I’m the hippie weirdo who lives in Utopia in my head – and I like it there.

What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as you can.
— Thomas More, Utopia, Bk. 1. (1516)

How in the world does a Belle from the Deep South have such conflicting sense of self and being? How is it that my life is an oxymoronic collaboration of existing as either/or, neither/or and both/and simultaneously? Like seriously. How can I be just as at home in the country sitting on the porch with a bee-bop to cool the summer’s humidity as I am navigating the streets of New York City or London with my Timbs on or umbrella in tow? How is it that the ritualistic nature of the Southern Belle is deeply ingrained in me; yet, I reject many aspects of how the Belle is personified in the media (See Phaedra Parks’ book.)? How can I love the spirituality of Southern Baptist but cringe at that thought of some of its ‘can’t sit with us’ teachings? Geesh. Just a big ball of peaceful contradictions.

I am, indeed, a hippie weirdo who lives in Utopia in my head – and I like it there.

My Facebook feed keeps me abreast of all the goings on in the world, and the more I read the more I realize that we have issues. Collectively, we have issues. For example, last night I finally had the opportunity to watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta Reunion show and shook my head as the drama between Porsha Williams and Kenya Moore unfolded. While everyone talked about how Kenya deserved the hair pull, I viewed the exchange the example of what happens when life’s drama (divorce), a gifted antagonist, and media ratings intersect. That can be a dangerous collision. [Violence makes me uncomfortable] This morning, I read that Governor Nathan Deal will to sign a gun law that will allow licensed gun owners to have their weapons in more public places. So basically, we’re about to be Wild Wild West’n in public places?! Lawd, this Bama Peach is not ready. This shxt cannot be life. But it is. It IS life, and that is crazy as hell to me. And sometimes I just don’t get it.

In January, our home was invaded and my brand new 50+ inch HD-television was stolen. [Now how will I watch Alabama football in the fall? Ugh.] Luckily, no one was home but as a result of the invasion, we beefed up security. From one alarm system to two – complete with cameras – and our killer baby, Zeus. For a moment, it was quite unsettling for me. I don’t do alarms. I don’t do big ferocious dogs. I don’t do guns. But, it seems that the world we live in requires that we do all those things and we’ve come to understand that being on constant guard is peace. Now, how does that make sense? As contradictory as my experiences are as an Eclectic GRITS, even I understand that being in a constant state of fear does not equal peace? Or does it? For me, it does not.

I am, indeed, a hippie weirdo who lives in Utopia in my head – and I like it there.

I’ve always been told that I was ‘different’. When I was younger, I felt a little different and I got older, I realized that the way I thought about and processed situations might be slightly different from some others. I’m not easily angered. I don’t have [or believe in] haters or people being out to get me. I love exponentially – and that usually includes those who others might say are my enemies. I don’t like fighting – either physical or verbal. [But I’m sure I’d get down if I needed to] I take my relationships seriously – that includes my lovers and friends. If I refer to someone as my ‘Sis’, I literally mean that. I don’t cut people off because you’ve wronged me. If you need my help and I’m able to help, I will. Past experiences don’t always matter. I believe in big love [define that however you choose]. I do. Hearts are meant to embrace all the nurturing love they can endure; so why not love deeply? I’m always aware of my surroundings – always. However, I don’t believe that everyone who approaches me needs to be watched like a criminal. I like money. I love for my bills to be paid, but I money doesn’t buy my happiness. I love nature. My thumbs aren’t green, but I’d love to garden and grow my own food. I love the beach. I love watching people be comfortable with their bodies. I love incense and candles and cooking with fresh herbs. Oh, and I love vegetables. Like, I really LOVE vegetables. I could seriously live in a communal area where folks could just be. I believe in the goodness of people. In my head, a person being genuine evil is an anomaly. Evil actions exist but they are usually situational and contextual. Evil people? Not so much.

