It is Black History Month and what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at the diversity of black women and their hair. Musician and activist Nina Simone released the song “Four Women” in 1966.
In it she details four archetypes of black women. All four are detailed largely according to hair and skin tone.
The first three are represented as below:
My skin is black, my arms are long
My hair is woolly, my back is strong.
Strong enough to take the pain, inflicted again and again. What do they call me? My name is aunt Sarah.
My skin is yellow, my hair is long.
Between two worlds I do belong.
But my father was rich and white. He forced my mother late one night. And what do they call me? My name is Saffronia.
My skin is tan, my hair fine.
My hips invite you, my mouth like wine.
Wooly. Long. Fine.
Just three of the many words that could be used to describe the hair of African-American women.
Nina’s own hair was natural, though you will often see pictures of her rocking straight hair with bangs (via wigs) as many musicians did back in the day and still do. More often than not though she is shown wearing a well-shaped afro or cornrows.
“Four Women” doesn’t have a beat, the song has a pulse. From the very first moment it starts, the recognizable notes carry the listener to a whole different place. I can hardly count the number of times I’ve had a rough day and just wanted to scream, “My skin is tan, my hair is fine. My hips invite you, my mouth like wine,” and just storm out of the room. Maybe one day I’ll give it a try.
Nina Simone left a huge legacy and it is truly horrendous to know that some are just hearing about her now because a film is being made about her and there is an argument about whether Zoe Saldana should play the musical genius, activist, and mother. The argument most made? That Saldana is not dark enough. I am sure Ms. Simone would roll over in her grave if she knew she – or Ms. Saldana for that matter – was being reduced to a skin tone.
So why do it? Instead let’s celebrate both women this month with a special emphasis on Nina Simone and every door she opened.