Hair: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

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LastWeekTonight

John Oliver discusses the importance of Black hair, the ways it can be a target of discrimination, and some ideas to address that. Connect with Last Week Tonight online... Subscribe to the Last Week Tonight YouTube channel for more almost news as it almost happens: www.youtube.com/lastweektonight Find Last Week Tonight on Facebook like your mom would: www.facebook.com/lastweektonight Follow us on Twitter for news about jokes and jokes about news: www.twitter.com/lastweektonight Visit our official site for all that other stuff at once: www.hbo.com/lastweektonight

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Video Transcript:

Moving on our main story tonight concerns hair specifically black hair the subject that gave us the single greatest real housewives entrance of all time when kenya moore crashed marlo hampton's wig launch with a marching band to promote her own line of hair products and porsha williams reacted like this even if i did agree with kenya and the Fact that people's edges matter they don't matter today you are wrong this is absolutely insane okay so today i don't agree but tomorrow yes my edges matter and i'll be using the product you know what as per usual porsche is right about a number of things there kenya is wrong edges do matter and i like porsche will also be using the product tomorrow monday is my wash day and look i realize I'm not the ideal person to talk about black hair i look like i still go to an old timey barber named valentino and ask for the tidy liza minelli and i also know that the danger is when a white guy on tv starts confidently talking about black hair even with the best of intentions it can end something like this i didn't want the little tea light to overheat and then all of a Sudden we've got breaking news here at the channel i told you the sprinkler system's come on i'm done for the day yeah there you go that is sitting up here looking like a mop yeah you don't want sprinkler system and a beautiful weave because they do not go oh wow you're beautiful you said it was a weaver it's not oh wow that is the exact right reaction to announcing your black co-workers hair is a weave live on air getting up from your Desk and just running away running forever running until your life fades behind you and your feet touch the ocean now you should know those two co-workers seem to have gotten over that incident putting out a video titled blaine and layla discuss hair weave a rebuttal where blaine says he's learned the difference between quick weaves lace fronts and sew-ins because of their friendship but the fact Is on the whole white people don't really understand a lot about black hair and by the way if your first reaction to that was hey not all white people maybe look inside yourself and figure out why that is your response to things but importantly that lack of understanding and lack of interest in understanding can have real consequences from the personal to the professional as you probably know Either from experience or from seeing stories like this chastity jones was tangled in a nearly 10-year legal battle after she says an employer took back a job offer at an alabama call center because she refused to cut her hair she said are those dreadlocks in your hair and i just looked at her and i was like these and she said yes i said yes they are she said well We can accept that here can you imagine turning someone away who wants to work at a call center the university's most thankless job a place where you answer the phone and immediately there's an angry woman screaming at you because some of the broccolini in her hello fresh kits didn't smell right and now she wants to speak to mr fresh if you have someone who wants to do that job let them What's on their head has nothing to do with it they could show up to work in a wig made of living ferrets and they deserve not only that position but double whatever you're paying them the point is black hair and hairstyles are frequently yet another pretext for discrimination so tonight let's talk about it and let's start by understanding why black hair is so important for centuries black people in africa Innovated ways to protect and prolong the health of their hair and that practice has continued and evolved into beautiful and distinct hairstyles with a deep connection to culture and heritage and for as long as that has happened white people have been unable to handle it one of the first things slave traders would do was shave the heads of enslaved people which erased their cultural Identity and black hair has historically been described in dehumanizing fashion with racial typologist charles hamilton smith describing his hierarchy of three main types of people the bearded caucasian type the beardless mongolic type and the woolly head tropical type and the only time wooly head tropical is an acceptable term to use is if you're talking about Madagascar's woolly lemur a tropical little sweetie who always looks like he just accidentally replied all other than that it's off limits now by the late 19th century beauty companies were advertising products like skin lighteners and hair straighteners reinforcing the idea that black hair was dirty and unkempt and the closer your appearance was to whiteness the better like in this ad From 1900 from magnetic comb that promised to destroy the hair germs on your head and take you from a curly head black person to a straight haired white one and the desire to make black hair smoother and straighter was so strong just listen to the sheer delight this british newsreel takes in showing you the process Combs come into play kept constantly heated they are passed through each section of the hair until all trace of kinkiness disappears it's not all plain sailing naturally and it's not quite a permanent permanent if you follow me if the hair gets really wet or steamed up it unstraightens itself and back come the kinks oh no hearing that beauty standard reinforced in that particular voice Is definitely a sign that something has gone terribly wrong and i know for some viewers passing a hot metal comb through the hair to straighten it might look like a curio