Nia Long's Message to Massai: Embrace Your Afro!

10/13/2009 at 04:00 PM ET
Courtesy Nia Long

A field trip to a hair salon with her Brownie troop when she was younger left a lasting impression on Nia Long, who vividly recalls the stylist’s confusion upon seeing the only African-American among the group of girls.

“[She] was just scared to death,” Nia explains to Essence. “She didn’t know what to do; I had a big Afro. It was horrific.”

Fortunately, Nia — who can be seen in Chris Rock‘s new film Good Hair, a documentary that explores the complexities surrounding black women and their hair  — notes that her childhood experience has made her that much more determined to embrace her roots for the sake of her son, Massai Zhivago. “He will say things to me like, ‘Mommy, why do you have a weave?’ or ‘What’s that white stuff you put on your hair?'”

Nia’s hair styling routines don’t go unnoticed by Massai; The 8 ½-year-old even showed interest in using his mama’s products on himself, much to the actress’ horror!

“Once for Halloween he wanted spiky hair and he said, ‘Why can’t you just put that white stuff on my hair to make it spiky?'” she shares. “I gasped and was like, ‘What am I doing to my child?!'”

In an effort to teach her son be proud of his heritage — Afro included! — Nia jokes she often cites none other than President Barack Obama as Massai’s role model.

“But thank God for Obama because I’m like, ‘He has an Afro so you need to wear yours proud.'”

Source: Essence

– Anya

Share this story:

Your reaction:

Add A Comment

PEOPLE.com reserves the right to remove comments at their discretion.

Showing 14 comments

Jessica on

Uhh Obama has a fro? More like a caesar cut. But it’s cool.

Liliana on

Maybe she meant Obama in his younger days.

Claire on

I think almost every woman is trying to do something fun and different with their hair. Why would she equate putting styling products in her hair as something bad that she shouldn’t teach her son??? I’m confused by that. I am white but I color my hair, it doesn’t mean I don’t love my mom and the family that has my natural color…Maybe I’m missing something big here?

April on

Claire the white “product” she’s talking about isn’t mousse or gel, it’s chemical relaxer, so she doesn’t want him to use it or feel like he needs to.

fay on

claire,

there is a belief that when black women straighten their hair because they want to be white, or want to change their “natural” hair texture… so i think she’s just telling him that he doesn’t have to CHANGE who he is…

marfmom on

yes, hair is apparently a big part of Black/African American culture. CBB posted an interesting Newsweek article about it today.

Claire on

I see, then that makes sense. It’s too bad that they have to deal with that. :(

Morgan on

Marfmom, maybe it’s the wording of your comment that causes it to come across as snarky, but if that comment were directed towards another culture (not just racial but social), they’d probably be as aggravated by it as I am. Yes, hair CARE is an extremely important part of American culture as a whole, but blacks spend over a billion dollars a year in the industry. (Previously noted info that was also in the Newsweek article about Zahara Jolie-Pitt) Internal perception about our hair is something that Chris Rock has said (along with his daughters) inspired him to produce “Good Hair”. Clearly, if one were to step outside of ones bubble, they’d “hear” the discussion that abounds in posts featuring Zahara Jolie-Pitt, Angel Brown-Murphy or the Klum-Samuel children regarding their hair care/hair appearance and not make what came across as rather off-hand and “alien”

Olivia on

“there is a belief that when black women straighten their hair because they want to be white, or want to change their “natural” hair texture… so i think she’s just telling him that he doesn’t have to CHANGE who he is…”

Yes and no. It’s not that black women want to be white, it’s that “white” is the standard in this country, i.e. straight, silky hair. African Americans have been socialized throughout the history of racism in this country to believe their hair in its natural state is “bad” (hence the name of Rock’s documentary “Good Hair”). For African Americans, particularly women, to wear their hair in its natural state is still considered a radical departure from the norm of straightening and extensions to this day. It is very different from white women coloring their hair.

I’m very interested to see Chris Rock’s documentary. My daughter is caucasian/black and I hope and can teach her to love her curls and not feel the need to straighten them.

dlock on

I am a product of a mixed family, my grandmother being german and polish, and my grandfather black. My mom is mixed and she had curley hair. I have very thick curley hair, I don’t consider my hair “good.” Because I don’t believe in that term, I also have been locking my hair for 5yrs. I did this for longer healthier hair. I didn’t like using chemicals in my hair, and it was too expensive to go to the salon every 2 weeks. Now, I go to the salon once a month and spend only $70/month.
I just want clarify, that black women do not use chemicals to straighten their hair to look “white” or because they want to be “white,” its more so, to have more manageable hair.
Our hair can be very thick and curley, and to make it more manageble, some decide to use certain chemicals.

I love my hair now more than I did a few years ago. I didn’t always use a relaxer, actually growing up, I had long thick hair, that my would later hot comb, for a more straighter look.

Dee on

I had a Jerri Curl back in the day and trust me it wasn’t because I was trying to be ‘white’ it was because my mom didn’t know how to braid and being the only girl of five kids and a cop full-time it was the easiest solution.

That being said, I now relax my hair because while I would love to have my naural hair and flaunt it. My natural hair is thick and at times so hard to comb through. I use a relaxer to make it more manageable.

I understand where Nia is coming from and it is good to teach your kids to embrace who they are. They have years to come to make decisions about what they want to do to enhance themselves if they choose to. For now they should enjoy being a kid and not have to worry about such things!

fay on

olivia,

in MY experiences, whites have asked me if i relaxed my hair because i want to BE white… and when i had an afro i was asked (in rural mn) a professor asked me if my growing my hair in its natural state was a “rejection of the white mainstream ideals placed on my culture” lol… just like when i wore my hair in braids and a man walked up to me, petted them and asked me if i was from AFRICA…

MY experience is different than yours and that’s okay, but i’ve met enough ppl (and barabara walters had to be set straight on the view last week) to know that a LOT of Caucasian people believe that we relax our hair to BE white…

Olivia on

My apologies, Fay! My own bad assumptions were showing because I thought you were writing from the perspective of a white woman. I have only been learning about what hair means for African American women for a couple of years since marrying a black man. I am sorry to be so presumptuous. Other women who know more certainly say it better than I. http://whattamisaid.blogspot.com/2009/10/dispatches-from-nappyville-what-is-good.html

kai on

God, fay, this would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. unbelievable lol

Nia, for me, is one of those super familiar supporting actresses I can never really place. Had to look her up – can’t believe she’s almost 40. looking good!

advertisement

From Our Partners

From Our Partners

Sign up for our daily newsletter and other special offers.
    Choose your newsletters
Thank you for signing up! Your request may take up to one week to be processed.
    see all newsletters