Monday, January 20, 2014

Pam Oliver's Hair: Did the criticism go too far?

By Tenisha Mercer

I knew something was wrong the moment I began seeing references to ESPN sports reporter Pam Oliver flashing across Facebook on Sunday.Wasn't there a big game? Now, I don't follow sports and I can't tell you the first first thing about football (please don't ask me who played and I had no idea who Pam Oliver was initially).

So why was my FB timeline all of a sudden blowing up with images and snarky references to, of all things, Pam Oliver's hair? Seems that Facebook and Black Twitter -- and hell, a whole lot of folks on Twitter who weren't Black -- became upset, no enraged, about Oliver's wig/weave.

ESPN ReporterPam Oliver's hair took a beating online
Pam Oliver's viciously hair was criticized online
Ridiculousness ensued. And folks got to clowning.

Twitter went wild. Black Twitter went in, and so did everyone else.

Tweets about Oliver's hair were a trending topic

Oliver had barely delivered her game analysis when nasty memes as well as trending topics devoted to her hair began circulating. Oliver's hair was compared to, of all things, Chewbacca. The insults were snarky, downright mean and bordered on hateful.

Images like these began showing up on Twitter on Sunday
Source: Tweets/photos from

I felt bad for Oliver, who has been known to wear what some would call questionable weaves and wigs on camera. Her hair took a beating, literally. No matter what your opinion is about her hair, Oliver didn't deserve this kind of drubbing. Not like this. This stuff went viral, and not in a good way.

I don't want my natural hair shamed, so why should I participate or tolerate the shaming and humiliation of another Black woman's hairstyle on such a large scale?

It's not JUST hair

Today it's Oliver's wig/weave that's being talked about on social media. But what if it was her twistout, TWA or wash and go tomorrow? Naturals would be up in arms, calling for a boycott and demanding haters' heads.

We did it when folks crucified then 16-year-old Gabby Douglas' natural hair at the Olympics. Now that the humiliation is aimed at someone with hair that isn't natural, who wears a wig/weave, shouldn't we demand the same thing?

Some folks took the vitriol overboard. I always say it's not just hair, and it's not. For Black women, our hair is loaded with politics and innuendo. And for Oliver, it was a whole lot of people pointing at her and saying how much they disliked her hair.

It felt very personal, and who wouldn't take an attack on their hair as personal?

Something is wrong when this goes too far and a woman's hair - whether she bought it or grew it -- is the butt of jokes for millions of folks. Some folks would say why are we so caught up in a woman's hair? Isn't it reporting from the accomplished sports journalist that Oliver is all that truly counts -- not her hair?

And don't we have more important issues to devote our time and energy to?

That would be yes on all accounts.

Hair opines

Let me be clear: The opinion isn't the problem (we are entitled to them, even if they may be disparaging). But comparing Oliver to a Star Wars character -- an animal? That did it for me. It was shockingly crude and cruel and there's something wrong about that. And it takes so much more energy to say you don't like her hair than to create cruel memes and images about it.

The widescale humiliation and mocking went way too far.

We all have hair preferences. I don't like all natural hairstyles, just as I do not like all relaxed, weaved or wig hairstyles. And that's OK. It's even OK to be vocal about it (I gush about those whose hair I like and I've been known to say when I dislike a hairstyle).

Still, it's one thing to say you don't like Oliver's hair (I don't think the hairstyle choice flattered her), and we've all seen our share of questionable wigs/weaves. But it's quite another to make memes and spread this sort of viciousness on social media; that never goes away, and it spreads like wildfire.

It sounded awfully personal. Black women are often the topics of political discourse, and not in a good way. We are, too often, humiliated or shamed on a national scale -- whether it's our bodies, our hair, our sexuality or just for being who we are -- black and a woman. There is often no one to affirm us or lift us up, even when it comes to those who look like us.

But Twitter and Facebook don't exactly encourage Kumbuya. It's a vehicle for snark, witty comeback and downright mean shit. That's what's rewarded, that's what's retweeted and that's what we like to read across our timeline.

I wouldn't want to be Oliver right now.

None of us want to be put down for our hair choices. I'm not always perfect. There are days when  my hair looks a mess and there are times when I'm critical of others' hair choices. But I do try to think about how my images/posts that I distribute will affect others. Even those "Natural Hair Be Like" photos showing women with severely damaged relaxed hair saying they don't want to be natural.

That's not cool, either. No one's hair should be shamed. No one's hair should be the butt of jokes. Shaming someone else's hair, no matter the style, shouldn't make me feel any better about mine.

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