There is only one subject on Earth more sensitive than race, and that is women’s looks.
Either subject can provoke intense feelings of hurt and fury,and to have combined the two in public in the most offensive way needs an extraordinary level of stupidity. Yet this is exactly what Clicks did with their obtuse advertisement for a hair product. In a week when people were dying of Covid-19 and the economy sank deeper, the headlines were dominated by pictures that suggested straight blonde hair was superior to curly black hair. A sorry reflection on human priorities? Perhaps, but that is how we are.
Humans are peculiar animals and nowhere more so than in their sexuality. Nature uses a wide range of strategies for the essential business of acquiring a mate. One of them is display, where one sex uses appearance to attract the other sex. In all species but one, it is the male that does so. The peacock’s absurdly magnificent display might be cumbersome but without it no peahen will look at him. In humans alone, it is the female who displays. (I don’t think anybody knows why.)
The brutal and unpleasant truth about human mating is that in general, with exceptions of course, the male is attracted to the female by her looks and the female is attracted to the male by his success – or status, which is the same thing. Before anybody shrieks about virtue, kindness, intelligence and a wonderful sense of humour, please check the wedding photographs of rich, famous, powerful men who marry in middle age.
When you are about six years old, you are told, ‘Looks don’t matter, what matters is character’, and even then you know that is how it should be, but is not. Women are anxious about it from an early age, and many of them think they are far less good-looking than they really are. This explains the fortune they spend on cosmetics, clothing and hair dressing, most of which is a waste of money, or much worse, on expensive and painful plastic surgery, which usually makes them look less attractive than before and can make them monstrous.
So, often, a man with a girlfriend he thinks is beautiful is puzzled to discover she won’t let him look at her naked with the lights on because she thinks she is so ugly; and he finds she is obsessed about a wrinkle on her face that he had never noticed, and that a male would need an electron microscope to detect.
On their part, men are at least as anxious about their sexual equipment and sexual success as women are about their looks, and much more untruthful, but they can hide their anxieties from the public glare, which women cannot.
Black African people have been persuaded to believe that white women are better looking than black women. This is an extremely important concern, lying deep in the psychology of the greatest racial problem between black and white, a problem recognised by black intellectuals such as Frans Fanon and Steven Biko. Blacks have been persuaded to think that light skin is prettier than black skin, and long straight flowing hair prettier than short tightly curling hair – ‘natural hair’. This makes many black women use skin lighteners, hair straighteners, wigs and weaves. Just look at the photographs of so many famous black female South African actresses, TV hosts and other celebrities. Floyd Shivambu led the EFF’s violent outrage against the Clicks ad, but, for your interest, look at the photos of his famous friend, celebrity chef Lorna Maseko.
A black woman journalist recently wrote in The Guardian that dark-skinned black women like her struggle to find marriage partners because black men want women with lighter skins. When Obama became United States President, a black woman writer was struck by the fact that he had married a woman with a darker skin than himself, apparently rare among successful black men.
Tragic and absurd
This is tragic and absurd. Imagine if the geography of the world had been different, and Africa had developed before Europe, and become the dominating world power. You can well imagine those same Clicks photographs of the black hair and white hair, but with different captions. For the white hair: ‘Lank & Lifeless.’ For the black hair: ‘Lively & Full Bodied.’ Maybe white women would have started using hair curlers and black dyes. (When I was young, some white people were worried about their hair being too straight. I remember being told that if I didn’t eat my bread crusts, I wouldn’t get curly hair. Since I already thought my hair too curly, I considered not eating them.)
The hair product in question was made by TRESemme. There is a rumour that there were black people in its advertising team. If true, it would be interesting to hear what was in their minds at the time.
Our Zozibini Tunzi should be congratulated for winning the 2019 Miss Universe competition with her natural hair. So should the judges.
[Picture: Adrian Fernández on Unsplash]
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR