Light Skin and Good Hair

Miss Lena Horne

Lena Horne in a 1946 film. Ms. Horne often performed at the Cotton Club, where African Amrican Dancers were also light-skinned, some with fair hair.
Lena Horne in a 1946 film. Ms. Horne often performed at the Cotton Club, where African Amrican Dancers were also light-skinned, some with fair hair. | Source

"The Cotton Club" and "Good Hair" Standards

Musician and Actor Cab Calloway, one of my favorites, contributed to a documentary about the Cotton Club in Harlem, NYC many decades ago. It was entertaining and informative.

He explained at one point that Black Folks often went in the club to enjoy entertainment by Black women that sometimes approached the fair hair and skin coloring of whites in their appearance. It was commonly held that the lighter-toned the skin and hair color of the woman, the higher status and the more desirable she would be.

The tag-line passed among club-goers was "Light, bright, damn near white."

It was commonly held that the lighter-toned the skin and hair color of the woman, the higher status and the more desirable she would be.

Continuum: Shades of Color

In the the early 2000s, an acquaintance of mine felt sure that as an entrepreneur and business owner, she was not held in the highest regard in her Black community, because her skin tone was one of the darkest.

It seems that, as Cab Calloway and others have suggested, the darker the skin tone, the lower the social status and the less opportunity and respect afforded.

My friend said she witnessed lighter skin-toned individuals receiving all the contracts and grant funding and other opportunities offered to foundations in the community, every time. I was appalled to hear it. She let her non-profit foundation go, laying off folks in the following order: medium- and light-skinned Blacks, whites, and finally, darkest-skinned individuals.

Light, bright, damn near white.

— Cab Calloway about Harlem club dancers

Does "Good" = "White"?

In the late 2000s, comedian Chris Rock's daughter Lola came to him upset about her hair.

She asked him why she did not have "good hair." Apparently, this meant white hair and Chris decided to look into the whole beauty and appearance aspect of Black America. I'm glad he did, because now I understand a little more about it.

Black Hair care is a $9 Billion business in products and services in America and to use these things is a huge lot of work, with sometimes a bit of torture added. I respect anyone that is able to purchase and undergo these beauty services. Some of my high school students would have hair braiding parties, where 14 hours or more were required to closely braid a head of hair. The results were jaw dropping - tiny, even braids that stood up to weather and washing for weeks.

Sewing in additional hair as a weave process changes a woman's look, can be expensive, and can be uncomfortable to wear.

Classic Images: "Taking out the kinks."

This 1895 charicature is an unkind parody of a woman seeking to smooth out her hair. The comic strip suggests that her hair stood out on end because of a hair-raising novel. By the end of the process, she has gone from a short and natural to tight an
This 1895 charicature is an unkind parody of a woman seeking to smooth out her hair. The comic strip suggests that her hair stood out on end because of a hair-raising novel. By the end of the process, she has gone from a short and natural to tight an | Source

What is Good Hair?

Good Hair (2009)

  • A documentary with a sense of humor and a serious intent. 95 minutes.

By Chris Rock and Jeff Stilson, with additional screenwriters Lance Crouther and Chuck Sklar.

This film shows the expense and hardship of maintaining straight "good" hair among the African-American and biracial populations of America. Is it all worth the costs? People disagree. Many celebrities describe their experiences.

Featuring famous names such as the Reverend Al Sharpton, Ice-T, T-Pain, Raven-Symoné, Maya Angelou, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Cheryl 'Salt' James and Sandra 'Pepa' Denton of Salt-N-Pepa; and many others.

In the African-American community, the light skinned black man with curly hair is said to have it easy. (This) book of poetry is written with the pain of abusive memories, to show how hard the red bone male has it, and how stereotypes can dictate actions.

— Movie, Good Hair

Hair Extensions and Weaves can Cost Thousands of Dollars.

