Unbeweavable: Race and the Art of Black Hair Shows
Mar 27, 2012 - by Lester Brathwaite
The Bronner Bros International Hair Show has been going strong for over 60 years. The annual expo draws thousands of hair stylists and enthusiasts who show off their wild and imaginative hair creations, which no doubt served as inspiration for Vogue Italia's controversial "Haute Mess" editorial. Many were quick to label the spread as racist or classist, but that misses the point of the shows and the intentions behind those cuckoo coiffures. Like any other form of expression, the hair shows are open to interpretation, but at the end of the day it is an art that requires a level of skill and creativity. So it was especially discomforting when I was looking up photos for this story yesterday and I came across this site.
A forum dedicated to bashing the "nigger animal," the hair shows are a source of ridicule and disgusting, ignorant, racist ramblings from people who have yet to realize we live in a global society and yearn for the days of segregation, or even slavery. That hatred and just plain dumbass bullshit like this exists in this day and age is a sad commentary on the state of America.
But take a look at the people pictured in those posts. There's a pride in their expression and a comfort in their bearing that defies the inane criticism of a few narrowminded idiots. Hair shows are a celebration of black culture and not everyone understands it -- not even some black people. Yet in paying homage to that celebration, Vogue Italia was in turn celebrating black culture; its "extravagance", as Franca Sozzani puts it, and its creativity.
With that said, could they have used some more black/ethnically-diverse models? Sure, but if it was an all black spread, would it be perceived as being any less "racist"? I suppose the opposite would hold true. Then Sozzani and co. would be accused of exploiting black models.
Race is still clearly a highly sensitive issue, particularly in the U.S., but one of the things that makes this country great is freedom of expression. And if that expression takes the form of a weave in the shape of a helicopter, I can think of a lot of things more offensive, and a lot less fun, than that.
Now let's look at some fierce hair because I'm seriously considering that Hello Kitty jump-off.