Translating ‘Becky with the Good Hair’

Earlier this year, I wrote about Beyoncé’s politically charged Super Bowl performance, and the scandal that arose in its wake. Half the world praised her for giving Black empowerment a moment in the media, while the other half branded her a racist and threatened to boycott her music.

Beyoncé made no apologies, and paid no heed to the angry mob. Instead, she later followed up the performance with the release of Lemonade. Since its release, the album has inspired critical acclaim, a whole new host of pop culture references… and the witch hunt foone very elusive “Becky”.

In her song Sorry, Beyoncé stated:

He only want me when I’m not there
He better call Becky with the good hair

Brilliantly Bad Decision

In hopes of capitalizing on the spotlight thrown on Beyoncé yet again, two staffers of Glamour devised a brilliantly terrible plan. They fired back at Beyoncé’s Becky with the Good Hair by posting:

Becky with the Good Hair.jpg
Photo Credit: Glamour

I had to see it to believe it. I couldn’t believe that anyone living in a multicultural society, like America or the UK, could be so bloody clueless as to why this would be inappropriate.

The responses on social media further brought perhaps the biggest embarrassment any lifestyle and entertainment brand has faced in quite some time.

Becky with the Good Hair 2Becky with the Good Hair 3Becky with the Good Hair 5

Glamour Magazine is not Alone

But I would soon learn that Glamour staffers weren’t the only ones who didn’t quite get it. Many people actually have no idea what this means.

The following day, while Michael and I drove back from the gym, I asked him if he had heard about the incident.

To put things into context here, let me just inject the necessary detail that my husband is White.

Alexis Chateau Two Tone
Michael and I on April 28, 2016

Michael raps, has more Black friends than I do, and knows more about Ebonics than I will ever care to learn. Yet, even he was clueless as to why the article was offensive, and as to what on Earth the phrase “Becky with the good hair meant”.

“Isn’t that the whole thing about Jay-Z cheating on Beyoncé?” he asked me.

“Becky isn’t the point. Don’t you know what ‘good hair’ means?” I asked incredulously.

He didn’t.

It was at that moment that I had to step back and re-evaluate what I believed should have been common knowledge and fairly obvious. After all, I come from a predominantly Black country, whereas America is… well… America.

So let me explain why this is not just another minority-tantrum like the many that make it through the media.

The History Lesson

Of all the angry tweets directed at Glamour, this one summed up the root of the problem best.

Becky with the Good Hair 4

The keywords here are “historical significance”. This is because the phrase good hair wasn’t coined by Beyoncé for Lemonade, or even by 90s rap. It’s been a part of the Black Movement and the Black struggle since the days of slavery; and is deeply rooted in the journey of Black women (and men) from properties to human beings.

To keep slaves compliant, they were taught that their natural features made them somehow less worthy of rights and freedoms than other races. This primarily included the colour of their skin, and the texture of their hair. Coincidentally, these are the two most distinguishing features of what it means to be Black.

After slavery, as civil rights movements took shape and Blacks received their first chance of assimilating into regular society, these differences posed a problem. But while Black skin brought no inherent inconveniences besides people’s personal biases, Black hair did.

Let me explain how.

The Struggle is Real

For most Black women, our hair is still a part of that daily struggle – especially in an era where personal appearances mean so much. Our friends of other ethnic groups and mixes can easily throw their hair into a ponytail in five seconds. But our frizzy hair obeys no law and no man.

Even in the corporate world, many of us are forced to ditch our natural hair, because corporate thinks our kinky locks are too naughty for regular business operations. And at my Catholic school, every ethnic hair-do was banned in the rule books, and as we tried new ones – like my signature Mickey Mouse puffs in seventh grade – those were quickly outlawed, too.

But ironically, the people who notice our hair the most? – is us. While other teenagers mostly worried about body image issues and acne, we worried about that and our hair. Maybe mostly our hair.

Many of us have tried everything – perms, presses, cornrows, braids, and just cutting the damn thing off. Sometimes we’ve done so much crap to it, it just falls off on its own…

And all of that to conform to what regular society decides is good hair – which is essentially not our stubborn kinky hair. Good hair is the Black Community’s bitterly-spoken name for obedient, soft, silky smooth locks of the Mixed, the Asians, Latinas, and of course White folks.

It’s worry-free hair; the hair of the models they put in Pantene ads, and the girls on Pinterest with an effortless bun on the top of their heads.

