Every semester I choose a “theme” for my first year writing courses. The past semester’s focus–one word–misogynoir.
Misogynoir is an amalgam of the word “misogyny” (dislike or contempt for women) and “noir,” the French word for “black.”
Moya Bailey coined the term to “describe the racialized misogyny aimed at black women.” But many were writing and thinking about misogynoir long before there was a word for it. In fact, I recall writing an essay in junior high about intra-racism and the experiences of darker hued Black women in New Orleans. Basically, all the work of my “professional life” is a response to misogynoir.
In my classes, our goal was to find constructive strategies to cope with and combat the effects of misogynoir. Discussions covered many topics: images of black women in the media–including social media; representations of black women in music, film, art, literature; controlling images of black women; black women’s invisibility; politics; health and housing disparities; police brutality; systemic biases and treatment. The list goes on and on and on.
Obviously, there was no way we could cover all the topics, particularly since new issues emerge(d) frequently. But it was interesting to note how often black women’s hair entered the conversation.
Of all things.
Books have been written about it. Documentaries filmed. Policy written. Memes created. Regular discussions held around the dinner table and on social media.
Black women’s hair.
Let that sink in.
Black women are targeted when we refuse to press or relax our hair, when we insist on loving our natural selves–including our hair–when we reject conformity in favor of self-love, when we shun the European “standard” of beauty because we know there are countless ways to be beautiful.
I’m not sure other women are advised [urged] to damage their hair to make it [read: themselves] more presentable, or told their hair is intimidating.
Does this happen to non-Black women?
When they were undergraduates, my [former] students, Lauren and Jasmin, performed a powerful piece on this very topic. Take a listen.