John Oliver: ‘Black hair shouldn’t be judged by white people’s comfort’

John Oliver via YouTube
John Oliver just gets it. Besides warning Meghan Markle about marrying into the royal family and calling out Donald Trump, John has decided to take on white folks who have something to say about Black people’s hair. Particularly how it makes them, as white people, feel uncomfortable. John enlisted several of his favorite Black friends to address the situation. Namely Leslie Jones, Craig Robinson and Uzo Aduba. In a segment on Last Week Tonight, John and his friends tell white people to stop discriminating against, touching, and imitating Black hair. John starts the segment off with clips from Real Housewives of Atlanta, a white news anchor outing his black co-anchor’s weave and a Black woman with dreads who had a job offer rescinded because of her natural hair. Below are a few more choice words that John had to say about the subject, via HuffPost:

“All Black people should clearly be able to make choices about their based on what they feel like doing with it rather than, will this get me harassed or fired,” Oliver said. “The point is Black hair shouldn’t be viewed … or judged by white people’s comfort, because it doesn’t belong to white people, it doesn’t affect white people, and white people don’t need to have an opinion on it, and our laws should reflect that.”

Oliver enlisted Leslie Jones, Craig Robinson and Uzo Aduba to strongly encourage white people to Google their questions about Black hair. Otherwise, in the words of “Saturday Night Live” alum Jones, they have the option to “f–k off.”

“You figured out sourdough last year. I think you can Google the word ‘weave,’” cracked Aduba, the former “Orange is the New Black” star.

Robinson, of “The Office” fame, offered another tip: “Don’t spray my hair with water and pat my head. I’m not a cat.”

As for why Black people get upset when white people adopt their hairstyles, Oliver summed it up:

“When you consider all the obstacles that get placed in the way of Black people, it’s understandably pretty hard to take when white people wear the exact same hairstyles that they get judgment for.”

[From HuffPost]

I love John Oliver and have been enjoying him since he was on The Daily Show. Every time he opens his mouth, John speaks truth to power. I loved that he also understood that he could not address the situation because he isn’t Black. Despite Black hair discrimination being a serious thing, I love how humor was used to address societal biases. I also appreciate how John addressed the history behind natural Black hair being labeled ugly and unprofessional. My favorite part of the segment was when John said “all edges matter” and how he was going to be using some Black hair products on his wash day.

I was triggered by that hot comb segment. Every time I see a hot comb, my ears start burning. On a serious note, there are several Black entertainers such as Gabrielle Union and Keke Palmer who are promoting the Crown Act, which aims to eliminate Black hair discrimination in all fifty states. Seven states have adopted the platform and it’s up for vote in so many others. This is a very real issue and one that I have faced several times in the workplace since going natural in 2004. John Oliver speaking on this issue signifies that this conversation has gone mainstream as it should. I agree with John, white people need to get over themselves when it concerns Black hair. No one should be forced to alter their looks to get a job and no one should be subjected to unwanted touching. I personal don’t mind my white FRIENDS touching my hair but I am not an animal in a petting zoo and neither are other Black people. It also drives me crazy when people like the Kardashians culturally appropriate our hairstyles without addressing the very real double standards around it. Anyhow, enough of my soap box. I will end with this, don’t be a Karen, be a John (not that type of John you dirty minded people).

The Segment:

Just another day as a Black woman:

Leslie Jones

Uzo Aduba

Craig Robinson

photos are screenshots via YouTube

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54 Responses to “John Oliver: ‘Black hair shouldn’t be judged by white people’s comfort’”

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  1. Rare0217 says:

    We need a support group for hot comb trauma

    • lanne says:

      I’m not sure what I would have in my Orwellian 1984 Room 101 (contains your worst fear for those who didn’t read/forgot the book): It’s a toss-up between a hot comb and a fine tooth comb.

      “I’m going to get this comb through this pack of wool if it’s the last thing I do” Quote from my mother. My mom’s wonderful but hair trauma is definitely something I was subjected to, and it colors my relationship with my hair to this day. (And I’m tenderheaded!)

    • Lemons says:

      I have not sat in a salon chair since high school. The feeling of being sat down and not being able to move for hours makes me nauseous. Combined with a hot comb or a fine-tooth comb and I’ll probably pass out!

      So glad those days of burnt ears and necks are over.

    • Joan Rivers says:

      I adore JO.
      He’s not “handsome” but as soon as he starts talking I fall for him all over again. By the end I want him. Bad.

