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Sheryl Underwood’s ‘Nappy Hair’ Comments Question Self-Worth

sherylunderwood7126Sheryl Underwood, well-known comedienne, actress, and co-host of The Talk, has had some interesting things to say over the years. And, as a prominent woman of color, her audience consists of many people of color. Recently, she mentioned that it made no sense to save “nappy, afro hair” when discussing Victoria Secret model Heidi Klum’s desire to save her bi-racial children’s naturally curly, kinky hair after haircuts.Underwood went on to describe the hair as “beady” and “nasty.” Many have come out against the words she supposedly used in jest. Truthfully, this seems less a question of comedy or preference and more a question of self-worth.

Here is the full clip.

Underwood has likely dealt with issues of identity throughout her life and career. Being a woman with darker skin tone and kinkier hair makes it less likely that issues of colorism, marginalization, and self-esteem will be easily avoidable. But, the descriptors Underwood used in talking about her own hair type were very negative. Words like “nasty”, “beady”, and “nappy” have typically been used to alienate and “other” women of color. They have been employed to induce shame in a social group often defined by external or perceived characteristics.

In this exchange, she portrayed kinky hair as unworthy or insignificant. In essence, she was saying to this mother who loves her children dearly, “Why would you want to keep THAT hair?” As if those children’s memories, experiences, and childhood keepsakes were less important if they were associated with their natural hair texture. Not only that, Underwood described hair worthy of saving as “long and silky.” This implies that straight hair is inherently better hair. Hair grown from the scalps of white women and other non-kinky haired races seems, in Underwood’s eyes, to be more worthy of remembering, savoring, and valuing than her own.

It really is quite sad. The predominantly white, female audience clapped on, seemingly in agreement with Underwood’s remarks, thereby bolstering the self-hatred on the set and contributing to the cycle of confidence issues many young women of color experience when navigating through the crooked rooms presented to them by society.

Young women of color, especially black women, deal with a host of stereotypes about their gender, identities, sexuality, and abilities. Far too often, physical features are used to minimize this social group. But, it is even more disheartening when the disparaging words and remarks come from someone within the bounds of the social group. Underwood’s sentiment, though likely held by many, works against projects like “My Black is Beautiful” and “Dark Girls.” It sets the community back and does so on a pretty large scale.

Hopefully Underwood will issue an apology soon. So far, she has stood by her comments. Luckily, there are still many women on the big and small screens working to strengthen self-worth amongst young women of color. They have a long journey ahead of them. As do all of us including Underwood herself.