Earlier this month, Atlanta-based influencer Briana Monique posted a vlog on YouTube where she discussed a few Black-owned hair products she was using to revive her hair after a few weeks of protective styling. What started out as a very relatable dilemma about breakage from the tension of wearing braids and heat damage, quickly went left. “I was blessed with my texture and type of hair,” she said. “My mom actually really has African American hair—don’t take this the wrong way. Sis, my mama got naps, okay, and she be struggling trying to find the right products for her hair because she is natural.” It seemed like, even if this was the way her mother spoke, that she was criticizing Black women’s natural hair. Even those who regularly supported her felt betrayed.
The comments only got worse as she elaborated. “I be seeing my mama do her hair and Oh my gosh,” she said. “If I was her, I would’ve done the same thing and cut it all off.” There are a lot of cringeworthy moments in her delivery, and her snickering only adds insult to injury: “I don’t know how to help you with that hair, Mommy.” Speaking as a hypervisible, light-skinned biracial woman with a looser hair texture, her comments set off a conversation about the hierarchy of internalized racism—even if she claimed those weren’t her intentions.
Amid the backlash, she re-uploaded the video without her rant from the original vlog, but excerpts can be found in a couple of response videos. A few days later, she issued an apology toward the Black women who took offense and disabled the comment section under her videos. In her statement, she denied any ill-intent. “I am not anti-black or a colorist,” she said, citing that although she is biracial she grew up in a Black household. “I felt comfortable saying what I said based on conversations me and my mom have had behind the camera, and my mom loves her hair, never said she didn’t and I never said she had bad or ugly hair,” she wrote. “My statement was just based off of conversations me and my mom had and she would just always tell me be thankful your hair is more manageable and not to ever complain about my hair because other people have daily struggles with their hair.”
There is a convoluted history attached to anti-Black rhetoric targeted at natural hair. In 2009, when YouTubers like Whitney White (known to her followers as Naptural85) and Francheska Medina (known as HeyFranHey) started sharing their natural hair rituals online, they became among the class of women who showed the power of Black hair. Despite the Black buying power of hair care reaching $2.51 billion in 2018, Black hair products are still largely confined to the ethnic aisle. It’s this sort of separation that builds stigma around Black hair. If the products you need to maintain your hair are difficult to find, you can start to believe that your hair is unmanageable. YouTube’s natural hair community proved that Black women were worth more than the ethnic aisle, and their presence allowed other Black women—natural or not—to show their own definition of Black hair. The irony in this controversy is that the women with tighter hair textures created the blueprint for influencers like Briana Monique to be able to have the following they do.
As a Black woman who has had a complicated relationship with her own hair, it is disheartening to still be having this conversation in 2021. Five years ago, I did what Briana Monique’s mother did and chopped my hair off, too. I was tired of the chemicals, the flat irons, and of feeling like I wasn’t presentable if my hair wasn’t straight. I was tired of not knowing how my hair looked as it grew out of my scalp.
The problem with Briana Monique’s comments, and subsequently her apology, is that it displays a deep lack of racial awareness on her behalf. In fact, bringing up that she grew up in a Black household is even more alarming because of how her comments fetishize the features of a side of her family she admittedly has no connection to. However, the saddest part is the praise she says she received from her family for having “more manageable” hair. Not to mention, there are plenty of biracial women with coarse hair, and Black women with fine hair. Race doesn't define your hair type, genetics does. If you were like me, a Black girl with 4C hair thick enough to break combs, you know what it’s like to be on the other side of that conversation. So it’s no wonder that women like me, who dismissed their natural curls until later in life, flocked to YouTube for the lessons to undo what we’d been taught about using our hair as an assimilation tool. Calling yourself an influencer means that you assume the risk of influencing. No one is expecting perfection, from our hair or otherwise, but basic respect isn't too much to ask.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.