Hair extension for a hair weave. These are often obtainted from Indian temples, where the hair is sacrificed by worshipers.
Hair extension for a hair weave. These are often obtainted from Indian temples, where the hair is sacrificed by worshipers. | Source
Two African American women around 1899.
Two African American women around 1899. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Famous singer Billie Holiday in 1949, with tight, smoothed hair.Actress Eartha Kitt in 1952 with a more natural style. She was the one of the first Cat Woman players on Adam West's Batman.
Famous singer Billie Holiday in 1949, with tight, smoothed hair.
Famous singer Billie Holiday in 1949, with tight, smoothed hair. | Source
Actress Eartha Kitt in 1952 with a more natural style. She was the one of the first Cat Woman players on Adam West's Batman.
Actress Eartha Kitt in 1952 with a more natural style. She was the one of the first Cat Woman players on Adam West's Batman. | Source

How to Have Good Hair

Chris Rock's film examines the African American hair care industry and its customers in depth, from gathering human hair in Indian temples to visiting The Bronner Brothers International Hair Show events, to beauty salons and barber shops and other purveyors of natural and synthetic hair additions. It is quite a story.

One particular product and process, the hair weave, is very expensive (several thousand dollars), time consuming, and even tortuous to endure. Once the hair extensions are sewn into a crown of natural hair braided tightly into cornrows, the hairdo must be re-tightened after a period of weeks, then eventually replaced. Any one session at the beauty shop for this can cost a few thousand dollars.

In a barber shop featured in Good Hair, a man tells his friends and Chris that for Black women, buying a new weave time after time is an expensive addiction. Another man feels that that weaves are like pornography in their addictive potential. Whatever the case, the process of the weave that I saw looks at least wearying and expensive - and like it might hurt.

Soon into the film, another man states that he dates white women because they allow him to touch their hair. The weave is untouchable, lest it be destroyed or mangled. Later we hear a Black woman tell us that she might have to be high on drugs to allow someone to touch her weave. So, for some people, a white woman is more accessible than a Black woman because of simpler, natural hair. Color seems not the major reason in this case.

The most bothersome scene for me was that in which two 3-year-old girls are forced by parents to undergo the chemical relaxation of their hair, even though they don't want it. I cringed at this.

One of the little girls finally says,” Everybody is supposed to do it”, but she doesn't like it. The straightening "perm” burns, even if milder formulas for children are applied.

Being burned by chemicals for having kinky hair and rejected or diminished for darker skin coloring, even within African-American culture, is torture.

Chemical Burn

Being burned by chemicals for having kinky hair and rejected or diminished for darker skin coloring, even within African-American culture, is torture.

Good Hair
Good Hair

For many African-American women and even men, "good hair" means "white hair" - specifically, straight and lanky -while the natural or "nappy" look is bad. And oh, the lengths and expense women will go to in order to get "good hair"! In the course of the film, Chris Rock travels to Atlanta, home of the Bronner Brothers Hair Show, where 1000s buy and learn how to use new products.

 

Opera Star

One of my heroes! Leontyne Price, opera singer, in 1953. She visited my junior high vocal music class many years later.
One of my heroes! Leontyne Price, opera singer, in 1953. She visited my junior high vocal music class many years later. | Source

Ms. Price as Cleopatra

A very interesting archival photo of Leontyne Price in shoulder-length braids and performing as Cleopatra is located here: Black Heritage.

When I met Ms. Price, she wore her hair pulled back, wavy, and shoulder length. She was elegant yet accessible and very kind and patient with an all-white classroom full of boys and girls that knew nothing about opera.

US Marine Corps officer Vernice Armour in 2006 - 1st female African-American naval aviator/combat pilot in the United States military. Shown with short, smoothed hair.
US Marine Corps officer Vernice Armour in 2006 - 1st female African-American naval aviator/combat pilot in the United States military. Shown with short, smoothed hair. | Source
First Lady Michelle Obama, official White House portrait of 2/18/2009.
First Lady Michelle Obama, official White House portrait of 2/18/2009. | Source

The Future of Hair

The 1970s were a time of Afro hairstyles in America. Many individuals even permed their hair to make it approximate that trendy look. What will hairstyles look like in 2070? it is hard to tell.

An African America nurse that recently retired once told me that she and several of her colleagues and friends visited Africa during the 1970s and wore their Afro styles. Upon being greeted at the landing airplane, one of their African counterparts asked, "What happened to your hair?"