In contrast, our naturally dry, frizzy hair is bad hair. We are taught from an early age through dolls, school rules, corporate expectations, and the media that our genetically gifted natural hair is not sufficient, fashionable, or appropriate.

To soften the message, the media often puts forward an image that kinky (or nappy hair) looks like this:

This is true to an extent, but more accurately, this is what African hair looks like when a woman is mixed. In other words, if Michael and I had a daughter, she would likely have a similar hair type to either of these two women. Often times, these hair-types become grouped with good hair because it’s “less Black”. 

But for most of us, our hair looks a bit more like this:

Black kinky hair.jpg
Photo Credit: Steven Depolo

Imagine trying to get hair that kinky to meet society’s professional, beautiful, and neat standards, like these Beckys with the Good Hair

Becky with the Good Hair.png
Photo Credit: Glamour

And then imagine the overwhelming pressure to meet these expectations. We quite literally get chemical burns from relaxers and heat burns from press combs just trying to keep up. As one tweep summed it up nicely:

beck with the good hair beyonce twitter

The Way Forward

Of course, things are changing now. Many corporations “allow” us to wear our natural hair without causing a fuss. I, for instance, wore my dreadlocks when I worked at Xerox Business Services.

Similarly, many magazines, fashion shows, and movies also feature Black women who embrace their natural heritage; whether they have bad hair, good hair or something in-between.

As we grow older we learn what works for us, and we accept that we’ll just have to spend more time and more money on making our bad hair good enough to meet societal expectations.

In fact, Beyoncé made a strong statement by refusing to chemically alter her daughter’s hair – at least, not yet. However, when that same Queen Bey – the most powerful female symbol in the Black Community – hires a team to make her look like a Becky with the Good Hair, you know we still have a ways to go…

Photo Tony Duran
Photo Credit: Tony Duran

 

322 Comments Add yours

  1. bigmouthjo says:

    I loved this post. I have always wanted good hair but I am learning to love the hair I have.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alex says:

      We’ve all been there, and eventually we must all appreciate what we have. I believe the key lies in finding out what works for us. In my case, that was dreads.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. bigmouthjo says:

        I just did a post about my hair journey, in case your interested. https://bigmouthjo.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/my-mixed-race-hair-journey/

        Like

  2. kamcgr12 says:

    Reblogged this on 22 Shades of Wanderlust and commented:
    This has been quite the educational experience, because I, too, didn’t know what Becky with the “good hair” really means. As a young black woman, I’ve always been aware of The Powers that Be’s ideals and opinions about my appearance. My question of the day is “Why the Hell do they care?”
    Pardon me for not wanting to go bald fucking with perms or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars maintaining weaves, but your standards are unrealistic and unfair.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alex says:

      Thanks for reblogging, and the commentary that went with! Haha. Have a good one!

      Like

  3. nightengrrl says:

    This was a really good post, very eye-opening. As a caucasian living / working in a basically lily-white situation, I’ve always loved the appearance of natural hair, and it is sad to see such pressure to change it. And now, I get it, a little bit. Thank you for informing me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alex says:

      You’re welcome! I’m glad this post helped to put things into perspective for you and so many others.

      Like

  4. Renee Sieradski, EA says:

    Wow. Since my best friends who are African American spend so much time making their hair “good”, I knew what the term meant. But I am shocked that the magazine didn’t do their research.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alex says:

      Well, you’re a wise woman to take notice. This stumped even my husband, and I’m not his first Black partner so I think it takes special insight to put two and two together. Kudos to you! I’m shocked at Glamour as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sara Claire says:

    Honestly this speaks to me and I am so glad you wrote it. I was just trying to have this conversation with a friend of mine who is a white male and not a fan Beyoncé about how the media is focusing on the wrong thing looking for Becky with the good hair, and you were able to explain it perfectly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you Sara! Maybe you should share this post with your friend. Quite a few White men and women have reached out to me to say it explained it well enough for them as well. I certainly had to give my husband the talk as well, haha. Have a good one and come by again!🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I found this article superbly profound. I being caucasian obviously didn’t know the struggle of “good hair.” Since my niece who is of mixed race has been born, it has been my sister’s mission to put all sorts of products in her hair so that it could look more like those pictures in this article. My beautiful little niece would oftentimes say she had “boy hair” and tell me that she wished she had mine – long. This would break my heart, for she is the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen. I never want her to grow up thinking she is less than anyone because of her hair. I feel so very sorry that having natural hair is unacceptable in the workplace, I am so very saddened that having pride in natural beautiful bountiful hair that God has blessed you with, is not deemed appropriate for western standards, It’s revolting. I loved how this article opened my eyes, informed me greatly, broke my heart, and truly understand that society needs to grow the hell up and realize we are all perfect in our own individualism.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you so much for reading and reaching out Ashley. I hope you share the article with your sister as well, so she can also understand.

