Snapping on “The Talk” co-host Sheryl Underwood’s Dollar Store doll baby wigs or her remarkably uncanny resemblance to Arsenio Hall’s drag queen character in that club scene in Coming To America is too easy—like shooting fish in a barrel.* So I won’t go there and be mean. But I will, without hesitation, say that it absolutely infuriates me that she would fix her mouth on national TV, while wearing a ridiculous waxy wig, to wonder with disgust why a mother would save the first clippings of a black child’s afro.

You read that right: in Friday’s episode of “The Talk,” Underwood tossed black folk under the back wheels of the bus for kicks and giggles while making fun of our natural hair. Her comments came after it was revealed that Heidi Klum saved the clippings of her bi-racial sons’ first haircuts—clippings that happen to be afros. “Why,” Underwood asked, a look of mild disgust peeking through her nervous giggle, “would you save Afro hair?” She continued: “You can’t weave afro hair. You never see us at the hair place going ‘Look, here, what I need here is, I need those curly, nappy beads.’ That just seems nasty.”

Even worse: when co-host Sarah Gilbert chimed in saying that she, too, saves her children’s hair, Underwood suggested that Gilbert was right to do that because it’s “probably some beautiful, long, silky stuff.”

*insert image of Denene making dead fish eyes here*

For real?

I mean, it’s one thing for Sheryl to hate on her own looks: she’s said on one too many occasions that without make-up, she looks like Wesley Snipes’ twin. But it’s a whole ‘nother thing for her to spread her pathology like butter and jelly across the American consciousness, wrapped up in jokes for their amusement.

Of course, Sheryl took to Twitter over the weekend to defend herself from a firestorm of criticism. Though she made quick work of telling naturalistas they were “tripping” for calling out her and the cast of “The Talk,” never once did she apologize. And we shouldn’t hold our collective breath for one, either. She has the right to her shitty opinions. But we have the collective responsibility to school her on why we call bullshit on her serving up  tired, outdated beauty standards to her Black culture-deprived, overwhelmingly white audience.

See, nobody’s here for anyone who finds fault and punchlines in what is God given—who would dare use the word “nasty” anywhere in the same sentence with “Afro.” Granted, while our world is still dominated by Black women who rock relaxers, wigs and weaves, an increasing contingent of us are carrying the banner flag to pronounce loudly and unapologetically that it’s okay for Black women to wear our hair exactly the way it grows out of heads. Curly, kinky, coiled, free—all of it is beautiful to us. Finally. And no one, especially a wig-wearing sycophant, is about to stop this march toward Black cultural self-acceptance.

This is important to say loudly and clearly because Sheryl’s comments came in the context of a mother—a German, blonde-haired, blue-eyed supermodel, no less—announcing to the world that she thinks her sons’ Afros are so lovely that she saved the clippings. Marinate on that for just a second. A woman who has made tens of millions for being the epitome of the American beauty ideal was saying publicly and loudly that she loves the texture of her Black sons’ hair so much that she saved it, and a Black woman shot her down for it and patently said that hair that is not silky, long and, well, white, is undesirable.

We know better, though. And we Black mothers, especially, understand how devastating that message is when we’re trying to raise up children with the self-esteem it takes to go to war against the pop culture standards that will shoot down their blackness at every turn.

We understand, too, that Sheryl’s comments play into the “othering” of Black moms by suggesting that we couldn’t possibly want to keep clippings of our children’s first haircuts. How patently ridiculous is that? Newsflash: this is what mothers do, no matter the race, background, ethnicity and yes, hair texture. We love our children with abandon and we celebrate the milestones by taking a little keepsake for ourselves, something to remind us down the line that our children are healthy and growing and ever-changing and morphing before our very eyes. Those first teeth fall out and mothers save them. The babies grow out of those first shoes, and we tuck them away for safe keeping. And when the barber takes the scissors/clippers to our sons’ hair, we grab a little as a reminder that our baby isn’t a little baby anymore.

This is not the sole provence of white mothers. Black mothers do this, too. And we do it for all the same reasons, and think the same things as our white counterparts: that our babies are beautiful from head to toe, sweet, curly, kinky Afros included, and every moment is to be cherished.

Why would we save Afro hair, Sheryl? Because it’s worth saving.

Because it’s precious.

Because it’s what God intended it to be.

Because it is, quite simply, beautiful.

