Friday, April 07, 2006

McKinney's Hair

I hate discussing the politics of hair. I hate that there is such a thing as the politics of hair. But the Cynthia McKinney has unavoidably resurrected the issue, so here we go.

Her hair was looking kinda crazy at that news conference. So what?

As Washington Post reporter Robin Givhan points out: turned ugly on blogs about her news-conference hair. It became the impetus for all sorts of racially driven insults about her locks and their natural texture. A black woman's hair is an easy, timeworn source of racist mockery. It has become an exhausting cliche of self-loathing whether it is kinky, hot-combed, braided, locked or chemically relaxed. (Indeed, plenty of black folks see all kinds of dire race-traitor undertones in Condoleezza Rice's smooth, controlled cap of hair.) A black woman's hair is a bottomless source of inspiration for essays, books and documentaries.

Some of that "racially driven" commentary was better described as "racist." It included an incredible outburst by nationally syndicated radio host Neil Boortz on both his radio show and his blog which included likening McKinney's appearance to that of a "ghetto slut," "ghetto trash," and "a welfare drag queen." It was an unabridge expression of how many white Americans are uncomfortable with non-conformist black hair styles.

Then again, her hair was out of control. It wasn't just that it was in a natural style, but that it appeared completely ungroomed, which is a separate matter altogether.

Typically I find that when anybody goes out in public with such an appearance, she is trying, usually too hard, to make a statement about how non-conformist she is. I usually ignore such unspoken statements in evaluating a person -- they are too easy, to obviously designed to draw attention to themselves. If you want to show me you're non-conformist as a member of Congress, challenge unapologetically the unacceptable behaviors of the Bush administration and the Republican caucus in Congress. That alone makes you a rbel nowadays.

And on that measure, Ms. McKinney is in fact a genuine non-conformist. And that's alright with me.