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Sheryl Underwood, Re-think Your Judgments on Black Hair

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Dear Sheryl Underwood,

I first want to acknowledge that you are from a very different generation than myself. One in which images of black women were very seldom seen in mainstream media and when they were often re-imaged and fragmented. Much of society back then unfortunately colorized the natural aesthetics that belonged to the black body, casting a generational stigma that still exists till this day.

The great debate on black hair seemed to be making some leaps over the past few years. Many of my black female peers are beginning to embrace their naturally curly, un-relaxed hair and it seemed that there was beginning to be a minor societal shift in how we as blacks value our personal appearances. However, last week your personal remarks on the CBS show The Talk, was a public bump in the road.

When white supermodel Heidi Klum celebrated saving and sharing the remains of her black interracial children's hair with her ex-husband Seal, you turned what could have been a positive moment into a televised disaster. Klum seemed fairly motherly and understanding of the textual differences and politics of her children's hair and publicly reclaimed it as "pretty."

And instead of acknowledging the progress that has been made in 2013 for such a discussion and acknowledgement to take place, you jokingly questioned and patronized her for embracing the unique physical traits of her interracial children. However, the ignorance and harmfulness lied in your remarks: "You can't weave afro hair...you never see [black women] at the hair place going 'Look, here, what I need here is, I need those curly, nappy beads...That just seems nasty."

You may consider this a joke, but behind every one is a truth that a comedian, such as yourself, believes. Because as other co-hosts, such as actress Sara Gilbert, tried to support with Klum's sentiments, you even continued your banter by suggesting that Gilbert's white children has hair that was "probably some beautiful, long, silky stuff."

Ms. Underwood, I am not going to make pointless attacks on your self-value and image, but more on how your statements are backwards and self-depreciating to young black individuals such as myself who are trying to personally admire what they look like in the mirror. To stereotype black beauty on a nationally syndicated talk show while those around you try to combat it forever continues a pattern of discouraging the self-value and appreciation of black individuality.

It's not my place to tell you how to wear your hair, because even that is your way of personal expression and you are entitled to it. However, what I don't think is fair is demeaning the physical aesthetics of any race, whether you belong to it or not. The fact that you even went as far to call it "nasty" to a diverse group of Middle America who still have yet to understand whether it is even appropriate for black children to wear their hair naturally at school is disappointing.

What you did Ms. Underwood was fall into the trap of political correctness with undertones of colorism. Your indulgence with weave is not a problem with one who chooses to wear those "curly, nappy beads" you speak of but more of how you define beauty. Because apparently black hair in your eyes does not compare to the "beautiful, long, silky stuff" that white women possess. If you do not find that path of reasoning problematic, perhaps a few courses on race and politics will do you some good.

Because at the end of the day, we are living in a modern-day cultural war over the past and present. Each and every day, I see young black women defy social norms and redefine their beauty and I am learning to see the strength in that as a man rather than fall under the false messages that you gave on your show. My generation is beginning to question the old oppressive norms of what was once considered black beauty and tear down the walls of what your generation thinks.

For you see, black beauty can be just as exotic, provocative, wholesome, innocent, and charismatic as any other race and does not have to be set by anyone else's standards. It is a shame that in 2013 a white supermodel can even embrace the beauty of black hair before you can. As one of the very few black female faces we see on television daily, I am not asking you to change your image, but respect that of your fellow peers.

Please understand that with all the many issues that are facing blacks in the public sphere, hair should be something we should all strive to look past as a debate. It does nothing but further discourages and reduces the already exploited and marginalized groups of women in even worse circumstances.

In closing, I don't think that you are a hopeless cause. You have the power and voice to perhaps delve into exploring the ideals behind why many choose to embrace their natural hair just as you take up other options. This is not a matter of who is wrong or right, but a suggestion of being more accepting of black expression universally.

Because if we don't, who else really will.

Sincerely,

Ernest Owens

A young black man who would like to see "the war on black hair" become a thing of the past