I’ve been told that I live in Utopia. But what’s wrong with that? My Utopia is a social justice haven where we eat; we’re educated (not schooled); we’re loving/loved; we’re nurturing/nurtured; we’re partnered/married; we’re clothed but not preoccupied with designers or fabrics; we’re spiritual; we’re empowered; we have shelter; we’re communal…family. We’re free. And to me, that IS peace.

So basically…

I am, indeed, a hippie weirdo who lives in Utopia in my head – and I like it there. Ya’ll should come visit me.

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Easter Nostalgia

 

Feeling a bit nostalgic
Mentally turning back the clocks
1987 and I’m dressed
In pastel and lace
Patent leather shoes
White Bobby socks
Hair full of curls
Blue Magic did its thang
Mama straightened out my kitchen
And tightened up my bang
Homemade basket
Colored eggs, chocolate bunnies
And a surprise gift, a little money
Church on capacity
Bodies covering the pews
Children’s choir singing loudly
Of God’s good news
🎶 He arose. He arose.
He arroossse from the dead. 🎶
But we were young so
🎶 Hero 🎶 is what we said.
Fidgeting and waiting my turn
Ready bless the mic
Had to be on point
Had to get it right
Practiced my stanzas
Speech of 40 lines
I tried to do 8 but
Mama said, “No child of mine.”
Took the stage
Looked into the crowd
Better not slur my words
Better say it loud
When I’m all done, I curtsy
Fingertips with dress flared
Bouncing back to my seat
Curls falling from my hair
The elders sung hymns
That I didn’t understand
Now I hear those same words
And wave my hands.
Resurrection teachings
Passion from the pulpit
Tambourines, hand-clapping
Dancing with the Holy Spirit
Post-service activities
Goodie bags, Polaroid pictures
Capturing memories
With my cousins and sister
Change into my play clothes
Outside was my freedom
Kick ball and mud pies
Decorated like I’d eat ’em
Then a big family dinner
Stuffing soul food in my mouth
I don’t know how y’all did it…
But this is how we did Easter
in the South.

Happy Easter Everyone! ‪#‎SouthernBelle‬ ‪#‎GRITS‬ ‪#‎Belle‬

106 & Park – August Alsina and Keisha Chante Awkwardness

I don’t watch 106 & Park and haven’t done so since Free and AJ (age-telling), but I read about August Alsina’s comment to host Keisha Chante when she asked about the singer burying of the hatchet between Trey Songz and him (Since when did R&B singers have ‘beef’?). I also watched the clip where Chante stood with Bow Wow and August on either side of her as August snapped, “I told y’all not to ask me that shxt when I got up here.” in reply to her question. She was visibly taken aback and tried to defuse the situation by saying she was only asking what the fans were asking. Awkward. And Uncomfortable.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about this artist (But the Twitters indicates that his recently released album is everything.) or his reported drama with Trey Songz. I also don’t know what discussion was had between the hosts and/or the show’s representatives and the artist prior to him taking the stage. However, I do know that I’ve noticed a number of comments on social media from young folks – young women included – who have suggested Chante ‘got what she was asking for’ . Chile. Chirren. Let me be the ole lady and shed a different light on this.

Young women, you have to be careful about the applauding certain patterns of interaction with young men. So she asked a question that he did not want asked. We don’t know the backstory on that. But what we do know is that his posturing and comment to her, in my ole lady opinion, was not necessary. When we start applauding young men, or anyone for that matter, for speaking disrespectfully to women the door is open for such behavior to continue and elevate.

Sidebar
As I write this, I’m reminded of an exchange I had with a classmate when I was in college. As I walked across the yard, he yelled out, “Hey you…come here chick.” Thinking to myself: I know damn well he isn’t speaking to me. So I continued to walk on my way, and he grew aggravated and continued, “Bitch, I know you hear me talking to you…” Now, this was a guy with whom I had not interacted. All I knew of him is that he was relatively new to campus, a transfer student I think. So after the last comment, I did stop but I didn’t walk over to him. I stood there and stared at him. Thinking he’d at least gotten my attention, he walked over to me with a swagger that let me know he thought he’d accomplished his mission. And yes, he had accomplished the mission of getting my attention, but that wasn’t all he’d done. He disrespected me – publicly, intentionally. He approached me and smiled. Then he started to tell me how he knew I heard him and knew I was just playing hard to get. I simply locked eyes with him and asked, “Do you talk to your Mama like that?” And let’s just say the conversation went to the left and then came back again. During our discussion, he explained that where he was from, that’s just how they spoke. That’s how they talked to girls. And I just explained to him that where I’m from [my Mama’s house], we don’t get down like that. Eventually, we were cool. And so was his newly developed respectful interaction with me.

