John Oliver tries to explain Black hair to fellow white people

John Oliver tackles Black hair
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/Last Week Tonight)

John Oliver spent most of Sunday's Last Week Tonight talking about Black hair. "And look, I realize I'm not the ideal person to talk about Black hair," he said, showing a ] cautionary tale of what can happen "when a white guy on TV starts confidently talking about Black hair, even with the best of intentions." On the whole, Oliver said, "white people don't really understand a lot about Black hair," and "that lack of understanding, and lack of interest in understanding, can have real consequences, from the personal to the professional."

"Black hair and hairstyles are frequently yet another pretext for discrimination," Oliver said. "So tonight, let's talk about it, and let's start by understanding why Black hair is so important." He had a short cultural history lesson and primer on hair-straightening techniques. "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," Oliver said. "But despite the natural hair movement, white people's discomfort and ignorance around Black hair has very much remained."

Because stores frequently keep Black hair products in locked cabinets, "it is already hard enough to get products to do your hair at home, but finding a qualified stylist can be even harder," Oliver said. And when Bo Derek or Miley Cyrus appropriate Black hairstyles for fun, it "isn't just infuriating, it can directly make it harder for Black people to fight discrimination concerning their hair," because "for decades, courts have found that hairstyles, even though they are deeply tied to racial identity, are not covered" by anti-discrimination laws.

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"And look, if you're not a Black person, it's probably easy to hear these stories and think, 'Well, it's just hair,'" Oliver said. "But the thing is, it's not, it's not at all. Black people aren't getting hired or are getting fired, Black people are being teased, taunted, and removed from school, all because of their hair." CROWN Acts, passed already in several states, can make a real difference, he explained. "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." Oliver outsourced this message to Uzo Aduba, Craig Robinson, and Leslie Jones. There is NSFW language, mostly from Jones. Watch below. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.