from the distant past but i guarantee some of you were just transported back to being eight years old sitting on a high stall in the kitchen at six am on school picture day holding your ears down while your mom or Grandma gets the hot comb uncomfortably close to your scalp for some the smell of burning hair is a sign that something's wrong but for others it brings back memories by the 1960s and 70s though the embrace of black hair's natural texture and culturally significant styles had become a radical act of self-acceptance and political power who taught you to hate the texture of Your hair who taught you to heat the color of your skin to such extent that you bleach to get like the white man are white people the answer is white people that question answers itself just like the answer to the questions who lets their dogs kiss them in the mouth who wants to pick apples for fun and who's coming to dinner on einergarten Show the answer is white people but despite the natural hair movement white people's discomfort and ignorance around black hair has very much remained one study found black women were 80 percent more likely to agree with the statement i have to change my hair from its natural state to fit in at the office and another found that black women with natural hair styles will perceive to be Less professional less competent and less likely to be recommended for a job interview the point is the way your hair is perceived and therefore the way you are perceived can manifest in all sorts of ways i know the anxiety that people have after getting their hair done then like okay what's gonna happen when i go to work are they gonna say anything You know it's a big thing in the workplace a lot of people don't want to draw attention to themselves but they try to do the norm a lot of the time i would always get people just like saying how like soft my hair is and everything and like wanting to touch it that's like always a big pain and like adults doing that too i'm like wrong with them i can't touch it you know you don't touch no black women Here no you already know that i feel like you're in a zoo look you obviously shouldn't be made to feel like you're in a zoo ever for any reason also and this is clearly not the point but if you are touching animals at the zoo you're doing the zoo wrong don't be stressing out the otters by shouting unwanted questions and trying to sneak your hands into the cages to Cop a field yes the bald eagles feathers are late but don't shout yes queen and try to pet her unlike your co-workers the eagle will snap your fingers off and you will have it coming unfortunately though white people's biases and ignorance are often just laying in wait for the right moment to strike jonathan sutherland is a penn state football Captain and a dean's list student but what people are talking about tonight is his hair that's thanks to this letter the author is a proclaimed alumnus from decades ago named david peterson he called sutherland's hair awful stating his locks are disgusting and are certainly not attractive he also writes we would welcome the reappearance of dress codes for athletes everything about that is upsetting from The racist attitude to the hurtful language to the fact that he chose to express moral outrage over something in college football but it's not that the ncaa makes millions of student athletes instead it's i can see your hair outside your helmet now that man later explained that he only wrote the letter because i was just disgruntled about some of the hairdos that we're seeing You think of penn state as a bunch of clean-cut guys and you think of penn state as is just not a sentence that ends well under any circumstance especially when you realize that man actually got a degree from penn state in 1966 the same year as jerry sandusky who somehow despite his short hair turned out to be a heinous sex criminal i know it sounds ridiculous but it's Almost like the haircut doesn't matter and it starts way before college you may remember the terrible case of high school wrestler andrew johnson who was basically forced to cut his locks off or forfeit an important wrestling match by a referee that case made national news but there are hundreds of others that don't from the school in kentucky that once Banned and i quote dreadlocks and corn rolls two twin sisters in massachusetts that received hours of detention because of their braided hair to this daycare in suburban chicago mom may like the smell but according to this note tiona norris posted on her facebook page amaya's teacher didn't like it basically saying your child stinks don't put the coconut Oil in her hair the kids were teasing her norris says amaya was the only black child in her preschool class at the racquetian learning center in elmhurst i was just hurt from my child especially after noor says she met with a teacher and school administrator and learned the children in the class never complained it was just a teacher who didn't like the smell we called the school and left Several messages we visited and got this hi i'm dorothy tucker from channel 2 goodbye wow that feels like a perfectly staged five-second play encapsulating the history of race relations in america a black person trying to discuss racial inequality with a white person then immediately says goodbye so black people from an early age are often told that their hair is unattractive and needs to be corrected And that is already just a lot before you even start getting into all the ways that society makes it difficult to navigate the world because of your hair even just buying hair products can be an unnecessary challenge with black hair products routinely locked in a case where someone has to come with a key to get it for you or maybe even Walk it to the register in the same aisle where products for white people that cost just as much or more are simply sitting out on the shelves and the explanation for this is never great so i went and found the manager and i said i'm waiting for the key for shampoo and conditioner i said but let me ask you why are the black hair products locked Up and not the white hair products he said um um and another associate said well people have been stealing yeah now that walmart claims that it was based on data of