      I’ve had so many White mothers of Mixed race children reach out since this article, that I’ve been thinking of writing an article advising them as best I can, as well.

      It is very sad that we are “shamed” by our hair, but I also believe that we control how others let us feel about ourselves. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult concept to grasp as a child, and some adults never grow into that way of thinking.

      Try to teach your niece to embrace her hair. Show her the benefits of being what she is, and try buying her dolls with a similar appearance to herself. That’s what my neighbour did and it helped a lot.

      All the best and reach out any time with questions!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on and commented:
    No, it’s not really about Rachel Roy.

    Like

  8. Chibugo says:

    I am glad I stumbled upon this post. Even here in Nigeria where I come from, natural hair is still seen as inferior. For a completely black nation, it’s a veritable irony. Straight hair reigns supreme; it’s not even an option to not have it. You would think natural hair would be “allowed” in corporate offices but no, the European influence is that strong. Natural haired ladies have to hide under wigs during the week. Suffice it to say that, down here, good hair is relaxed hair (which 80% of the women sport), and bad hair is the nappy, rubbery, dry growth that sprouts naturally from our scalps. I’m glad the natural hair revolution is hitting Nigeria hard, but I still fear it might be a fad here, and fade out in time.
    http://www.sincerelychibugo.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you! The natural hair revolution has hit everywhere hard, and the only way we can ensure it’s not a fad is to keep sporting it. I’ve been sporting mine since before it was “allowed”.

      It is sad that even a primarily Black country in Africa of all places has that problem. Like I said, Jamaica suffers the same.

      Hopefully this is an issue that will pass over time, especially as more interracial coupling and friendships occur. We will never learn through segregation, only through blending cultures and learning about each other…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed this post… Alex I like the hope that you hold when you say “Hopefully this is an issue that will pass over time, especially as more interracial coupling and friendships occur”.

    I am from South Africa and this is a global issue, here is my short story with this issue…. So I hook up with a white guy online whom with every pic of myself I exchanged with him he would compliment, until I changed my profile pic on my watsapp to that of me in my very short hair cut looking all cute even if I have to say so myself, however the question I got form him was “where’s you long hair”…really???? where is my long hair??? well my response was… I wasn’t any.

    It became very apparent to me that my hair is already an issue with him. We still talk… now where this will end up…only our first meeting will tell.

    As far as our looks are concerned the hair issue is only 50% of our battle, the other 50% is our different skin tones, hopefully Beyonce composes a track about this so I would spark another Global conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex says:

      Your story instantly reminded me of my mother and biological father. She did the same thing after he had seen her with long, flowing, curly hair. She cut it off randomly just as he was bringing his brother by to show off that he had a light skinned girl with long hair. He would also go into a fit when I cut mine as a teen.

      Many Black people are appalled by me dating White men. They think I’m denying my Black heritage. But you know what I love about dating White men? They are the ones who love my natural hair, and never want me to chemically alter it. The first boyfriend I ever had who was excited about me quitting the relaxers for dreads was White. In fact, he encouraged me to do it. They are the ones who love the colour of my skin and don’t care if I spend too much time in the sun and get ten shades darker for a month. But Black men I dated always cared. I never understood that. When my father teased me about my preference, I asked him, “Why go where I’m just satisfactory, when I can go where I’m a Queen?”

      Of course all our experiences may differ somewhat, but that’s been mine. All the best with hair guy, but I wouldn’t go there if I were you..

      Like

  10. Loved your explanation. I think that the way some interpret that lyric goes to show what people tend to focus on…the surface.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex says:

      Thanks Kristina. You’re so right. We’ve become a shallow set of people. There’s so much more to learn when we put things into context.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly. But the depth of sth is of no interest to some. Why would they bother?? Too much work…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Alex says:

        Possibly, although the success of this post makes me wonder if that’s really true or just what the media wants us to believe about ourselves to make their own jobs easier. Food for thought?