You might want to get with the program, Sheryl. You know, get out of that slave mentality and, like, step into 2013. More and more, Black women are snatching off those wigs and pulling out those weaves and introducing themselves to themselves and happily, finally saying, “I love my hair!” Those of us with natural hair are leading the charge and paving the way so that one day, you, too, can come out from under that wig and show off you. (Be clear: when I wear my hair in an Afro or kinky twists  on shows like NBC’s Today and HLN’s Raising America, it’s not just a style choice; it’s purposeful.)

We get it if you’re not ready. Do you and be proud about it. But don’t think for a second that it’s ever going to be okay for you to sit up there on that pedestal in front of the white folks and call our naturals undesirable. Nasty. I’d just as soon advocate we all turn down the volume on “The Talk” rather than support you and co-sign your foolishness in the process. Now doing that would be the very definition of nasty.

*Editor’s note: A few folks called me out on the first line of this post, and rightfully so. I admit it: I was being mean. But trust and believe, while I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about ways to make Sheryl Underwood feel bad about herself, I wasn’t feeling particularly benevolent toward her after getting a gander of her antics on “The Talk.” MyBrownBaby Twitter follower Nia Fe made clear that she was disappointed in the line and posed an interesting question: “If we can’t embrace [Sheryl Underwood's] beauty, (forget the wig) why would she?” Nia has a point, but I’m not sure that checking in on Sheryl’s self-esteem needs to be my job. Frankly, I didn’t care one way or the other about Sheryl’s looks. Never have. I was simply proud of her for turning her platform as a comedienne catering to mostly black audiences into an intriguing national and mainstream one. Now, I’m just pissed that she used said platform to bash us. So, yeah.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

34 Comments

  1. Watching this made me cringe. I’m not currently natural, but I intend to be when I am well enough to manage my own hair.Due to health problems, I cant lift my arms to my head, Anyway, even if I had no intentions of ever going natural, I’d still be deeply offended. No matter how a black woman chooses to wear her hair, having the very European Heidi Klum show more love and respect for african hair than an actual black person is shameful, deplorable, and outrageous. I’m more than certain that she now realizes how foolish it was to degrade herself and natural haired black people by saying that our hair is “nasty…” but I’m sure we wont get an apology until we let them know that their show is losing its black viewers because of it.

  2. And I knew my girl D Millner would shut the block DOWN on this issue! Now that’s REAL TALK! Get her D! I penned an open letter to Sheryl from a momma’s point of view. She could have easily used her platform to elevate and educated but she used it to ridicule her own people and ultimately herself!

  3. Amen to this post. There is so much that I love about the points you raised here. Especially “More and more, Black women are snatching off those wigs and pulling out those weaves and introducing themselves to themselves and happily, finally saying, “I love my hair!””

    Malcolm X gave several speeches about women like Sheryl Underwood.

  4. Very good article. I just want to point out that “tranny” is a slur. Please don’t use it.

    • Whoa, Palaverer—for real? I had NO idea! I thought it was simply a shortened use of the word “transvestite,” used by drag queens. Thanks for the tap on the shoulder and the link; I won’t use it ever again.

  5. I feel very sad for her. Maybe some introspection will come from this, even if she never acknowledges it in public.

  6. Great article! Glad you called her out!

  7. Thank you!!! I was thinking about seeing her stand-up in January. Not happening. She has really set herself back a few decades. Now I know why she is one of the select few on the show. She perpetuates the stereotype.

  8. U SAID THAT Denene!!! (Applause, Applause, Applause)

  9. I must really be old-fashioned, I just assumed most mothers saved their child’s first locks, my mother saved mine (and my brothers), and I saved my sons’ locks. My one brother had (and still does) hair to compete with any African American, as I have told Denene before in the 1970’s my brother’s natural Afro was better than most A/A’s. I don’t think my mother would have even thought twice about keeping his hair. My oldest son had very curly hair as a young child and I have saved his locks. I can not imagine what the texture of a child’s hair has to do with keeping their locks of hair for memories. I am not sure about Sarah Gilbert and her children, but she herself has very kinky hair, her sister Melissa being adopted does have different hair. I am sure if their mother chose to save their hair, she saved both. Shame on Sheryl Underwood, some mouths are better kept shut

  10. But what about your hideous makeup?Sheryl ShoeShine Yaphette Kotto Underwood…

    She’s a dork!

  11. She’s done it before, along with Aisha Tyler and when I called them both on it, they both responded with some dumb sh*t blow off. Oh if she had listened when it was just one little twitter voice. Now she has a full on sh*tstorm, and so be it. We chose our lessons, and it may get worse than the whole Black internets hating you.