theft in the store but when a town council member asked to see that data the store instructed her to call 1 800 walmart and just out of interest on a touch tone phone which button do You press to hear the data used to justify locking up four dollar eco styler gel is that like number seven or do you have to ask for an associate first so it is already hard enough to get products to do your hair at home but finding a qualified stylist can be even harder the cosmetology industry mostly revolves around and trains four caring for straight non-textured hair so There is no guarantee that a stylist in your area can work with black hair just watch one tick tocker call 23 salons in their hometown and get nothing but responses like these i was wondering if you guys worked with african-american hair specifically for c-type uh we do not none of the girls do here no we don't really have a lot of experience So i would say that you're probably better to keep looking around i was wondering if you guys were able to work with african-american hair specifically for c-type oh hold on just a moment let me ask is [Music] yeah that's not great but i do love that that receptionist is asking the entire staff like she just got called as a Phone a friend on who wants to be a millionaire hey donna it's the 25 000 question can you do a silk press and bump those ends final answer she can't and this isn't just a problem in salons even in hollywood stylists who are both familiar with black hair and who are in the stylist union are rare and actors definitely know when their production has failed to hire one I was on this show they made me a series regular i was hella pumped walked in a hair makeup trailer first time oh i'm about to like get paid let me see homegirl this white lady she tapped my head yep not lying she tapped it sprayed some water didn't brush didn't calm and left and i was like oh wild now i actually recommend going Back and watching each actor in that clip as he tells that story because you really get the sense that every one of them identifies with what he's saying there and it's not ideal that for a lot of hairstylists their strategy to deal with black clients is the same that you would use to get your cat off the kitchen counter give them a little spritz and they give them a pat on the head so they know You're not mad and when you consider all of the obstacles to get placed in the path of black people it's understandably pretty hard to take when white people wear the exact same hairstyles that they get judgment for from bo derek famously wearing braids in the movie 10 to adele and miley cyrus trying on black hairstyles for fun to this con de garcon fashion show at which the models wore Lace front cornrow wigs which were awful in every possible way i mean just look at that thing there is enough room between each braid to land a plane there and you don't even have to look closely to see the model's dark hair through the lace come on you put a wick cap on first then you put the wig on you grab your gotta be spray or wig glue you melt that lace and you lay those edges down so well they fall Asleep there are only two situations where the appalling level of wig application is acceptable either you're in the middle of hosting an episode of snl or you're posing as a british nanny to stay close to your children after your divorce that is it and the thing is white people appropriating black hairstyles isn't just infuriating it can directly make it harder for black People to fight discrimination concerning their hair there was a court case in 1981 a discrimination suit filed by a black woman named renee rogers she'd work for american airlines and she wore her hair in cornrows her legal argument was that her hairstyle was a part of her cultural heritage the judge ruled against her in federal court because he said she got her Hair done soon after the movie 10 came out and therefore there was no legal basis for saying it was cultural heritage because she was doing something that essentially was imitating how bo derek styled her hair yeah it's true among the reasons he dismissed her case the judge suggested that a black person wearing a traditionally black hairstyle was just copying a white celebrity who stole it From black people which is just ridiculous hairstyles have cultural roots they don't just come out of nowhere to sweep the nation with the sole exception of course of the rachel which wasn't appropriated from any culture it simply sprang forth fully formed from the concept known as the 90s and i wish i could say that that is a thing of the past but you know it isn't chastity jones the woman You saw earlier spent years appealing her case only to lose in part because judges interpreted civil rights law to protect against discrimination based only on immutable or unchangeable characteristics associated with race like skin color so for decades courts have found that hairstyles even though they are deeply tied to racial identity Are not covered and all of that means that a younger generation can still end up having to deal with this nineteen-year-old destiny tompkins has worked at this banana republic store at the westchester mall in white plains for just about a month she was called into a meeting with her manager on wednesday caught completely off guard by what happened next he was like yeah So the district manager came in she pointed out something about your hair and i'm like okay so what's wrong with my hair he said it's a little too urban and unkempt for our look and for our image we were just wondering like if you could just take them out okay putting aside the use of the word urban there a level of tone deafness on par with naming your store banana republic just take them out those are words from someone who has Zero idea of what it took to put them in in the first place that is coming from a man who i'm guessing has never spent seven hours in a salon chair with an ipad full of movies and a backpack full of stacks now you should know the store called that unacceptable and the manager was fired but the problem is since professionalism gets defined by white standards and Expectations black hair is more likely to crash into those expectations so what can we do well for some of the smaller issues you've seen