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I am quite late to this party but it’s a moment where I am dumbfounded to only now learn something that is obviously a huge deal and I am compelled to thank you and the rest of your commenters for the education during this revealing read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex says:

      Thanks for dropping by and reading. Always glad to help educate a few people in my corner of the internet. I’m glad you learned something from the post and our discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. v4vikey says:

    I really liked this post so much…………..!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you did.🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I loved reading this post really interesting. When I heard the lyrics from Beyonce I instantly know what she meant, I was not offended it just confirmed to me that she’s gone back to her ”black side” and used typical things said in the black community to make a point. What I loved about this post as well , is that it is in a way highlighting that natural black African coily hair is beautiful. As a black British born women who after maybe 20 years of chemically straightening her hair to fit and gave up on that and went natural almost a year ago I love the post for this fact and the truths in it especially around natural hair and the corporate world. 6 months ago I chopped off my chin length straight ” good hair” bob to an inch long crop and rock my natural coils and love it! Forget what society wants to promote as ” good hair” and if an employer can’t look at my ability to do a job, rather than how I express my self love through my natural hair then I don’t want to work for them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you Kim. I’m glad you got the message that black hair is beautiful as well. That’s one of the reasons I posted a picture of me with my dreadlocks. It’s perfectly possible to find a look that suits us, whatever it is.

      The tough part about a job though is that the opinion of who’s hiring you might not necessarily reflect the company’s values on a whole. Thus, it can be hard to just say to hell with the job when you know other people have made it past that obstacle. Haven’t had to deal with that so far though, but I’m preparing myself for it.

      Like

      1. So true and it’s a shame that the hiring person is so small minded in those situations. All we can do is hope that society starts to realise that as us women on black origin whether it be African or Caribbean embrace our beautiful natural self more often that views on what’s ” good hair” or beautiful shift. Here’s hoping.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Alex says:

        Agreed. The change does start with us though. The more ashamed we are of our natural hair, the more leverage we give to other people to make us feel that way.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Djamilou says:

    You ve said it all! Nice article👏

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a very inciteful take on an interesting and controversial topic. In my opinion, we (as people) should embrace who we are and what we have to offer. No two people are exactly alike and that is for good reason; to eliminate the need for comparison.

    Funny enough, I was just thinking about my hair today. I love my hair and not because its natural, but because its mine. All hair is “good hair” as far as I’m concerned because it is your own just like your experiences and mindset. Its part of what makes you who you are. So forget “Becky” and her “good hair”. It is irrelevant in the fact that hair is hair. The past is just that; the past. Your future is now and how you live it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you. I completely agree with you, but until some of the systematic pressure is removed, it’s hard to embrace our hair as is.

      The post is less about the aesthetic struggle with black hair, and more about the politics behind it. We can accept our hair as beautiful, but society also needs to accept it as appropriate for business and school.

      I fought tooth and nail to wear my hair as I like. But as many of the comments on the post reveal, not everyone has this privilege, much less the right…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with that. That’s why I’m glad people are working toward tearing down those expectations and exposing the political struggle. The more people are forced to acknowledge the history, the more likely it is they’ll come face-to-face with actual change. Keep moving forward, Alex, and continue writing. I look forward to reading.🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Alex says:

        Thank you! I’ll do my best to keep the knowledge flowing.

        Like

  16. writewithliz says:

    Let me just say, this was such an interesting read! I honestly haven’t ever really given much thought to this topic before and like your husband I didn’t totally understand the Beyonce lyric before. I just assumed it referred to a “prettier” girl. But it is really eye opening to hear about how deep the hair issue goes for most black women. Thank you for shining a light and opening my eyes. Well put🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex says:

      Thank you so much. I’m glad it was both interesting and informative, and that’s it’s put things into perspective for you going forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Alex says:

    Reblogged this on Godigio and commented:

    Alexis translated ‘Becky with the Good Hair’ for her followers and the post became an Editor’s pick and went viral on WordPress. Check it out and let us know what you think.

    Like

  18. What’s up, well put together web-site you’ve gotten at this time there

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I’ve worked pretty hard at it.

      Like

  19. Muriel Baik says:

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say great blog!

    Like

    1. Hi Muriel! So sorry to hear that happened. I hate that. It’s happened to me on other sites on multiple occasions. Still, I thank you for dropping by. I’m so happy that you love my blog, and I hope you come by again! I’ve written many posts like this one, since.