  2. Jais says:

    All of this and don’t even get me started on how this plays out in school dress codes. My cousin is a teacher in a small Alabama town and there is a rule that only natural hair is allowed at school. Wtf does that even mean. I asked her if white teachers were allowed to get blonde highlights or was that not allowed either since it’s unnatural. GTFOH.

    • Seraphina says:

      Well, I knew we were in for a mess when I read this was happening in a small town in Alabama. I live in a very urban VA town and it still has pockets of backwardness.

    • Ainsley7 says:

      Honestly, a good lawyer could argue that any hairstyle including wigs are fine as long as the hair isn’t synthetic with that kind of wording. Like, it’s still natural hair if you dye it or if it comes from someone else’s head.

    • SenseOfTheAbsurd says:

      There was a school here in NZ which had hair rules which literally made it impossible for students with afro-type hair to attend. When this was pointed out, instead of doing the only possible decent thing and immediately apologising profusely and changing the rules, the petty racist authoritarians running the school doubled down on it.

      Fortunately, we already had case law to the effect that schools don’t get to suspend, expel, or otherwise discriminate against students over their hair styles.

  3. Skittlebrau says:

    I thought this whole episode was amazing. The horror on both of their faces during the weave reveal!!!

  4. KatianaD says:

    I can’t see the video yet due to being in Canada but love him so much. He first won me over with his MLM video and since then is the most famous person to give good coverage on the issues in China. And modi. Actually Hassan Minhaj’s netflix show had similar content (I didn’t like his jokes as much but really respected his content). I can’t fathom why they would cancel Hassan’s show?! Luckily we still have John Oliver.

    • Lexilla says:

      John Oliver is an absolute treasure. I teach media and I use his segments to show how every claim is backed up by clearly shown, reputable sources. Jokes to make it funny, incisive writing to make it urgent, sources to make it legit. He and his team provide a news literacy lesson every week.

  5. Snuffles says:

    I love John Oliver and he did a very good job covering this issue. I’m sure he had a massive assist behind the scenes with his writing team.

    On the surface you wouldn’t think someone’s hair would be a social, political and economic issue but it really is. Growing up my hair issue were largely about my vanity. I had huge Chaka Khan style hair that was hard to control and boys would tease me about it. But as I became an adult and got better at managing it, it was easy for me to straighten my hair and fit in.

    Although in my area, I’m not aware of any serious hair discrimination issues. There is a significant African American population in the DC Metropolitan area and I see all kinds of hair styles from Afros, to curls, to dreadlocks to braids and weaves and no one says boo about it. The only time a boss of mine complained about a black woman’s hair around me was because she dyed it neon green.

    This is not to deny the issue. As I learn more about it, I’m amazed at the levels to this and how deep it goes.

    • Kfg says:

      Having to straighten your hair to “fit in” is the problem. You shouldn’t have to alter your hair from its natural form to fit into a standard set by Europeans. Having thick, course hair is beautiful and professional and does not need to be changed.

      • Snuffles says:

        Yes, I know that now. But although at times I wear my hair naturally curly, usually on vacation, I prefer to keep it straight. It’s just far less work for me than trying to make my natural curls look cute on a daily basis. And I’m tender headed and I could never handle braids without being in terrible pain.

  6. Maddie says:

    You can tell he has black women on his writing staff.

    I didn’t know how to feel when I saw the title and braced myself for a “white guy explaining black hair” segment, but he did well. White men explaining black issues caused by white people always feels a bit icky, but I suppose this is the only way white people will listen and pay at least a bit of attention.

    • Sigmund says:

      This is a slight tangent, but Seth Meyers, another late night host, does a great job with giving other voices a microphone on his show. I know he has a diverse group of writers, because he regularly gives them a chance to appear in front of the camera and speak on his show. Amber Ruffin actually has her own show on Peacock now, but she started as (and still is) a writer on his show.

    • meloroast says:

      Haha (funny not funny) but yes. White people have listening filters. So if John Oliver can penetrate those sometime thick skulls, I am all for it. Like you said, I also think he has a diverse staff and LISTENS to their segment suggestions.
      I think this is GREAT cause i’m 47 and still have to deal with EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG telling me what I should and shouldn’t do with my hair (and i’m even including black people (ya sis i’m looking at you too), ex boyfriends, friends etc).
      If i want extensions, leave me alone.
      If I want dreads, leave me alone.
      If I want to an afro, leave me alone.
      If I want to straighten, leave me alone.

      Just leave me alone with my choices and my journey people. If I want your opinion about my body, I’ll ask for it.
      (And the google….omg yes. Why is that so hard for people?????)

    • liz says:

      He hired at least one black woman onto his writing staff last summer and it shows. In the best possible way.