Young men, you have to be careful about the applauding or quietly dismissing certain patterns of interaction with our young women. Bow Wow… Hmm. Maybe my expectations of respect and chivalry are too high, but I was puzzled that Bow Wow did not make an attempt to ease the tension and/or address August in a professional manner. As I rode home yesterday, two DJs on a local radio show noted that “that’s just how he is” and explained that “if he don’t like you, he don’t like you”. Yes, I get that. We all have our personalities. But that too was dismissive in terms of highlighting Alsina’s lack of professionalism. That situation could have been handled differently.

Conversely, I also noticed several comments from young people – both male and female – who noted that they were disappointed in Alsina’s response. And for that, I’m glad. I’m not at all suggesting that there are not times when the media seem to be too intrusive or cross lines with celebrities. That happens. However, this didn’t seem like that type of situation.

Being on 10 at all times, trying to secure a tough-guy/tough-girl image can be exhausting. Stop. Turn down for what? Hell, because sometimes you just need to… It’s not always that deep.

Black Women and Depression: Our Tears Don’t Compromise Our Strength

“I’m fighting with depression today. Ion even know why. I’m exhausted. But not like from work. Just exhausted from tryna figure out life.”

Yesterday, I sent the statement above via text to a friend. After spending much of the morning forcefully convincing myself to go to work instead of staying home in bed (although I was well-rested) and struggling to stop the tears from streaming down my face, I sent the message in order to engage in some type of truth-telling, to allow myself to feel and process. As the day passed, I won the fight with the symptoms of depression after doing some positive self-talk and reading.

This morning I awoke to find my Facebook timeline filled with the sad news of the death of Karyn Washington, reportedly from suicide. Washington was the 22-year-old founder of For Brown Girls (FBG), a blog dedicated to uplifting and supporting young Black women and combatting attacks on their self-esteem. Of particular focus for the site were issues related to colorism. Specifically, one of the purposes of FBG was, “to encourage those struggling with accepting having a darker skin complexion to love and embrace the skin they are in”. [See Dr. Yaba Blay’s work on Pretty.Period. as well.] In addition to her work for FBG, Washington prompted women and girls with darker skin complexions to be proud to wear red lipstick and similar hues with her #DarkSkinRed Lip Project. The Project, a response to rapper A$AP Rocky’s suggestion that women with darker skin shouldn’t wear red lipstick, was well-received and garnered support from women representative of all complexions. Washington’s work was empowering and seemingly demonstrated that she had healthy self-esteem and was happy. She described herself as “strong, empowered, and classy” in a 2013 interview with Jane Thang Productions, LLC. Washington’s words to Jane also suggested that she was positive, com/passionate, humble, and confident. Nevertheless, The Root reported that Washington experienced depression after the death of her mother. Most of us that followed FBG considered Washington a representation of strength; however, we did not know her pain. And whatever pain Washington was experiencing in her life was debilitating and resulted in her taking her own life.

