Ever since Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” opened, audiences all over the country were enraptured by the world of black hair, specifically whether naturally textured African American is beautiful. While the controversy of whether black women ought to use relaxer or have weaves rages on, going gray has turned into a pleasantly surprising trend.
Here are five stunning African American celebrities who have let their hair go gray—and what they have to say about it.
In With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together, Ruby Dee recounted the first time she saw herself with gray hair:
“One night … while scurrying from activity to activity, the hair rose all over my body as, in the half-light, I encountered a white-haired creature coming directly at me, mouth open and garments flapping. I stopped. The creature stopped. I turned, the creature turned. It was I!”
Dee’s reaction was not sadness though. Instead, she giggled and rushed to tell her husband, Ossie Davis. She laughed and even cried with joy, writing, “that old lady in the mirror and I—we’d made it! How lucky, how marvelous not to be dead yet.” Dee made the decision to think about living a long life instead of “the permanently horizontal mode and intimations of mortality.”
This is what Maya Angelou, who made a comical appearance in “Good Hair,” had to say about aging during an interview with Oprah Winfrey:
“Though my hair has turned to gray and my skin no longer fits, on the inside, I’m the same old me, it’s the outside’s changed a bit.”
The poem, called “My Younger Days” or “Don’t Break the Elastic,” also pokes fun at other symbols of aging such as weight change, eyesight deterioration and most importantly, all that one has learned.
In 2008, Toni Morrison sent President Barack Obama a letter that signified her endorsement for his presidential run. In sharing her thought process, she wrote the following:
“In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don’t see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it. Wisdom is a gift; you can’t train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace—that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom.”
Morrison’s endorsement letter touches on the importance of overlooking age, race, the presence of gray hair and more. (Of course, since becoming president, Obama’s hair has gone a bit gray after all.)
The cover story of a 1989 issue of Jet was titled, “Bill and Camille Cosby Discuss the Secrets of Living a Better Life.” After three of her children had already left for college, with two more college-bound, Camille Cosby became more involved in the business and philanthropic endeavors of the Cosbys. Robert E. Johnson wrote, “The beautiful wife, mother and philanthropist/businesswoman has reached a turning point in which she is not afraid to be herself in pursuit of a better life.” Part of being herself meant the then-recent decision to go gray. She said:
“I needed the freedom. I need the freedom to define myself. … When I began to gray, I had only two of our five babies. My husband called it premature (gray) and he said I should leave it alone. … Gray hair freed me. When we play to the demands of others, we are putting through our heads what we think they want … When we are freed from that, we are free to move on the job of defining ourselves.”
Whether you enjoy her “view” or not, Whoopi Goldberg’s confidence and voice has made her a household name. Goldberg’s dreads have occasionally exhibited some gray, but it’s her past comments about hair that steal the show. During a discussion about “Good Hair” on “The View,” she made a strong statement that the reason black women straighten their hair is because they want more manageable hair, not because they want to look white. Race in America is a common topic for Goldberg. In the ’80s, one of her recurring characters in her comedy shows was a young African American girl who longed to be be white and to have long blond hair.
Goldberg’s character called out a key issue in “Good Hair” decades before Rock’s documentary debuted. At the start of the film, Rock explained the event that prompted him to investigate the world of African American haircare. It was the time his young daughter approached him and asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” even though she did.