      For some reason WordPress automatically marked this comment as spam, so I’m only just seeing it. So sorry!

      Like

  20. Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I wish to put in writing like this moreover ¨C taking time and precise effort to make an excellent article¡­ but what can I say¡­ I procrastinate alot and not at all seem to get one thing done.

    Like

    1. I understand that. But as I say to my husband, a thought is only a dream until you put it into action. Once you commit to writing it out, it gets easier. Good luck! And thanks for dropping by!

      For some reason WordPress automatically marked this comment as spam, so I’m only just seeing it. So sorry!

      Like

  21. I am really loving the theme/design of your site. Do you ever run into any browser compatibility problems? A few of my blog visitors have complained about my website not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome. Do you have any advice to help fix this issue?

    Like

    1. Thank you! No, I haven’t had any complaints about browser compatibility, but then I only use chrome. My husband uses Firefox to view my website and hasn’t had any issues. And I believe my best friend uses Safari. Maybe you should try a different theme. The one I am using, I believe it’s called Dyad. I love the clean design, and the fact that featured images are fixed to the left of each post.

      For some reason WordPress automatically marked this comment as spam, so I’m only just seeing it. So sorry!

      Like

  22. Much thanks! It a superb web site!.

    Like

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed not just the post, but my website in general. Come by again!

      For some reason WordPress automatically marked this comment as spam, so I’m only just seeing it. So sorry!

      Like

  23. OK. Pale white woman with limp blonde hair here. I had no clue what “good hair’ meant. Beside that, I have never understood why black women want to relax, press, smooth, or whatever to their hair. Natural is beautiful.

    Like

    1. There’s a lot of pressure to conform if we want to get ahead at work and in school. For some reason, we’re often penalised for embracing our natural hair. But I think this is gradually changing.

      Like

  24. Reblogged this on TwoToneTheArtist and commented:
    Featured in this post about ‘good hair’ in the Black and Mixed-race community.

    Like

  25. Blossom Bite says:

    Really interesting article! I love what your blog stands for, it’s really really great work x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve put a lot of hard work into it, so thank you. That means a lot to me. And thanks for dropping by!

      Like

  26. classyqueeny says:

    It amazes me how much time and talk we consume on black hair. I don’t think any other race is that concerned with their hair like us, probably because ours is do different from the rest of the world but damn…it’s tiring to exhume so much energy on hair! Of course outsiders don’t get it because it is extreme I mean honestly natural hair has become its own revolution. It’s hard for people to understand why and how it started and what we woman go through in our communities when it comes to our hair! Good post

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Yes, we do spend a lot more time, effort, and money on our hair than others – not just talking about it, but taking care of it.

      And you’re right, it is because it’s so different. It’s also because its differences make it really hard to care for.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. tatyfortune says:

    Hi!! I’m just starting my own blog, please check it out!! My recent post is all about the Obamas and how sad I am that they are leaving the White House.
    Please let me know what you think! http://bit.ly/2cxcmxs

    Like

      1. tdbeek says:

        It’s a great article and I like your others as well – my friend said she cried when she read this one, she had always struggled as a child/teenager with her hair and how it’s ‘supposed’ to be (her dad is black Jamaican and her mum is white Australian)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh wow. I had no idea this article would have that effect on anyone, but I’m glad she found something relatable to her experience.

        I’m glad you enjoy them too. I have written quite a few on race, being mixed, and black hair. She might also like the one about why I hated my dolls, and the other about caring for mixed hair.

        Thanks again, and tell your friend I said hi! And that she should hang in there!

        Like

  28. soulanceblog says:

    Thanks for writing on this! So happy people are discussing this… I know the term “good hair” all to well because although no one exactly called my hair bad hair… that’s what was inferred while other terms were used for my tightly coiled hair that has been in locs for the past 6 years. I’m a black female with an Asian husband and we have these discussions all the time! Especially since the first comment I hear when I introduce him to someone is: he has “good hair” (he is 100% cambodian with a loose curl) and then they say how our kids will have good hair smh…..Keep up the good work!😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s at once good and bad that you can relate to this sort of thing. Good because you add to the discussion, and bad because it’s sad we even need to have it. It’s great that as an interracial couple you can discuss these topics without any problems. I realise a lot of interracial couples can’t, without some tension. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

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