My text to my friend indicated that I was “fighting depression”, and I was. Like Ali [Laila, of course] against her fiercest opponent, I came out swinging because I know depression. I’ve experienced it. It takes on different forms for all of us, but I know what depression looks and feels like for me. My depression sleeps and cries. I sleep when I am not tired and cry when I can’t fathom a reason for the tears. For other women, depression might overcompensate. It’s masked by endless smiles and being the life of the party. For others, depression is hungry and then resentful. These women might binge eat and purge frequently. No matter how depression is conceptualized, it is important that we encourage our sisters to recognize it and seek help for it. Seeking help from a qualified mental health professional is strongly encouraged! It is also important to note that there is a difference between experiencing depressive symptoms and being diagnosed clinically diagnosed with depression. Yesterday’s bout with depression was actually a bout with depressive symptoms. Clinical depression takes many forms and is determined by the duration and severity of the symptoms. The National Institutes of Mental Health (2011) notes that depression can be diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Minor Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Finding accurate statistics to demonstrate how depression impacts Black women is extremely difficult. Hunn and Craig (2009) suggested that rates of depression in Black women are underestimated and under-reported. These authors also suggested that an attributing factor here is African Americans’ John Henryism, which is “a coping mechanism used by African Americans: overcoming obstacles with hard work and determination at the expense of mental and physical well-being” (p. 85). Other contributing factors are cultural socialization and nondisclosure.

Black women are culturally socialized to personify the Strong Black Woman (SBW). In many ways a myth and reality, the danger of the SBW socialization is that being strong is often equated to absorbing repeated devaluation of our minds, bodies, and spirits – and doing so without demonstrating any physical, mental, or emotional pain. We are not allowed to cry because crying is a symptom of vulnerability. We are not allowed to be upset or mad because those characteristics confirm the dominant culture’s construction of Black women as the Angry Black Bitch. We are not allowed to express or demonstrate any emotion or symptom that could be perceived as antithetical to our strength. We must wear the masks.

Nondisclosure is also part of our cultural socialization. We don’t tell everybody our business. And in many instances, we don’t even tell those that are closest to us. This silence can have dire consequences for us. In her book Silencing the  Self: Women and Depression (1991), psychologist Dana Jack maintained that self-silencing can be positive when women make a choice to maintain our silence regarding various issues. However, self-silencing challenges women and often facilitates depression when we are silent due to oppression or the perception that we don’t have a choice. When social, political or cultural oppression stifles our voices and prevents us from “talking back” (hooks, 1989) or truth-telling, our mental health suffers.  

Recently, I’ve been talking to Black women at different stages in their lives. Our conversations center on various topics, but each one has mentioned that being perceived as vulnerable is a site of anxiety. For example, after discussing a loss, one woman said to me, “I cried about this. Is it okay that I cried? Does that make me weak?” In addition, each of them has identified ways that her silence is imposed because of oppression or perceived lack of choice. Another woman discussed her experiences with sexual abuse and explained, “I couldn’t tell anyone. They would have judged me. Women in my family are strong.” Both women indicated that their tears and truth-telling would be contradictory to the alleged strength that Black women are supposed to embody. These statements suggest that many of us are in need of healing.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Centers for Disease Control (2010) reported that suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and was committed mostly by White males. Thus, stories of suicide by Black women are rare. However, we are dying in other ways and are in need what bell hooks (2005) describes as “self-recovery”. Specifically, she wrote:

Many black women in the United States are brokenhearted. They walk around in daily life carrying so much hurt, feeling wasted, yet pretending in every area of their life that everything is under control. It hurts to pretend. It hurts to live with lies. The time has come for black women to attend to that hurt. (p. 19)

Of course, it is not at all my intention to suggest that the Black woman experience is riddled with victimization, powerlessness, and essentialist notions of the SBW that render us all depressed and downtrodden. Instead, it is the my intention to confirm that we are strong, resilient and resistant to the many ways that others attempt to pathologize Black womanhood. However, being on point all the time without caring for ourselves depletes our energies and robs our spirits. Therefore, it is time for us to attend to ourselves and to one another. We must engage in dialogue with our sisters that inspire us “To give voice to silenced spaces as an act of resistance” (Dilliard, 2006, p. 19). We must fight depression and its symptoms whenever we can. We must speak. We must write. We must support. We must feel. We must process. And we must understand that all of these efforts, in no way, compromise our strength.

References

Dilliard, C. B. (2006). On spiritual strivings: Transforming an African American Woman’s academic life. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

hooks, b. (2005). Sisters of the yam: Black women and self-recovery. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

hooks, b. (1989). Talking back: Thinking feminist, thinking black. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.  

