Yesterday I received a massive amount of messages regarding
statements made by comedian and Talk Show Host, Sheryl Underwood.
Several of you, up in arms, forwarded me the synopsis from TheRoot,
requesting that I start a petition, write into CBS or just publicly
share an outrage over the comments she made on her show, ‘The Talk.”
After reading through the transcript and watching the video myself, my
initial thoughts were that A.) Yes, she’s a comedian and afforded some
manner of freedom to entertain and provoke people but more importantly
B.) What was said marginalized a large group of women (on a national
stage) and in my opinion, spoke to what I feel is a deeper issue, one
that the ladies of CurlyNikki.com are not at all unfamiliar with.
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One thing that makes a joke a joke is the underlying truth that is
seeded within it. Of course, it is that underlying truth that also
offends and provokes. There is truth in the concept that our hair is
seen as less desirable. That is why the natural hair movement is so
powerful. Some of us grew up with that ‘truth’ combed, picked, relaxed,
burned, and fried into our psyches. With this is in mind, I reached out
to a mutual friend because I felt compelled to bring Sheryl to the
couch. I wanted to ask the questions that I had for her after she
offered up commentary that has demanded answers from so many:
CN: At the time, did you consider how the words you said were likely
to be received? Where did they come from? Why did you think it was
Sheryl: Everyday after the show, I look at the footage as a way to
continue to strive to be better... to express myself better. I play
everything back so I can watch, learn and improve. When that segment
played back, I knew that it would be misunderstood.
CN: Misunderstood how?
Sheryl: The discussion was about cutting and saving hair. I didn’t speak
about Heidi Klum or her children’s hair. I stated that the act of
saving hair was ‘nasty’. Cutting and saving what I consider as dead…
it’s like saving fingernails. People are accusing me of calling natural
hair ‘nasty’. I did not say that.
CN: I got that. I’m more curious about the juxtaposition you made
between saving ‘curly, nappy, beady’ hair versus ‘some beautiful long
Sheryl: That was a bad choice of words. A bad juxtaposition of words to
imply that our hair is not good. I made a mistake. I will own up to
that mistake. I’m going to talk to God and change the way I articulate
things and be more cognizant. I’m not perfect and I bet if you put a
camera on someone all day, they’d eventually say something they’d regret
too. I am asking you to forgive me for the statement I made, which to
me, is a power only God has, really.
CN: So, we all have self-image issues. I do. Many of my readers do.
We’re all self- conscious and we’re at different stages on our journeys
to self acceptance. I hated my hair and it took me years to get over
that disdain and it’s not a unique story. I’m wondering more about the
psychology behind the statement in the first place.
Sheryl: I’m not what you think I am. I don’t have self-hate. I am not
ashamed of my Blackness or who I am. In highschool I had a giant afro.
In college I was militant. I loved my afro puff. My dad instilled
Black pride in me. I have no hair shame whatsoever.
CN: I don’t want you to think I’m judging you or assuming that you
hate yourself. We all have self-esteem issues, though. I was only
inviting you to explore the deeper meaning behind the words.
Sheryl: I grew up with a father who instilled Black pride in me. I’ve
always loved Black hair and rocked natural hair most of my life and
didn’t care what anyone thought about it. But then I went through ‘the
change’ and my hair began to thin out and the texture changed. My hair
wasn’t with me anymore, not because it was natural, but because my
hormones changed. It became very difficult to manage and I couldn’t do
what I used to be able to do with it. I’m like every other woman... I
like versatility! So I went to Bosley’s Hair club for Men and got some
hair transplatnted, but it still wasn’t working and my scalp was sore.
So when you see me in a wig it’s more of a fashion choice. It’s not
that I don’t like myself or don’t like my hair. It’s more that my hair
turned on me with my changing hormones. I have worn curly hair, natural
hair on the show, I [even] wore braids on Comic View. The only reason
it’s not natural now is because of where I am in my life.
CN: What’s it been like for you in the business?
Sheryl: If you look at all the time I was on BET, I had braids and I
had people telling me, “... if you wanna make it in this business…[wear
your hair straight]” and I said, well I don’t really give a damn if I
don’t make it in this business. I have 3 degrees. I can go get a job
anywhere. To give you an example, I have this curly weave I call the
Weezy Jefferson. I wanted to wear this wig for a show and the producers
told me I looked ‘hostile’. That’s what was said to me. Guess what I
said? I said, ‘if I look hostile, wait until you hear me talk if you
don’t let me wear this curly hair’. That’s what took me so long to get
to this point, because I was so defiant, which is threatening to some
people. Black and White, male and female. You have no idea what I and
other’s in the business have been through. I often feel uncomfortable.
For years I’ve had to face… I’m not ‘Black’, I’m ‘too Black’, I’m not
‘fat’, I’m ‘too fat’, someone who looks like me, who works in the
business I work in, it’s difficult. Everybody talks about the way I
look and it’s our people that have been the hardest on me. But look,
even with my makeup and wig off, I would be able to flirt with Shemar
Moore and John Stamos. ‘Cause I’m fine.
I am going to make mistakes, because I’m human. And I’m sorry for what
my words inferred, but it doesn’t call my Blackness into question. My
Blackness comes out in other ways, subtle ways. On the show, when they
refer to him as simply, ‘Obama’, I straighten them up and remind them
that he ain’t your boy, he’s the president. President Obama. I’m
learning lessons, and I cannot evolve if I’m not allowed to be
CN: What do you want to say to those offended by your words?
Sheryl at a red carpet premier sporting her natural hair
Sheryl: There is a consequence to everything that you do and say. I
understand why a part of my community was disappointed in the
implication that Black, natural hair is bad and that White hair is
good. I will be much more careful with everything I say. Please do not
attack my colleagues, my family, my friends. I’m with ya’ll. I’m
fighting for you everyday and despite making myself available on the
radio show and on Twitter, I don’t feel like you’re letting me engage in
a respectful conversation.
I’m raising money for all 105 HBCU’s and I’m going to use the platform
of CBS not to just raise money for them, but to increase diversity- gay,
lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, disenfranchised Whites, Native
Americans and Black students- so that everyone can get a quality
education at an HBCU. If you decide that I am the mission of the march,
how do I get people to listen to me when I say, ‘Trayvon Martin is not
the only one’, like I said on the The Talk. I can’t engage them, if I’m
fighting with you. I feel that my people have a right to speak to me
because I’ve been speaking to them. But you have to understand that
we’re fighting the good fight everyday. I made a mistake and I’m sorry.
That’s it. As a blogger I was unsatisfied that I was unable to
provide more answers - to find the deeper meaning. As a psychotherapist
I was concerned. As a woman and mother of a baby girl, I felt the need
to keep asking questions. I’m not sure if it’s clear, but I did not get
exactly what I wanted as we never discussed the meaning behind her
words. I wanted, selfishly and possibly unreasonably, for her to have a
‘come to Jesus’ moment. Knowing that she wouldn’t immediately change the
way she feels, I was thinking that through sharing my story and the
stories of CN readers, that she may acknowledge the psychology behind
the juxtaposition. That didn’t happen, nor was this the first time any
of us have conversed with or overheard women who made like-minded
comments. Some of us get it right away and for some it takes a village.
By the end of the conversation, though, I truly believed Sheryl knew
that her comments were distasteful but maybe she didn’t 100% know why.
Either way, there is never any judgement on my couch. Progress is a
process and it all has to start with a dialogue.