Tags: african american hair, afros, braids, congressional black caucus, cornrows, dreadlocks, gabby douglas, nappy hair, us army, willow smith
Guest posting by Rev. Irene Monroe
African American female service members comprise the highest percentage of women in the military. And with these sister servicewomen enlisting in the military at higher rates than their white, Asian and Latina sisters to serve and die for our country, the last thing the military should be squawking about is our hair.
In March the Army released an updated policy on appearance and grooming, titled “AR 670-1,” limiting or banning hairstyles- braids, twists, cornrows, and dreadlocks- inimitable to African American women.
The Congressional Black Caucus outraged sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stating ” that the Army policy’s language was ‘offensive’ and ‘biased.”’
In 2007, Imus who has always been an equal opportunity offender with his no-holds-barred humor has assailed broad demographics of the American public, from heads of states to homeless citizens. When Imus ridiculed the Rutgers women’s basketball team he hurled a gender specific racial invective about black women’s hair that struck a raw nerve in the African American community. He ridiculed the Rutgers women’s basketball team by not only calling them “hos,” but by also calling them “nappy-headed” ones.
The other n-word in the African American community.
In 2010 Gabrielle Christina Victoria “Gabby” Douglas was one of that year’s Olympic darlings.
As a member of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team, Gabby is the first African American gymnast and women of color, in Olympic history, to win gold medals in the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. When she won the gold the blogosphere blew up expectedly with a torrent of congratulations. But the blogosphere blew up unexpectedly with a deluge of condemnations, too. Douglas’s hair had been the topic of a ton of e-chatter since she stepped onto the Olympic world stage. If Douglas wasn’t privy to what the condemnations was about it, she quickly learned; and it lied at one of the roots of the universal denigration of black beauty – our hair.
This issue of black women’s hair texture is inescapable and continues to dog us women all throughout the African continent and African diaspora -young and old.
When a tsunami of criticisms pored in about Gabby’s over-gelled and under-tamed ponytail, and -yes, that very touchy subject for African American women- her nappy edges, it dredges up and fosters the misperception of how could any put-together and accomplished black woman with fleecy wooly wild hair be happy being nappy.
While many sisters today might use a hot comb on their hair, hot combs also called straightening combs were around in the 1880’s, sold in Sears and Bloomingdales catalogs to a predominately white female clientele.
Madam C.J. Walker, the first African American millionaire for her inventions of black hair products, didn’t invent the hot comb; she popularized its use by remedying the perceived “curse” of nappy hair with her hair- straightening products that continues to this day bring comfort to many black women.
While the etymology of the word “nappy” derives from Britain meaning a baby’s cotton napkin or diaper, in America the word became racialized to mean unkempt, wild and wooly hair associated with people of African descent. And used to demean and to degrade African Americans.
But even with good intentions the land mine can be detonated. In 1998 Ruth Ann Sherman, a white third grade teacher, who taught in a predominately African American and Latino elementary school in Brooklyn, learned that lesson when she read African American author Carolivia Herron’s award winning children’s book “Nappy Hair, ” a celebration of black hair.
And let not forget, the Sesame Street controversial song “I Love My Hair,” a remix of “Whip My Hair” sung by Willow Smith, daughter of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. Intended to promote self-pride, the song received mixed reviews within the African American community with some critiquing it as a black accomodationist version of white girls flinging their tresses.
Renowned African American feminist author Alice Walker spoke about the constraints of hair and beauty ideals in African American culture. In her address “Oppressed hair puts a ceiling on the brain” Walker, at the all-women’s historically black college Spelman in Atlanta in April 1987 stated the following:
“I am going to talk to you about hair. Don’t give a thought to the state of yours at the moment. This is not an appraisal…. it occurred to me that in my physical self there remained on last barrier to my spiritual liberation: my hair…. I realized I have never been given the opportunity to appreciate my hair for it true self…Eventually, I knew precisely what hair wanted: it wanted to grow, to be itself…to be left alone by anyone, including me, who did not love it as it was.”
