what you CAN do, Black women? Serve me up some fries, twerk for this raunchy music video and sit here on this talk show and talk about what Black women can’t do. Stay on script!
Pray for all of our kids, y’all… And then lead an exemplary life that they will be proud of and hopefully emulate.