Is it stereotypical to have a scene in which a black character and her mother go and get their hair done? It's something that they always do together and the hairstyle they have (crochet braids) does play an important role later in the story (symbol of royalty and she has to go into hiding). The character has already been established as black; I just wanted to use this scene to both show some of her interactions with her mom and establish why cutting out the braids later will be significant.
Tradition and Culture vs. Stereotype
This is adorable. They’ve created a tradition and i’m sure it’s something other Black families do, whether it be father and son and/or mothers and daughters getting their hair done together.
Personally, I grew up for many years getting my hair done with my sisters, my mom waiting in the salon, bringing us fast food and nearby gas station eats to snack on while they tugged and twisted away at our hair. So that became an unintentional tradition of sorts.
People with little care or understanding can easily weaponize a piece of Black culture into a flat stereotype. Consider, for example, watermelon. It was a fruit Black Americans could make a living off of, a symbol of freedom. Whites used that against us, instead turning this symbol of freedom into a mockery with dehumanizing “art” depictions and jokes and now no one wants to be associated with it.
The stereotype that African Americans are excessively fond of watermelon emerged for a specific historical reason and served a specific political purpose. The trope came into full force when slaves won their emancipation during the Civil War. Free black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom. Southern whites, threatened by blacks’ newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence. This racist trope then exploded in American popular culture, becoming so pervasive that its historical origin became obscure. Few Americans in 1900 would’ve guessed the stereotype was less than half a century old.“
I see the same thing happen with other pieces of Black culture. Braids and Afro hairstyles, southern food, and music like rap and r&b as some examples. Whatever it may be, Black traditions (on Black bodies) can hold a heavy stigma, often relegated to "ghetto” and “stereotypical.”
Really, it’s just more racism, society’s smear campaign against anything Black. So don’t let that stop you from having Black characters engage in their culture!
Now, recognize these things can still be used as stereotypes, especially if you group all Black people as liking and doing the same things. No, not all Black people like rap or automatically should you assume they do because Black. And if they do, that doesn’t mean they don’t wind down to classical music in the evenings! Don’t compose characters based on only what you assume you “know” about Black people. That’s when you’ll get a flat stereotypical character who lacks depth. People are dynamic, and many many things.
In summary: Adding Black cultural aspects does not a stereotype make!
For more on this, please read the response here of a question we received on Black weddings, where my (and the other Black mods’) blackness was questioned for giving a portrayal of Black weddings that was too “Stereotypical” when it was literally us describing Black weddings we’ve attended.