tonight there have been changes some chain stores including walmart have announced that they will no longer be locking up black hair products which feels like the least that they can do but it is a start a bigger change Would be to pass laws like crown acts or creating a respectful and open world for natural hair versions have already become law in these 11 states and while the language varies generally they expand the definition of race and anti-discrimination laws to include traits historically associated with race like protective hairstyles such as braids locks and twists Unfortunately crown acts bills have repeatedly met with republican opposition in utah in one recent zoom hearing on their bill state senator darren owens who voted against it made a point of first addressing the bill's advocates like this let me make a comment you people are beautiful i and i don't normally do this but i'm going to show you In a i was in the store the other day and i don't think you won't be able to see this picture but this gentleman in front of me with my black man had two young children and they were just having fun around up and down the island and i don't normally take pictures of children but they were adorable to black children because they're just the cutest kids in the World one has cornrows and one of them dreadlocks i wish you could see them what are you doing you exceptionally weird man just to recap he started off there by telling a group of black women you people are beautiful then proceeded to say i don't normally take pictures of children but a perfectly acceptable sentence until the butt part Then launched into a story about how he keeps photos of strangers children on his phone all of which evokes a response perhaps best summed up by this expression which i'd argue is an absolute master class in how to say the using only your eyebrows and if you are wondering how he got from that to voting against the bill his argument was that he felt existing Laws were sufficient and that it almost looks like we're trying to do something that doesn't exist but this discrimination isn't something that doesn't exist it's something that doesn't exist for white men who've never had to think about it before the consequences of hair based discrimination are very real just listen to connecticut state senator gary winfield Make the case for his state's crown act in the run-up to it passing into law by talking about his three-year-old daughter right now she runs through life with all of the energy that she has with all of the beauty that she has with her hair natural that's who she is it's not just what sits on top of her head it is who she is but i want her to be able to participate in this world fully And so even if she runs through this world with her natural hair there will be a discussion about what it is to run through this world with her naturally and what she will have to learn whether she makes the choice to run through this world with her natural hair or not is that a part of her is not acceptable that's awful it's infuriating that black children have to add hair discrimination To the long list of things that they're already forced to think about like the threat of police violence the danger of harassment by racist white people and of course the very real risk of getting photographed by utah state senator darren owens in a checkout line that man's daughter and all black people should clearly be able to make choices about their hair Based on what they feel like doing with it rather than will this get me harassed or fired if you want to have natural hair great you want to straighten your hair great whatever you like the point is black hair shouldn't be viewed corralled or judged by white people's comfort because it doesn't belong to white people it doesn't affect white people and white people Really don't need to have an opinion on it and our laws should reflect that and i know that there may be limits to what crown acts can accomplish even if one passes at the federal level there could be cases where a white judge is asked to decide whether a specific hairstyle is associated with race and completely it up but they are a start and look if you're not a black person it's probably easy to hear these stories And think well it's just hair but the thing is it's not it's not at all black people aren't getting hired or are getting fired black students are being teased taunted and removed from school all because of their hair and crown acts laws could make a real difference there and while social stigma and unrealistic beauty standards aren't going to go away overnight there are a Few things that white viewers in particular might want to keep in mind going forward and to that end if you are one there's a message that you should probably hear hi white people i'm uzo aduba i'm craig robinson hi white people i'm leslie jones what's up black people brothers and sisters you good your mama good All right listen i gotta talk to these white people for a second i'll see you at the meet all right look white people i know you have lots of questions like maybe too many questions like how often do you have to wash black hair what is the silk press what does a do-rag do well the good news is we are about to fill you in We're about to give you the answer to all your questions about black hair you ready for it you ready for it you ready for it okay here it is google it google it google it google it i mean it doesn't have to be google it can be bing youtube wikipedia i don't give a the information is out there and once you get the information you can appreciate All the beauty and hard work it takes to keeping my hair laid and looking good okay and if you're not interested in googling it there is another option off leave us the alone off it's always an option and look white people don't tell me you can't figure this out on your own you figured out settlers of catan you figured out sourdough bread last year i think you can google the word wii you can learn what the a box braid Is okay i think that just about covers it basically just google it don't touch it and there's one more thing don't spray my hair with water and tap my head i'm not a cat bye goddamn white people you

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