It’s taken me awhile to write about the Gabby Douglas hair controversy, for several reasons. It upsets me as a woman, a mother, a mother to two girls and a mother to girls who are half Black. And I didn’t have the right words to convey all that. But this poem written and recited by a young woman, named Jasmine Waiters, says it perfectly:
In case you have been on another planet and don’t know who Gabby Douglas is, or what the “hair” controversy is, she is the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion. She’s also the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. Instead of being applauded for that huge accomplishment, the 16-year-old was the subject of scrutiny for her hair. Women and men, many African-American, criticized Gabby’s ponytail, which was much like the style her fellow gymnasts wore. Just type in “Gabby Douglas’ hair in Google and you’ll find the awful remarks.
When I watched Gabby compete for the US, I was so taken by her amazing grace and skills. I commented to my husband how pretty she was and talented. I never thought her hair looked bad. It looked exactly the same as the White gymnasts. All I saw was her strength and beauty. So when I heard about how Twitter lit up with negative remarks about her ponytail, I was upset and sad. Here was the moment for this young girl to shine, for her mom to feel that all the hard work and money paid off, and it was being ruined.
I am not Black, so I can’t speak for the community, but I can speak about being a mother ot two biracial girls. I know about the hair hangups in the African-American community. The minute I found out I was having a girl, I started researching how to care for multi-cultural hair. I knew that if my daughters’ hair didn’t look great, I would be criticized. Hair in the Black community is a big topic. Just watch Chris Rock’s Good Hair documentary and you’ll get a good understanding how big.
So I asked Montclair’s own Benilde Little, the bestselling author of the novel Good Hair (selected as one of the ten best books of 1996 by the Los Angeles Times), how she felt about the criticism Douglas was receiving and she said this:
I was embarrassed that there was even a converstion about Gabby Douglas’ hair! She is amazing, period. I wish that we (Black folk) would finally put to rest the notion of good/bad hair. The title of my novel, Good Hair, was meant as a sarcastic response to our obession, a holdover from slavery. It was a look at class strata among Black people and how we treat each other based on educational level, family background, etc. Let it go, people!
Douglas has since had a makoever by celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson, who is famous for his $950 haircuts. It didn’t stop the criticism.
As Jasmine Waiters says so perfectly, “I find it repugnant to sit here and talk about her ponytail.”