While many African American women today wear their hair in afros, cornrows, locks, braids, Senegalese twists, wraps or bald, our hair -both symbolically and literally- continues to be a battlefield in this country’s politics of hair and beauty aesthetics within and outside of the African American community.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”
Tags: bill o'reilly, breitbart, congressional black caucus, eloise spooner, glenn beck, naacp, obama, racism, roger spooner, shirley sherrod, usda, vilsack
Much has been written and there’s been much said about the Shirley Sherrod incident. I’m on my way into the studio to produce this week’s Basic Black (yes, Shirley Sherrod will be one of the topics…) so unfortunately I don’t have the time to write a piece. In the meantime, I’m more interested in your opinion on the whole affair. For your convenience, I’m providing the timeline of events (created by Carrie English, our production assistant extraordinaire) and the video of Sherrod’s full speech.
Series Producer, Basic Black
Shirley Sherrod Controversy Timeline
March 27, 2010
- Shirley Sherrod, a black woman appointed last July as the USDA’s Georgia state director of rural development, made a speech at an NAACP Freedom Fund banquet. In her speech, Sherrod described an episode in which, while working at a nonprofit organization 24 years ago, a white farmer had come to her for help saving his farm, but he had acted “superior” and so she “didn’t give him the full force of what I could do.” To prove she had done her job, she said, she took him to a white lawyer. “I figured that if I take him to one of them, that his own kind would take care of him,” she said. But that lawyer failed to help, she said. She was able to find an attorney to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy to help the family stay on the farm, she said. She went on to say that an examination of her own prejudice taught her that those who are struggling have much in common, regardless of race. “The only difference is the folks with money want to stay in power. It’s always about money, y’all,” she said. “God helped me to see that it’s not just about black people. It’s about poor people. I’ve come a long way.”
- Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart (best known for posting videos of two young activists posing as a pimp and prostitute seeking help from ACORN offices) says he received a DVD of the speech from a source he would not name, but the DVD would not work. He says he then forgot about it.
- Andrew Breitbart, angry at the NAACP for denouncing the Tea Party’s racism and wanted to prove that the NAACP was itself racist, contacted the source again asking for copies of the speech.
Thursday, July 15
- Breitbart referred to the speech in a radio interview. Sherrod learned of this and tried to contact Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan through e-mail accounts the department had created for employee feedback. But they are checked infrequently, according to a spokesman, so her messages were not received until after the scandal.
Saturday, July 17 and Sunday, July 18
- Breitbart says that over the weekend he obtained two already edited clips of Sherrod’s speech.
Monday, July 19
- Andrew Breitbart released the edited clips on his blog, and the story went viral.
- Shirley Sherrod was asked for her resignation. Sherrod said she got four calls Monday from Cheryl Cook, the USDA rural development undersecretary. In the first, she said, she was told she was being put on administrative leave. In the second, she said, she was told she needed to resign. She says that she was told that the White House wanted her to step down. “They asked me to resign, and in fact they harassed me as I was driving back to the state office from West Point, Georgia, yesterday,” she said. The last call “asked me to pull to the side of the road and do it [resign],” she said. She claims she was told to “do it, because you’re going to be on ‘Glenn Beck’ tonight.” Asked if she felt she had an opportunity to explain, Sherrod said, “No, I didn’t. The administration, they were not interested in hearing the truth. No one wanted to hear the truth.”
- Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack issued a statement Monday announcing he had accepted Sherrod’s resignation, noting a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination at the USDA, adding, “I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person.”
- The NAACP condemned her comments as “shameful” and supported Vilsack’s decision. “Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race,” Benjamin Jealous said. “We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.”
- Ironically, Beck defended Sherrod on Tuesday, saying that “context matters” and he would have objected if someone had shown a video of him at an AA meeting saying he used to pass out from drinking but omitting the part where he says he found Jesus and gave up alcohol.