    • Betsy says:

      I can see that White people talking about Black people’s hair can be “icky,” but either White people need to learn, know and talk about Black people’s hair (and every other issue) or we’re going to remain a bifurcated society with one part of the population knowing about the other side’s issues and one part of the population remaining in ignorance. Talking about issues (or, given my relative isolation these days, reading) is one of the ways I learn.

  7. Lauren says:

    I don’t mind if it’s people I know touching my hair, but some people don’t get personal boundaries. I’ve had people touching my hair 5 seconds after meeting them, why? I don’t go around petting people I don’t know. It’s creepy and gross and who knows where their hands have been.

    • Snuffles says:

      I’ve never had a white person touch my hair. It’s always been other black women. Except that one time in the 80s when I was a kid living in Korea and a couple of Korean women did it. But I’m pretty sure I was the first black person they ever saw.

      • Lauren says:

        My chair is very thick and the curls are a 3b/3c, in the area where I live you don’t see a lot of hairs like mine. While there is a significant number of African natives and AfroItalian in my area they are usually in the 4s area and or wear wigs and braids so my hair just draws white people over and they touch and I curse. Since I’ve dyed my hair blonde (to hide my white hairs) it has just gotten worse.

    • Betsy says:

      I just can’t fathom putting my hands on another person’s hair. It’s startling that so many people do that to you (not that it’s news to me that it happens, it’s just genuinely one of those things that’s like, “seriously, fellow White people? Stop petting Black people.”)

    • Joanna says:

      Girl that would piss me off! Maybe when they are touching your hair, you could start touching their hair! And be like, oh your hair is so fine and thin! I love it! 😂🤣😅

  8. Eleonora says:

    Black hair is beautiful.
    Don’t get people who are uncomfortable with it at all.

    Maybe they should get better priorities and work on themselves instead of letting someone else’s hair affect them.

  9. Merricat says:

    I love John Oliver and I am delighted he decided to become a U.S. citizen. He is stellar at it.

  10. Agirlandherdog says:

    I’m stuck on people just touching your hair. When is it EVER okay to touch anyone in any way without an express invitation?? Stuff like that just blows my mind.

    • paranormalgirl says:

      Yeah, like, what is it about personal space boundary issues that people don’t get? Do not touch anyone’s hair without permission and even then, why do you NEED to touch someone’s hair?

    • FancyPants says:

      Seriously, who is doing this? I can’t even imagine doing this! What would I even do if somebody suddenly had their fingers in MY hair???

      • paranormalgirl says:

        I’ve gotten my hair touched by a stranger. I have long red, crazy curly (think Merida from “Brave”) hair. It’s creepy. And couple that with the millions of microaggressions and disrespect shown to people of color on a daily basis. Yeah. No.

    • Kelly says:

      I’m white and I’ve had people touch my hair. I can’t be the only one.

  11. Amy Bee says:

    Who remembers when the royal watchers were criticising Meghan’s hair and comparing it to Kate’s? Whew, I do. They still believe they weren’t being racist then.

    • Amelie says:

      Oh I know. In the early days on the What Meghan Wore site, people were constantly criticizing Meghan’s hair for being “messy.” Meghan is a fan of the “messy bun” look which admittedly may not have been the right hairstyle for certain events. But they continued to do it even when it was just a few strands loose in front or her hair was down. Kate wears her hair down all the time and was never criticized for being messy looking. It bothered me so much but if I ever brought up Meghan’s race in comments and how it was a double standard to complain about Meghan’s messy hair, they always got edited. You could tell the site was run by a bunch of white women because they always danced around the issue of Meghan’s race. They’ve since relaxed about it, especially in the wake of the Oprah interview.

  12. smcollins says:

    Reason #1047 why I love John Oliver. As always he offered up a well researched, nuanced and just-the-right-amount-of-humor take on an important issue. Love him!

  13. sunny says:

    I thought it was a great segment and hopefully it shed light on this issue for many. Glad to see efforts to change laws around it in America but discrimination against black hair happens all over the world, in Brazil, in the UK, in Canada just to name a few. I’m Canadian and I can’t tell you how many times strangers touch my hair, or make comments about it even in work settings its wild. I just let my hair transition to natural over the last 2 years and it felt like such a choice.

    Kudos to John Oliver’s writers room on this segment.