They all laughed, but it seems non-Afro natural and braided styles were the norm in Africa and many of us in the States just did not know.

Patti Labelle and her singing group Labelle experimented with stiffened space-age hair extensions and others have worn dreadlocks, while many have returned to more natural styles.

Yet, thousands of people every year purchase new weaves and straightening perms and work hard for a more socially acceptable hairstyles.

I think that it costs a lot of time, energy, and compromise to become something else - sometimes, too much. If I am reading him right, Chris Rock feels the same way,

Click thumbnail to view full-size
First Lady Michelle ObamaDr. Jill Biden, Astronaut Scott Kelly set to spend a year on the ISS, and Michelle Obama; January 20, 2015 at the State of the Union Address.Inauguration Ball, 2013
First Lady Michelle Obama
First Lady Michelle Obama | Source
Dr. Jill Biden, Astronaut Scott Kelly set to spend a year on the ISS, and Michelle Obama; January 20, 2015 at the State of the Union Address.
Dr. Jill Biden, Astronaut Scott Kelly set to spend a year on the ISS, and Michelle Obama; January 20, 2015 at the State of the Union Address. | Source
Inauguration Ball, 2013
Inauguration Ball, 2013 | Source

Independent Film on Colorism: Lighter Skin Tones

© 2009 Patty Inglish

More by this Author


Comments, Opinions and Thoughts 39 comments

ngureco profile image

ngureco 7 years ago

Good read.

Everything else being equal, a light skinned lady is more likely to get a job in a business owned by the darkest-skinned individual than a dark skinned lady.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

An informative and thoughtful hub. A school friend from Northern India told me pretty much the same thing. She said her grandmother always urged her not to get too tanned in the summer as it would make her look too much like a southerner (darker).


Jacqueline 7 years ago

see my website

MENU: African style Magazine on African barbershop signs. Indeed serious business but very creative.


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Very interesting piece. I saw a preview for Rock's film and was curious about it. I'll have to see it for sure now.

It is amazing how we put such pressure on ourselves and others by our perceptions of external appearance. To have to undergo expensive procedures over and over again and some of them being painful is hard to believe.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for all the comments! Ths is a film I will see again. It's pretty interesting.


dusanotes profile image

dusanotes 7 years ago from Windermere, FL

Great blog, Patty. I'm white, but I played a lot of baseball when I was younger, always out in the sun. And my skin tans well and sometimes takes months to whiten back to my normal pale look. Frankly, I prefer the suntanned look, but a lot of girls around where I grew up didn't. I can recall one red head on a date wanted to visit my parents - why I didn't know until later. I took her home, but they were gone. She looked at all the photos and then asked why my arms and hands were so dark? I guess if I hadn't been so disgusted by then I would have shed my shirt and showed my white chest and farmer's tanned arms for contrast. It totally disgusted me. I can feel a little bit what the blacks feel about being discriminated against. Thank goodness the blacks I know now love their dark skin, and so do I. Don White


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Very interesting hub.


jodill 7 years ago from INDIANA

Thanks. I love the film,and your hub page.


Playathome2 profile image

Playathome2 7 years ago

When ever I where weave I don't let anyone touch my hair either but it because even though I know they know its a weave, I just would get embarrassed when they feel that track in my head.


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 6 years ago from Southern California

Very interesting hub. I grew up in the south, during the desegregation era, and we didn't have time for those things. It wasn't until I moved away that I found out about the color and hair thing. I guess it was the neighborhood that I lived in, and school that I went to. I am dark skinned with not so "good hair," and I was among the most popular in my school. I am very serious, if you look at my school photos we didn't have those stigmas, but I do now know that they existed. This is a great hub by the way.


patspnn 6 years ago from NYC

Interesting. Prejudice can rear its head anywhere.


