By Althea Prince. Insomniac Press, 258 pp, $19.95, softcover
That hair is a multimillion-dollar business should be apparent from the daily bombardment of hair-product advertisements. But whether hair should be seen as a political statement, especially among black women, is the theme Althea Prince deals with in her latest book, The Politics of Black Women’s Hair. Politics is a collection of essays, news clippings, and interviews with 10 women—some of them hairdressers—on the relationship black women in the Americas have with their hair. The book discusses hair that has been shaped, pulled, braided, burned, straightened, curled, and picked at to create an image that is inoffensive to the dominant culture.
Prince argues that the natural form of black hair is viewed as either not beautiful—as many women have been taught since childhood—or radical and political, in the way Angela Davis’s Afro was a statement of black power in the ’70s, so that First Lady Michelle Obama’s coif, for instance, “must not be seen to cause waves”. Prince offers a satirical New Yorker cartoon from July 2008 that depicts a gun-toting, Afro-wearing Obama fist-bumping her husband, who is in a turban and robes. Whereas the New Yorker was probably going for an encapsulation of ignorance, the unfortunate presentation of an Afro as equal to an America-hating terrorist is Prince’s ammunition for showing that natural black hair is a scary idea in America.
Prince makes an impassioned argument against the resistance to black women who choose to wear their hair naturally. However, Politics is only an introduction to the discussion that still has to be had on this intriguing topic. Indeed, comedian Chris Rock barely scratched the surface of it in his award-winning 2009 documentary Good Hair, which searched for the perfect coif for black women in America, complete with the ensuing drama and expense. Politics will remain an important contribution to the conversation about the social and political pressure that black women continue to face in public.
Althea Prince will be the guest speaker at Image’n: Making a Living, Making a Life. This afternoon of talks, poetry, and performance in celebration of Black History Month takes place next Saturday (February 27) at Port Moody’s Inlet Theatre (100 Newport Drive).