By Jenice Armstrong
Philadelphia Daily News
Daily News Columnist
Aug 11, 2009
ANY WOMAN with a head full of thick, naturally curly hair knows that a brush in the wrong hands can be a cruel device of torture. We discover this early in life, usually at the hands of a careless hairdresser whose job it is to smooth untamed, virgin curls into some semblance of what can pass as socially acceptable. It shouldn't be this way, though. Hair care should be a pleasant, bonding experience, even if you have the misfortune of being "tender-headed," as they used to call it back in the day.
But, too often, it can be painful and loaded with the kind of damaging negativity that has left many a woman reaching for chemical relaxers and flatirons no matter how badly they damage their hair. It's a case of the psychological scarring manifesting itself on the outside. I'm on this particular rant because over the weekend a friend showed me a disturbing YouTube video of a woman vigorously brushing an African-American child's thick, curly mane as the youngster screams in agony. The woman does it heartlessly, pulling and yanking as the child struggles to break free.
The video, called "nappy a- hair," is difficult to watch. The first time I saw it, I didn't make it all the way through because of all the yelling. The little girl's pain is palpable. She's flailing and struggling.
It's uncertain if the woman in the video is the child's mother, but it is clear she doesn't know how to cope either with the child's voluminous mane or with her own private demons. As the little girl squirms and tries to get away from all the yanking on her hair, the woman imprisons her between her knees. Another time, she leans over the child to trap her as the little girl lies on her back. When the child tries to protect her head, the woman shouts, "move your f------- hand!" You can even see hair lying on the floor. "I hate you!" the child yells.
Perhaps this level of abuse is something the woman experienced as a child and is now passing it onto the next generation. "Move ya hand. You've got a big gigantic, f------ knot - a nap - or whatever the hell you call it!" the woman says. Meanwhile, the videographer can be heard at one point laughing about "America's Funniest Home Videos" and taunting an adorably cute, curly headed boy that he's the next victim.
What happens on this video is disturbing on so many levels, particularly because of the negative message it sends the little girl about her hair: That there's something wrong with it. Somehow, it doesn't measure up. It's "less than." This is an age-old battle, most recently chronicled by Chris Rock 's "Good Hair" documentary, that you'd think the world would have moved past by now.
Also eyebrow-raising is how the video has sparked its own debate about whether or not what happened with the little girl qualifies as child abuse. The vast majority of the comments I scanned yesterday on YouTube or theroot.com, soundly condemned the woman, who, people pointed out, appeared to have covered up her own hair with a wig or extensions.
"Natural Chocolate" wrote, "This is why so many women go and relax their hair. This could have all been resolved if people knew how to take care of our natural hair. If the hair was wet, with a little conditioner, this could have been prevented. That girl is going to get a perm as soon as she can and will probably hate her natural hair for the rest of her life. Poor Child . . . " Other commenters blamed the child's behavior for the harsh treatment she got, saying things like, "That little girl is bad or should I say 'strong willed.' "
Kind of like her hair, I suppose? Something that has to be forced into submission.
Give me a break.
Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org . My blog: http://go.philly.com/heyjen .