Sheryl Underwood calls natural black hair ‘nasty,’ spurring Twitter backlash

OPINION - I understand that Underwood is a comedian, and making people laugh is her job. But it’s a startlingly bad decision for a black woman to malign the desirability of common black characteristics...

On Friday, CBS re-aired an episode of The Talk, a clear knock-off of The View, which includes comedian Sheryl Underwood and actress Sarah Gilbert.

Underwood made some comments disparaging natural black hair that left many, particularly on social media, seething.

During Friday’s episode, guest Heidi Klum shared that she saves the “shorn hair” of her biracial children with ex-husband Seal. She described her children’s hair as “pretty.” Underwood asked Klum, “Why would you save afro hair?” then joked, “You can’t weave afro hair.” She added, “You never see [black women] at the hair place going ‘Look, here, what I need here is, I need those curly, nappy beads…That just seems nasty.”

Co-host Sarah Gilbert joined the conversation, admitting that she also saves her children’s hair. Underwood responded, deducing that Gilbert’s children’s hair was “probably some beautiful, long, silky stuff.”

Twitter reacts to Underwood’s comments

I don’t understand why anyone would save their kid’s hair, but if that’s what a mom sees as fit to do with her kid’s hair of any texture, who am I tell her otherwise? It’s not like she’s hurting anybody in the process. But still, it’s odd that the first use of saved hair that springs to Underwood’s mind is for a weave. My first thought was that hair was a keepsake, sort of like bronzed baby shoes.

That said, there’s been a big reaction to Underwood’s comments.


“Yet another example of Black complicity in white supremacy,” tweeted a popular blogger known as Anti_Intellect in response to Underwood’s statement.

“And I ain’t get into this over the weekend, but did Sheryl Underwood really pop off about natural afros while sporting a silky wig?” noted media personality Goldie Taylor on the irony of Underwood’s comments.

While some people defended Underwood’s freedom of speech, others were so upset that they attacked the comic’s weight and appearance in apparent retaliation for her statements on afro hair.

“I couldn’t possibly care less about what Sheryl Underwood and that dead alpaca on her head think about afros,” tweeted one such user.

Underwood has since taken to her Twitter account to state that people are overreacting to her comments, saying that they also need to “lighten up.”

Putting “silky” hair on a pedestal?

Yes, she is entitled to her opinion that black hair as “nasty,” even if it’s tragic that she perceives her own hair that way. Underwood is a clear victim of self-hate. It’s one thing to appreciate the variety offered by wearing straight, silky hair at times while also appreciating your own.

It’s entirely different—and sad—to put the common hair texture of another race of people on a pedestal above your own. It’s shameful and irresponsible to spread these disturbing views to a national audience as reinforcement that black hair is bad hair.

Underwood’s self-loathing is also no excuse to spread misinformation. Yes, afro hair can actually be weaved. There are synthetic “afro hair” weaves, so there’s no reason that actual human hair can’t be made into weaves and wigs as well. While Underwood may not see the value in using actual “afro hair” for a weave,  many natural women who want more versatility in volume of length of their hair would be clamoring for it, if it were as readily available as the “long silky stuff.”

Contrary to Underwood’s – and apparently many hair manufacturers’ — beliefs, not all black women desire silky, straight hair. A lot — as the most recent natural hair movement would suggest — are more than happy with their non-altered textures.

Underwood’s comments: Shameful

I understand that Underwood is a comedian, and making people laugh is her job. But it’s a startlingly bad decision for a black woman to malign the desirability of common black characteristics, spread self-hate and falsehoods, and reinforce perceptions that “white is right” (or better) just for cheap chuckles.

I expect more from her, not just because she’s a black woman with the same feature she denigrates, but also because she’s the immediate past-president of Zeta Phi Beta, a black women’s sorority whose stated mission is to uplift black women.

It’s shameful and embarrassing that that Klum — practically the poster child for white women’s beauty — can find the value in black hair while Underwood, an actual black woman with black hair, cannot.

Demetria L. Lucas is a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk

This article was updated to reflect that Underwood was the president of Zeta Phi Beta, not Sigma Gamma Rho.