  14. drbessy says:

    I whole heartedly agree with the idea that touching other people’s hair is completely weird and inappropriate- a complete overstep of personal space. (seriously, who does this?!?!) But i don’t understand the idea of not ‘imitating Black hairstyles.’ first, why does a hairstyle belong to any one race? second, isn’t it the same thing if a person with naturally curly hair, chemically or heat-straightens it to imitate non-curly hair? Obviously, if people are maliciously copying hair styles with degrading implications- that is not ok, but i honestly don’t understand why people get up in arms about this? Can’t everyone just wear their hair however they like? (If you are going to educate me, please be kind in your response. I do welcome learning from other perspectives.) 🙂

    • Snuffles says:

      John covered that. It’s the fact that non-black people do it to play dress up or culturally appropriate the look while actual black people suffer severe social and economic consequences for doing the same thing. Many find it deeply offensive.

    • lanne says:

      It’s the same reason why you shouldn’t dress up as a Native American for Halloween, or a “geisha girl,” or any other ethnic stereotype or fetish. Cultures are not Halloween costumes to be donned for entertainment.

      I always say, for context, how would people feel about non Christians donning a “crucified Jesus” costume for Halloween. Same thing.

      Black culture has been appropriated, fetishized, and outright stolen by white people for generations in the USA. Chuck Berry is not called the king of rock and roll–Elvis Presley is. Kim Kardashian talked about wearing “Bo Derek braids”, not cornrows. Black women are criticized for wearing black hair styles, while white women are considered sexy, daring, “cool” for wearing black hair styles. Hence Bo Derek in cornrows as an iconic image.

      Black tiktoker create dances, white tiktokers steal the dances and get lauded for “creating the trend.”

      The USA has hundreds of years of black people creating trends, then white people taking them and becoming famous for them. Even back in the 1800s, there was a dance called the Cakewalk. The Cakewalk was a dance created by slaves imitating the white people dancing at their parties–it was a subversive dance making fun of the white masters. Then, white people start doing the dance, it even spreads to Europe, and becomes popular and “daring” for European royalty all over the continent.

      The hair issue is so fraught because black women are penalized for the way our hair grows of our heads, and white women are celebrated for the very things we are penalized for.

      I hope this helps.

    • Lizzie Bathory says:

      I mean, the best way to start learning is to watch John’s video, which breaks it down really well. And Snuffles also sums it up succinctly.

      But (hikes up my educating britches), I’m assuming you, like me, are white. White women *can* wear their hair however they like. See Meghan McCain, every damn day. As is detailed in the video, Black women can lose jobs, have offers rescinded or be fired for refusing to style their hair according to the arbitrary preferences of random white people. Black children can suffer at school (& daycare, as referenced in the video) for wearing their hair in ways that are not only culturally/historically significant in some cases, but which also are protective of their hair type. So considering all of that & the fraught history of being told they need to conform to racist beauty standards, I can see why Black people might take offense when Kardashians turn up in “boxing braids” as a mere fashion statement. It’s a huge double standard.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        As a Caucasian, I am still horrified when a black male student that was participating in a wrestling match was brought to the side and they cut his hair!!
        And yes @ Ianne, while people have been ripping off from the African American society and performers for centuries! There is a bid battle brewing here in Texas in regards to the refurbishment of the Alamo and the city of San Antonio wants to include the slaves and the Native Americans played a crucial role in the battle against Mexico in 1836 (?) and Gov. Dumb Ass Abbott wants to control what is being included and does not want any references of the sacrifices that slaves and Native Americans sacrificed during the battle at the Alamo. And to go a step further, this POS doesn’t want school books to include a majority of slavery in America or the injustices committed against African Americans. I still think the entire state of Texas legislation still drag their knuckles on the ground. It’s absolutely horrific what Texas is doing right now.
        I applaud John Oliver for bringing this to the masses to educate the public about why people’s behaviour is wrong. It is long overdue for African American people to be able to wear and live how they want without prejudice or being treated like as if they have no rights to be horrified as to how people think that it’s perfectly fine to touch their hair.

    • Nicole says:

      ” But i don’t understand the idea of not ‘imitating Black hairstyles.’ first, why does a hairstyle belong to any one race? second, isn’t it the same thing if a person with naturally curly hair, chemically or heat-straightens it to imitate non-curly hair? Obviously, if people are maliciously copying hair styles with degrading implications- that is not ok, but i honestly don’t understand why people get up in arms about this?”

      I would highly encourage you to watch the video if you haven’t already. Many of the naturally curly styles are African in nature and were ruled “unprofessional” or generally unacceptable. But when the majority culture uses it, it’s considered edgy or fashionable. In general a lot of those styles, frankly are a necessity to to protect our hair from breakage and drying out. Black hair is fragile. When we straighten our hair, chemically or with a hot comb, or wear weaves it’s largely done to satisfy the majority culture (in general). In short black people can lose jobs, and just plain access when we wear our natural hair.

