It's not often that someone says she completely understands why she was called an Uncle Tom and a coon. People usually try to flip the script and suggest that African Americans—the ones usually lobbing those insults—are playing the race card and being hypersensitive about issues.
Comedian Sheryl Underwood did no such thing on Monday's episode of the talk show The Talk, where she is a co-host. Back in 2013, she made a joke about how she didn't understand why Heidi Klum saved her biracial children's hair. Underwood was suggesting that kinky hair was bad, had no value and wouldn't be of any use—so why save it?
"Why would you save Afro hair? You can't weave in Afro hair!” Underwood joked. She got dragged through these Internet streets—badly.
On Monday's episode, she debuted her own kinky hair—a short, curly Afro—and apologized profusely for her earlier comments.
"I made some statements that were not only wrong, but they hurt our community […] black people are very sensitive about a discussion about our hair," Underwood said. She said she felt especially bad because she identifies as a "very proud black woman."
"The way the joke came out offended my people and my community, which was not my intent," she continued.
Underwood went on to describe the reaction she got from black people about her comments: "There was a lot of backlash. A lot of people said that I was an Uncle Tom […] I was a coon. I could understand that kind of language being used because people were hurt."
Underwood explained that she's very aware of how insensitive her comments were, given the negative stereotypes about kinky hair and the fact that black women are not encouraged to rock their natural coils.
"There is a responsiblity to being on TV. There's a cultural responsbility. The way we got images out there—there's no need for me to do something that causes more damage to us," she said.
The entire ordeal compelled Underwood to go on a journey of self-discovery for a year. "I cut my hair off. I cut the perm out. I still wear wigs because I like variety, but what I really wanted to do was engage women," she said. Underwood said she also reached out to natural-hair bloggers to continue the conversations that the incident sparked.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.