Rose Ella Morton profile image

Rose Ella Morton 6 years ago from Beverly Hills, Michigan

Black is beautiful


Don't forget how this REALLY got started! 6 years ago

I appreciate the discussion regarding " colorism" however, I am 58 years old and I have never heard of the "term". What (in my opinion) has to be understood is that we are living in a racist, thus race based society. White enslaved or colonized people of color throughout many place in this great world and because of the physical and psychological domination (can't have one without the other), many groups of color suffer from major self esteem problems, which include the desire to be white and if not white, close to white, these symptoms include preoccupation with white hair structure "Good hair”, and the low race esteem exhibited among all people that have historically dominated by a majority group. We have got to stop pointing the finger at one another (people of color)and some how suggesting that we are the problem WITHOUT first acknowledging the TRUE source of the problem, A HISTORY AND GLOBAL SLAVE TRADE AND INSTITUTIONAL RACISM, for more the four hundreds years. Yes, there are lots of problems (symptoms) but ignoring the root causes makes it impossible for us (Black people and other people of color). Think about it, how often do you see dark skinned women or girls in major TV ads, etc.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

I live in Central Ohio - All i ever see is dark-skinned people in local commercials on shows I watch: African-America, Hispanic, Asian Indian, dark Pakistani. So I guess that's "always."


noorin profile image

noorin 6 years ago from Canada

Very informative and interesting =)


music2electro profile image

music2electro 6 years ago from Germany

I love that comic drawing! Funnii :D


Kevin Schofield 6 years ago

Great hub! I can't imagine a world without gorgeous black women (or white or brown women) agonizing about their hair and appearance. The sad thing is when insidious racist attitudes devalue their humanity and undermine the natural human desire to take a pride in one's appearance. Grace Jones forever!


Trini Kay profile image

Trini Kay 6 years ago from Long Island, Ny

This was a great read. Very well written. Its sad that this is still going on in our day and age but you covered it very well. Thank you.


OldenbuzzDotCom profile image

OldenbuzzDotCom 6 years ago

Thanks for this food for thought. I've recently been enjoying the diversity of beautiful women in the media, but now I see that there's still a long way to go. In a perfect world, we would appreciate all sizes, colors, and styles of beauty.


Rose Ella Morton profile image

Rose Ella Morton 6 years ago from Beverly Hills, Michigan

Let just get to the true facts. Behind every light skin woman or man with good hair started with a black and white connection. We all know about the hands in the cookies jar. if color or hair were important it would have been in the bible. We waste to much time taking about our differences to hide the fact that we are all the same.


nosense profile image

nosense 6 years ago

Black or white, we are all humans.


Style Hair 6 years ago

Very good and well written topic we have here, thanks for it but light skin or dark, everyone have their own style of hair do that fit them and the point is, to choose the best one that fits you..


Contrice 6 years ago

A very good read. Black women still today struggle with their hair type, texture, and style.


W. K. Hayes profile image

W. K. Hayes 5 years ago from Bryson City, North Carolina

I loved the article. The fact that people are still judged by the perception of them, on the outside, is truly sad even to this day. Perhaps that is why I enjoy the hubs...I get to see who the people are without any regard for personal appearance, only the content of the mind and soul which, matters most to me.


edelhaus profile image

edelhaus 5 years ago from Munich, Germany

What an excellent site. I like how you covered the subject from so many different angles.


N.E. Wright profile image

N.E. Wright 5 years ago from Bronx, NY

Hello Patty Inglish, Ms,

This article is great, sad and way too true. I should know.

Still, I was even stunned by the story you tell of your friend and her non-profit business. It depressed me.

I saw the Chris Rock movies months ago. I loved it. I hated it. Notice how the young dark-complexioned girls told the fairer girl how she could not get a job with her hair -- I loved her hair -- the way it was. I was pissed.

I use to beg my mother to allow me to wear afros in the '70s. I started wearing them when I was 11 or 12 years old. I was in heaven.

I have a Hub dealing with the problems with complexions within the Black community.

Oh, Lena Horn was my hero, because she never passed for white, and to me she could have with no problem when she was younger.

I first saw her on Turner Classic Movies -- with my father -- I did not understand why they had a White woman playing opposite a Black man. The film was done in the early '40s I believe.

My father informed me of who she was, and that she was Black. I was stunned, and impressed.

I just loved Lena Horn.