- Bill O’Reilly said Ms. Sherrod “must resign immediately.” (His show was recorded before her resignation was announced).
Tuesday, July 20
- Tom Vilsack said that the controversy, regardless of the context of her comments, “compromises the director’s ability to do her job. This isn’t a situation where we are necessarily judgmental about the content of the statement, that’s not the issue here. I don’t believe this woman is a racist at all,” he said. “She’s a political appointee, and her job is basically to focus on job growth in Georgia, and I have deep concern about her ability to do her job without her judgments being second-guessed.”
- While Sherrod was being grilled in an interview on CNN, Eloise Spooner, wife of the farmer in Sherrod’s story, called in to say: “She’s a good friend. She helped us save our farm. She’s the one I give credit for helping us save our farm.”
- Later Breitbart asked CNN’s John King how they knew that the incident happened 24 years ago and that the call was really from Mrs. Spooner. He emphasized repeatedly that his target was the NAACP and not Sherrod. “This was about the NAACP attacking the Tea Party, and this is showing racism at an NAACP event,” he said. “I did not ask for Shirley Sherrod to be fired.”
- In the evening the NAACP said they were “snookered” by the video and retracted their original statement.
- Both Roger and Eloise Spooner appeared on CNN’s Rick’s List to defend Sherrod. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. I was never treated no better, no nicer, and looked after, than Shirley. She done a magnificent job. I don’t have words to explain it,” Roger Spooner told Rick Sanchez. “I don’t know what brought up the racist mess. They just want to stir up some trouble, it sounds to me if you want to know my opinion… There wasn’t no racist nowhere around it. We were shocked. We couldn’t believe it… If it hadn’t been for her, we would’ve never known who to see or what to do,” he said. “She led us right to our success.” Eloise Spooner said that when she saw the story of the tape and Sherrod’s resignation on television, “I said, ‘That ain’t right. They have not treated her right.’
Wednesday, July 21
- In the morning Tom Vilsack said he may have been too hasty and would review the firing.
- Sherrod did back-to-back interviews on the Today show and CNN’s American Morning. She called the possibility of getting her job back “bittersweet.” “I’m just not sure how I would be treated,” if taken back at Agriculture, she said on Today. “I’m not just not sure at this point.” Sherrod laid some of the blame for the controversial chain of events on the civil rights organization that had sponsored her speech. The NAACP, she told CNN, is “the reason this happened. They got into a fight with the tea party, and this all came out as a result of it.”
- In the afternoon, Tom Vilsack held a press conference on the incident.
- He revealed that he had spoken on the phone with Sherrod, offered her a sincere apology, and offered her a new job at the USDA that would take advantage of her “unique set of skills” as a result of the prejudice and bias she has experienced. He said she asked for time to think about it.
- He also denied having gotten any pressure from the White House.
- He explained his hasty behavior by saying, “for the last 18 months, we have really focused on trying to address the longstanding history of civil rights claims against the Department. They’re outstanding claims brought by black farmers, Hispanic farmers, women farmers, Native American farmers, and these are not just a few incidences or a few isolated claims. These are tens of thousands of claims that have been brought against the Department. I made it as a goal when I took this office that we would try to reverse that history, we would try to close that chapter, that we would be a Department that would not tolerate, in any way, shape, or form, discrimination.”
- He then met with representatives with the Congressional Black Caucus.
- At his daily briefing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “On behalf of the administration, I offer our apologies.
- Bill O’Reilly led his program by criticizing some of Sherrod’s language but acknowledging his own mistake: “I owe Ms. Sherrod an apology for not doing my homework . . . and for not putting her remarks into proper context.”
Thursday, July 22
- In the morning the Agriculture Department emailed Sherrod a specific job offer.
- At 12:35pm President Obama phoned Shirley Sherrod. They spoke for almost ten minutes. He had tried to reach her twice the night before, but was unable to leave a message, as her voicemail was full.
Sources for the timeline: