Blue Ivy Carter, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s daughter, is building up her own discography.
The 8-year-old is now the voice of young Zuri, the central character in the newly released audiobook “Hair Love,” author Matthew A. Cherry announced Monday.
“Hair Love” is a children’s book about a Black father’s attempts to do his 7-year-old daughter’s hair for a special occasion. Cherry’s animated short film based on the book won an Oscar this year.
The film and the book were released in 2019 amid a growing national conversation about natural Black hair. For many Black women, how they wear their hair has had political or professional consequences. When Carter herself was just a baby, her hair was criticized.
That the book is narrated by a child is important, some experts say, because that’s when ideas about identity, including hair, begin.
“It’s important to instill in childhood that your hair is okay. That’s where it starts the other way, also, when people started getting their hair relaxed at the age of 4,” New York City dermatologist Dina Strachan said.
“Children will see if you’re putting on a wig in a certain situation. Even if you say their hair is beautiful but you’re doing something different,” said Strachan, who has a 14-year-old daughter.
Cherry has said he made the film and wrote the book to counter negative stereotypes of Black men as uninvolved fathers. For Beryl Greywoode-Mansaray, all sides of the conversation hit home.
The Philadelphia-based pediatrician’s family immigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone when she was 5. She says they were mocked for how they spoke and how they appeared.
“So one big thing for my mom was how we looked and how we were presented. And it’s actually my dad who would straighten our hair,” Greywoode-Mansaray said. Her father, a computer scientist, would work the hot comb through his daughters’ hair from youngest to oldest, and then her mother would put in barrettes or ties.
By the time she was in sixth grade, Greywoode-Mansaray learned to do her own hair.
“It was the necessity of us having to do everything ourselves as an immigrant family in a population of people who didn’t look like us,” she said.
After her older brother’s wife was killed in a car accident a few years ago, Greywoode-Mansaray taught him how to do his daughters’ hair.
“Having three sisters, he watched us braid hair. I taught him a little bit, but it didn't really stick until that moment when his wife actually passed away and he was left with two little girls’ hair to do,” Greywoode-Mansaray said.
“Even in a tragic moment, being able to say, ‘You know what, we’re going to move on.’ ”
To this day she does her own hair and also styles the hair of her two young daughters, who are 3 and 1.
“It takes love to grow Black hair. It isn’t easy,” she said, referencing the title of the book.
“Hair Love” is part of a conversation that has a long history.
“In the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen an acceptance of people wearing their hair in the natural state as a point of pride,” said Sherri Williams, a professor of race, media and communication at American University. “There has been a rejection of traditional European beauty stands and Black women embracing their own Afrocentric standards,” said Williams, who studies how Black people are represented in media.
“It is important, as we are still moving through this racial-justice uprising, a big part is not only acknowledging the humanity of Black people and insisting people with power write legislation to codify our humanity into law, with the right to express ourselves and our hair and our bodies as they are,” Williams said.
Last year, California, New York and New Jersey passed laws to explicitly ban race-based hair discrimination, often referred to as “the Crown Act.” Maryland and Tennessee passed a similar law earlier this year.
Other states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, have also proposed similar laws, and the U.S. House of Representatives has passed its own version.
As for Blue Ivy’s “Hair Love” narration, Williams said, “it’s important to have a little Black girl’s voice be a part of it. It further centers and celebrates Black girlhood.”