I thank you so much for writing and sharing this topic. All of us need to know this subject.

Take Care,

N.E.


nick 5 years ago

I just wonted to enjoy looking at light skin women and I don't know if people just don't know there races or what why are there Chinese Mexican white and even dark skin woman on here light skin is happy dark skin is sad I just won't to be happy with other light skin people you know


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for the comments and I'll be reading the other Hubs mentioned.

@nick - Strangely intriguing. I don't think dark skin is sad - ever see a happy smiling dark-skinned African child's face? Most happy, indeed and brighter in it's light than a sad white face. Thanks for your comment.


sheen khan profile image

sheen khan 5 years ago from Karachi ,Pakistan

nice hub i need this information about hair and lightened skin


Nan 5 years ago

Well written article. This is a complex issue. Women all want to look beautiful, and will go to great lengths to do so. White women also wear weaves to male their hair look perfect on TV, it stays the way the want it. Lena was a beautiful woman and she did marry a white music conductor. You hair and features complement your look and who you are. African women do have kinky hair, they were born with it, and do look beautiful, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Light skin was a result of a white father or white mother, biracial.


JLClose profile image

JLClose 5 years ago from OreGONE

Wow, thanks for this this hub. I can honestly say that it was eye-opening. I just finished a personal hub about my fight with my own freckles--I guess all of us have our struggles with our appearance.


Shelvajay profile image

Shelvajay 5 years ago from If You Know Me Personally, You Know Where I Am...

Good Hub!


esllr profile image

esllr 5 years ago

Very interesting and true hub. The picture that was called funny is also a source of pain of the negative images portrayed of beautiful black people to further instill lower self esteem.

I've been an hairstylist for many years and can tell you that white and other races have relaxers also to control and straighten their hair. Not only black people are conditioned to be ashamed of their naturally beautiful kinky hair.

I tell every client that there is beautiful but just have misunderstood hair. Trust me white hair is not what black women are after. White women are getting perms to get away from their mousy thin looking hair and relaxers to straighten kinky hair.Who are white women trying to look like when they do this or wear weaves?

Our hair today is a personal choice. What is wrong with enjoying your choices? All people from all over the world are wearing dreadlocks.

They are not trying to be black but are loving a style much loved from the mother land. Self expression and feeling free enough to wear your hair anyway your like is your right.

This is and enlightening a thought provoking hub. Thanks


Dr.Ope profile image

Dr.Ope 5 years ago

Very interesting hub. I live in Jamaica, a predominantly black country and I am sometimes descriminated against. I am sometimes called "black" by persons who are a lighter shade, but also black. I have never worn extensions and am proud of my nappy hair, which I wear natural. Keep sharing. Will be following.


dashawn  5 years ago

black people always been beautiful and they will always will be


Miss Info profile image

Miss Info 5 years ago from New York City

It is a very sad day when witnessing self-hatred first hand. However, it is in ample display here. Many Black men and women have been brainwashed into NOT being able to perceive or accept their own unique beauty. From dark skin to curly hair to muscular builds to curvier forms, Black people have be taught - and in many cases are still be taught - that their natural physical characteristics are flawed. It is imperative that Black people stay strong and withstand these vile, evil stigmatizations and stereotypes because their futures and the futures of their children depend on their unwavering staying power.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

There is a predominance in focusing on appearance in all respects of today's society. Hair for African women is a popular topic. I remember watching an episode of Oprah where she introduced the topic of hair weaves and said that she was sure all the white girls in the audience were going "what's a hair weave." Regarding skin colour, when a person has interracial parents I had always thought that skin colour of the children would be somewhere in the middle of the parents' tones. And yet this is not the case. There could be a cuople whose children are all different shades. Genetics can be quite fascinating.


supriyama 5 years ago

Great Hub and very well written


akune profile image

akune 5 years ago from Surrey, England, United Kingdom

I watched Good Hair and it was a scream with a serious flag up.

By the way, off topic, just thought of something . Doesn't usually happen does it that babies are born and parents take one look at them and say 'He/she is gonna be a comedian', you know , like you see some features and say this one is a diver or sprinter for sure...mmhn

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