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*
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 But we have the collective responsibility to school her on why we call bullshit on her serving up tired, outdated beauty standards to her Black culture-deprived, overwhelmingly white audience.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.
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.