That Time My Classmate Described a Black Man as “Scary” Because of His…Hair.
When I went to college, I majored in Advertising. It wasn’t necessarily my dream career, nor was it - at the time - remotely interesting to me. I would have rather been in the spotlight, reporting on television or radio, or arguing the affects of slavery, Jim Crow and the likes of it on Black people, but I was far more concerned with calculating my risks and yielding the best return on my investment. So, Advertising it was.
Women’s Studies, African American studies, Philosophy, and sociology piqued my interest the most. I loved learning about the politics behind my Blackness and my [Black] womanhood, the greats, the literature and so on, as well as engaging in discourse with those who shared - or did not share (lol) - an interest.
The way I saw it, Advertising could never open the door to these kinds of discussions…which is mainly why I beat myself up for choosing to study it - But then it did.
It was senior year in my first semester of my last year at UGA, and after years of contemplating going [back] natural, I was a few months into my journey. At this point, since most of my core classes had been fulfilled, my schedule was packed with Advertising this and that, so my major classes were really my best friends.
Day to day, my studies entailed media planning, psychographic development, dissecting advertising campaigns and other industry related projects. On this particular day, we studied a racist, political, ad campaign ran in 1988 by the National Security Pac.
For background, the ad ran against George H. Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis, who had advocated for a weekend furlough program, allowing criminals a chance to find work and acclimate to society. Well, Willie Horton, who was serving time for murder, was one of the criminals allowed to get out, and during the time he was out, he raped a woman twice and assaulted her fiance as well.
Now, at a very high level, the purpose of the ad was to persuade voters to vote in favor of Bush, a man, who was about that law enforcement action.
But at the lowest, mind-altering level, it was racist as hell.
Number one, every state had a furlough program during this time, so it wasn’t like Dukakis created and enforced it in Massachusetts alone.
Number two, which is the obvious to my critical-thinking readers, this wasn’t about the furlough program.
How many of you know that Advertising is subconscious? It’s all about appealing to viewer’s emotions to evoke certain feelings. This particular ad, while factual by nature, was strategically meant to play on racism, the irrational fear of Black men, and the need for persecution [of black men] to the fullest extent of the law: the death penalty. That’s why they highlighted Willie Horton and included his photo, because race made it that much more pertinent.
Anyway…after my professor showed the video, she asked the class for feedback, and that’s really where the problem came about.
“He looks scary.”
It was my fellow caucasian classmate, who had boldly decided to share her thoughts.
“What makes him look scary,” my professor responded.
My classmate replied again, “I don’t know…he looks crazy. His hair is all wild and spirally.”
I was 38(hot). He looked scary, because his hair was spirally?
“That’s literally how Black people’s hair grows,” I thought to myself.
I don’t know this man personally, but if I had to guess, his hair type was a 4c.
Bih, that’s my hair type.
I couldn’t believe she felt comfortable saying that nor could I believe she felt there was any validity in her statement. By this time I was well versed on the politics of Black hair in America and across the diaspora, so that in conjunction with hearing it out of the mouth of an almost fully grown adult sent me.
I couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it.
I even tried to rationalize it like “Well… then again, natural hair really just started to come back in style. If caucasian people don’t see non criminal Black people in their natural hair, is the fear more valid? Is it our fault?”
The short answer is hell to the nawl, but I - a young Denise Huxtable, who knew nothing yet so much - had already decided to be the sacrificial lamb, trying to carry on all the burdens that came with consciousness and solve them one by one.
So, the solution to the problem of fear, as it relates to Black people’s physical attributes, was this: I - a Black Woman - needed to wear my hair more, so that other people would know that Black people’s hair does not 1) grow straight out of the scalp 2) realize that it isn’t a correlation to our sanity nor is it a basis for fear of our existence and 3) that it’s really OKAY.
The reality is that my decision to go natural was personal and had been made long before this ever took place, but I can’t lie - this reaffirmed how much bigger than me it was. For the time being, at least, realizing later that this actually wasn’t my, or any Black person’s, problem to solve.