My thoughts on the SheaMoisture commercial:
Of course it was problematic that the company included white women and a light-skinned “acceptable” black woman. But my first and strongest feeling was that there was a stark difference between the black woman’s words and the white women’s words with regard to the violence and trauma they experienced. Consider the opening statements from each woman:
Black woman: People would, like, throw stuff in my hair. And then I would just be walking and there would be little paper balls in my hair. I hated it because its like … I have this and people made fun of me for it.
White woman #1: Lots of days staring in the mirror like ‘I don’t know what to do with it!
White woman #2: I didn’t know if I was supposed to be a red-head. I dyed my hair blonde for 7 years of my life … platinum blonde.
Granted – we do not know what the editing process was like for the directors. But there is still a lesson to extract here. It is noteworthy that the first words out of the black woman’s mouth in the commercial was about the violence and external hatred she was exposed to. She talks about being in a populated space where other people are throwing objects at her. The black woman is violated physically and ridiculed – and she internalizes the hatred.
Meanwhile, the white women seem to be battling … themselves. They are at war with internal demons, not necessarily external ones. Their dilemma is which dye to put in their hair. There is no mention of being tormented by other people: the “hair hate” is a matter of personal choice, while it is a matter of structural coercion for the black woman.
Violence against the black woman is what animates the “hair hate” narrative. The white women attach themselves to the black woman’s pain, make themselves legible by doing so, and then render the black woman invisible. In other words, the white women are positioned as parasites who suck the life out of the black woman.
The black woman and white women all come together at the end to ‘push’ the product – thus sending the message that all of their experiences were equal. But black women and white women have different structural positions. While it is true that all women suffer violence, black women suffer the worst type.