    • Joanna says:

      ok here’s an example. When I was in school and a white girl would get in a fight with a black girl, the white girl would talk about the black girl’s weave and call it horse’s hair. But that’s not been an issue with white women wearing weave or wigs. Once again we get a pass for this style black people started but we adopted. Kim Kardashian wears braids and styles black women are known for but no one gives her shit about it. But yet I know a POC with dreadlocks who was told his hair is unprofessional and he needed to cut it, by his black manager. That’s another subject there. But anyway, I’ve noticed how POC styles are coming into white culture but we are not given a hard time for adopting it. So once again as white people we get a pass for things other people don’t get. White privilege

  15. Penny says:

    I am a white person who grew up in a primarily white area. Growing up I had really long thick hair. And people used to ask me all the time if they could touch it I have no idea why, But I always thought it was kind of weird.

    • Kelly says:

      Yeah, I just wrote above that I’m white and have had a lot of people touch my hair without asking. I knew I could not be the only one!

  16. Monica Q says:

    Every job interview I’ve gone to with my afro, little or medium size depending on my growth time table–no hire.
    Every job interview I’ve gone to with a sew in–offer within 24 hrs.

    The only difference being is when I was laid off during the pandemic and I had a job interview via Zoom. That one I hot combed my hair and still got the job but my interviewer was another black woman.

    The discrimination is real.

    • lanne says:

      absolutely hair discriminiation is real. Even the US army recently changed its hair standards for black women. Black women were not allowed to wear their hair as it grew out of their heads. Insane.

  17. Doodle says:

    I’m a white lady who knows nothing about hair. I can barely do my own. Even I know not to touch someone else’s hair and just recently learned, through YouTube, about the different is it grades? Is that the word? Types? of hair. I enjoyed John Oliver’s segment because while I already knew about the Crown Act and some of the overt discrimination, as a white lady I didn’t know about the other things. I had no idea some Walmart’s were locking up haircare products behind glass – that’s just stupid. I didn’t know about hair trauma because it’s not an experience I have lived (except for my bad spiral perm from the 80s – not the same thing). I hope things aren’t being presented in a whitewashed way for me because I’m white – I like to think I’m willing to listen to someone regardless of their race.

  18. iconoclast59 says:

    I’m embarrassed to recall something that happened 20+ years ago at another job. We were all having lunch in our break room when I innocently (or so I thought at the time) asked an African-American co-worker a question about her hair care. Well, it was like opening the floodgates; suddenly she was getting peppered with questions from all the other white folks at the table. She said in a friendly-but-obviously-irritated tone of voice, “What is this?! ‘Ask the Black Girl’?!!?” I would like to go back in time and apologize to that colleague for being such an ignoramus. I know better now, fortunately.

  19. Tashiro says:

    Another excellent show. I’m not triggered by the straightening comb but I fell out laughing when he talked about being 8 years old and smelling burning hair 🙂 I said Damn he went there but I’m glad he did. The writing on that show is incredible.

  20. JaneDoe says:

    Oya i just want to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your writing since you joined Celebitchy. 🥰🥰🥰 You are engaging, clear-headed, and you bring an important perspective. Although i DO have to tell you to back off of my TV-husband, John Oliver 😋

  21. Pocket Litter says:

    Sing it out, John. Great coverage of an important topic!

  22. Egla says:

    Many years ago, in Canada, I meet a couple of people from Mali and Tanzania. The one from Mali was a woman and had braids in her hair. I legitimately thought her hair was that thick to have those braids. After 3-4 months she took them out. When I saw her natural hair were of normal thickness I got the picachu face like in the memes on internet. She was looking at me like I was deranged. I feel stupid now but back then I asked her questions and she was kind enough to explain to me how the braids were done.

    The one from Tanzania was a man and I told him what I did with the lady from Mali. I think he laughed for a week. Anyway he proudly showed me that his short hair was in fact not that short. He took a curl and turned it into 5 cm long strand. Again picachu face. He laughed for another week. I am proud to say I at least didn’t touched anyone’s hair. But my ignorance was visible. My only saving point was that I came from a small, isolated European country with 95% white people and no people of African origin. And my hair are straight as spaghetti. Now I know better, hopefully.

    As a side note I let my friends play with my long ponytail but when other touch my hair I get very very angry. My former bf wouldn’t touch my hair without permission. I get the no touching and I expect people to respect boundaries regardless of what they want.