Whether it’s a debate about “good hair” versus “bad hair” or whether or not braids are an appropriate birthday hairstyle (yes, that happened), Black hair never ceases to be a wildly popular topic of conversation.
While it’s often reserved for the members of the melanated community, on Sunday night’s episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, the titular host decided to tackle the complex history and present struggles as it relates to Black hair live on his show and I’ve got to say—he did a damn good job.
Beginning with a story of a Black woman who got a job offer rescinded after the hiring person saw she was sporting beautiful blonde locs, Oliver delved into the history of deliberate discrimination and misunderstanding when it comes to Black hair and the effects that it had on Black people from then up until now.
“Let’s start by understanding why Black hair is so important. For centuries, Black people in Africa innovated ways to protect and prolong the health of their hair. That practice has continued and evolved into beautiful and distinct hairstyles with a deep connection to culture and heritage. And for as long as that has happened, white people have been unable to handle it,” Oliver said in part.
He then goes on to break down how Black hair discrimination manifests itself into a variety of problems for Black people including but not limited to shopping in a store for haircare products, finding qualified stylists to tend for our tresses both on an everyday front and in Hollywood, cultural appropriation at the hands of white folks, and why laws like the ones proposed in the CROWN Act are both vital and necessary.
“Black people from an early age are often told that their hair is unattractive and that it needs to be corrected. And that is already just a lot before you even start getting into all of the way society makes it difficult to navigate the world because of your hair. Even just buying hair products can be an unnecessary challenge with Black hair products routinely locked in a case where someone has to come with a key to get it for you or maybe even walk it to the register in the same aisle where products for white people cost just as much or more are sitting out on the shelves. And the explanation of this is never great.”
He later adds, “This discrimination isn’t something that doesn’t exist; it’s something that doesn’t exist for white men who have never had to think about it before. The consequences of hair based discrimination are very real.”
Go’head then, John! Also, shoutout to the Black writers of this particular episode because when have you heard a white man joke about Eco Styler gel, laying edges, and melting lace front wigs and actually found it accurate and funny? (Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver airs Sunday nights at 11 p.m. ET on HBO.