  12. I thought the same thing when I read your intro — like dang Denene, don’t let her drag you to her level because of the emotion of the moment. That’s said, as I go through a constant battle with my own 4 y.o. Who wants her hair straight — it’s usually braided, in two-strand twists or ponytails — and now with a 12 y.o. foster child who constantly wants braids or weave on her short natural because it’s not long enough, I get the outrage. Sheryl is who she is and will be. We have to be who we are, be better, and teach our baby girls the same!

  13. Interesting post. I agree with most of what you said. It’s disappointing that she would say that on national tv. I understand that she’s a comedian but there has to be some filter and I still think there’s a time and place for everything. Although I don’t agree with her (being a natural sista myself), I would have been less upset if she said that at one of her little shows but not on national TV with an audience who already gets bombarded with negative stereotypes of black people.

  14. I have been natural for 7 years and I love everything about my natural state! I can think of many words to describe my kinks and nasty is definitely not one of them. It’s not only upsetting, but embarrassing to see a sister knock her own culture, especially in front of millions. So I am loving this post, from beginning to end!

  15. I’m a museum docent. thought to let everybody know that the worlds most valuable hair clippings are in loc form, a gift from grandmother queen Tiye to her grandbaby PharoahTutankhamen
    3500+ year old black African kinkies,cased in gold and jewels. Want to be happy?stay nappy .nuf said.

  16. Love it!

  17. jonscott williams

    Sheryl Underwood: yet another victim of RSS (racial Stockholm Syndrome).

  18. I watched it and posted a clip on Facebook while expressing my distaste. My friend said she felt that Sheryl was taken out of context. My problem with that is that it was pretty clear to me that she thought our hair is nappy and beady and European hair is beautiful is silky. Not sure how to take that out of context.

    • She was absolutely not taken out of context. Her ignorance and self-hatred were correctly interpreted as ignorance and self-hatred.

  19. OMG Sheryl, TOTAL FAILURE on your comments! She knows good and well she grew up with black mothers saving their children’s hair. This is the NORM regardless of your RACE! It amazes me how she can criticize black hair, but her wigs are ….. can we say…. A HOT MESS!!

  20. Denene,
    Brava! *standing ovation*
    I heartily cosign EVERYTHING, including the editorial postscript. Shame on her, trotting out her ignorance and self-hatred for others’ amusement. And for me personally, Aisha T’s silence was as disturbing as SU’s words. Shame on them both, and BRAVA! Denene, for so eloquently schooling SU. Her mama/aunts/grandmothers obviously did a number on her where hair texture is concerned, and maybe it’s too late for the damage to be undone. But she can be taught. I hope.
    P.S.: With that much pathology around hair, I suspect she doesn’t appreciate her pretty skin, either. Shame.

    • P.S. proud lifelong Naturalista–no chemicals, no heat, no color.[*]
      *fist in air, head bowed*

      [*] ….and no hate for my sisters who may choose a different route. I’m not down with the Naturalista Nazis.

  21. Breaking News: She apologizes as she should have IMO.

    “I want to apologize for my recent attempt at humor that missed the target and hit my people squarely in the heart. To all of you I say, I’m very sorry for my failed attempt at humor surrounding something that’s very sensitive to us: our hair. I could use this time to try to explain the intent of what I said, but misunderstanding aside, the way the joke came out offended my people and my community, which was not my intent.”

    I will say that she is a comedienne and perhaps we should or could have simply laughed it off, but it obviously touched a nerve and she got the wrath of the Naturalistas and Momma Bears!

    • jonscott williams

      I appreciate that the sister attempted to apologize … but frankly it was a lame. The apology basically says that her comments were an attempt at humor that missed the mark … my question: what the hell was she aiming for? I fail to see where that “joke” was going … what was the intended punchline … exactly what did we “misunderstand”?

      That our “people” and “community” were understandably offended is one thing … for me the saddest part is not what her attempt at humor says about us, but what it says about her … how she views who and what she is, i.e., her comments implied that sister Underwood has some serious self-image issues about her hair, and by implication, her Blackness.

  22. She needs a job, and some ppl seem to think putting down their own race will make them more appealing to whites. Id love to see her rock a natural on the show.. never mind its a copycat show and whoopi wears locs..and is paid…and didnt need to rock a weave to get hired. She needs money.and its sad you gotta sellout to get it when really you dont.

  23. Can we just get you on a show? Any show as host, everyday at 4pm. Networks, producers, what say you?

  24. I used to root for Sheryl Underwood – she wasn’t the “standard” beauty yet still was successful at her craft, but her self-loathing has bubbled to the surface and she’ll need to deal with it or her life as well as her career will come crashing down.

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