Allure’s Misguided Guide to Afros

Francis: Living in a country that loves black culture more than black people.


In its August 2015 issue, Allure magazine published a hair feature entitled, “You (Yes, You) Can Have An Afro.”

The featured model for the accompanying tutorial is white.

Yes: Allure found a way to love black culture without including an actual black person in the celebration. After being raked over the coals on the Internet, the magazine’s editors offered the following:

“The Afro has a rich cultural and aesthetic history. In this story, we show women using different hairstyles as an individual expressions [sic] of style. Using beauty and hair as a form of self-expression is a mirror of what’s happening in our country today. The creativity is limitless — and pretty wonderful.”

Yes: Allure alluded to the “rich cultural history” of the Afro, without saying blip in the original article about that history — about why the Afro matters, politically and socially.

Similarly, hair care product company Ouidad recently offered its own social media blunder when it identified a blond-hair, blue-eyed white woman’s hair as “normal [emphasis mine]/healthy” and used images of three back women to assign pejorative assessments. Taken side-by-side, as intended, the message is overwhelming, and feels confrontational.

I am still training myself on how not to take these things personally. But I have been thinking a lot about white people and the decisions that are made in rooms where there are few people who look like me to speak up with another perspective.

I think about white people — or more specifically, Whiteness — a lot. This is the work of my own consciousness as a person of color in the United States — I confront issues related to race almost daily, particularly in rooms where I am the only brown or black face, which also happens daily during the hours I spend in the office. My thoughts about white people even invade the mindlessness of my media consumption — whether watching the news, flipping through magazines, or watching television.

But my thoughts are more frequent now, in part because it seems that the country is thinking a lot about white people, too. With increased media attention to race-related stories (the Black Lives Matter movement, the Confederate flag, and even silly Rachel Dolezal, for example) the post-racial, colorblind banner hangs a little lower.

And as it does, white people are being asked to recognize that race is not just something for black and brown people to deal with. Whites are being confronted with the realities of their privilege. Slowly, the terms “white supremacy” and “institutional racism” are becoming a part of our everyday lexicon.

What a time to be alive.

The millennial generation, of which I am a part, is often lauded for our tolerance (a word quite different than “acceptance,” you’ll note) of differences in others. Surely Charleston Massacre shooter Dylann Roof, born in 1994, nullifies this argument. Millennials are not less biased; they are, as studies have suggested, self-serving: They’re aware that overt racism no longer has its place in modern society, savvy enough to articulate their bias more subversively, but no less adamantly than those before them.

Weeks ago, as part of its “Look Different” campaign, which aims to confront subconscious bias in the millennial generation, MTV aired a documentary entitled “White People.

It’s the latest effort in an emerging discourse about white privilege. The documentary — by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning undocumented immigrant — sets out to talk to young whites across the country about implicit racial bias. Among his interview subjects are a young woman who believes that being white is the reason why she does not receive any scholarships,

The doc’s efforts to educate and inform don’t go unnoticed, but with heavy edits and a 40-minute run time, the documentary doesn’t say much, really, except: “Yey white people, check yourselves.”

But that counts for something. Especially on a network like MTV.

In the spring, Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg posed the question, “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”

The question, like Vargas’ documentary, asks white people to think critically about how race informs their lives, and subsequently, impacts the lives of others. It ripples through the regular experiences of people of color every day.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about white people lately. And always.

Not because I want to, but because self-preservation as a person of color in America means to think critically about the way Whiteness informs the world around you, the media one consumes, and the very life one lives. Writer James Baldwin once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

He did not offer further thoughts on what to do when the rage becomes exhaustion. But I, for one, am tired.

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