Hunn, V. L., & Craig, C. D. (2009). Depression, social cultural factors, and African American women. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 37, 83-93.

Jack, D. C. (1991). Silencing the self: Women and depression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Full Circle Ramblings – Nikki Giovanni, Baba Asa, and A Different World

April is National Poetry Month. I realized I was a poet in elementary school when I wrote a brief poem with a basic rhyme scheme. I’ve written sporadically since that time; performed at a few spoken word sets; but I’m still trying to perfect my craft.

One of my favorite poets is the incredible Nikki Giovanni. I fell in love with her when I was a student in high school. I watched the “Mammy Dearest” episode of A Different World and had to know about the poems recited in the closing scene. I found out that the two poems that moved me so intensely during that episode were Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Masks” and Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Trippin (there may be a reason why)”. Those two poems quickly became two of my favorites and I committed them to memory (and also forced some of my middle school students to do the same).

I had the opportunity to meet Giovanni at an event in Atlanta shortly after I moved in 2003. I literally was speechless. She signed my poetry book and posed for a picture. Elated does not begin to describe it. The clip below is from her recent visit to a highschool in Portland, Oregon.

Seeing Portland immediately reminded me of Dr. Asa Hilliard’s Baseline Essays. Full Circle.

My Favorite Sitcom: A Different World features Giovanni’s poem in 1991.

My Favorite Baba: Asa Grant Hilliard, III and the Baseline Essays for the Portland Public Schools in 1982. I met Baba Asa in 2003.

My Favorite Poet: Nikki Giovanni speaks to students in Portland, Oregon in 2014.

See, the Universe comes full circle with guidance…right when I need it. 🙂

Ase…

The Queendom that is Jill Scott…

My social networking timelines have been buzzing with a picture of Jill Scott from last weekend’s UNCF’s 2014 ‘Evening with the Stars’. And yes, she looked all kinds of fierce fabulousness wearing a simple black fitted dress with a smile that would light up the darkest of night. That picture – like most pictures of Scott – was everything.

Jill Scott

Jill Scott is an experience.

I was introduced to the magnificence that is Jill Scott as I headed to New Orleans by train in July, 2000. Her first album – Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, a fusion of spoken word and soulful melodies – is written and performed with such passion and hypnotism that listeners remember exactly where they were the first time they heard Scott whisper, “He loves me…” [Or just me?] In addition to securing a dedicated following, Who Is Jill Scott went double-platinum in the United States and gold in Canada and the United Kingdom. Scott released three additional studio albums – Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2 (2004), The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3 (2007) and The Light of the Sun (2011) – two compilation albums – Collaborations (2007) and The Original Jill Scott from the Vault Vol. 1 (2011) – and two live albums – Experience: Jill Scott 826+ (2001) and Live in Paris (2008). While Who Is Jill Scott is her most celebrated work, each of her albums is an experience.

Jill Scott is an experience.

In addition to commanding attention through her singing, Scott has demonstrated her ability to captivate an audience as an actor and writer. She has appeared in a number of films and television series and movies, including Tyler Perry’s Why Did I get Married (2007) and Why Did I get Married, Too (2010) and Steel Magnolias (2012). In addition, she published The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours: The Poetry of Jill Scott in 2008.

Jill Scott is an experience.

As an avid fan and lover of the realness of her writing, the profundity of her voice, and the personification of her Queendom, I take advantage of every opportunity that I have to see her perform, speak…walk…just be. Jill Scott is one of the only artists for whom I have waited in a long line – on two separate occasions. [Lauryn Hill is the other.] Jill Scott is the one of the only artist that I would pay to see perform – the same show, on the same night…just because she’s just that dope. [Kanye West is the other. Say what you will, but his live show is everything.] Jill Scott is one of the only artists whose speaking voice is enough to soothe me, empower me. Jill Scott is one of the only artists who had me speechless as she signed my book. [Nikki Giovanni is the other…for obvious reasons.]

Jill Scott is indeed an experience… And if you haven’t had the opportunity to experience all that is Queen Jilly from Philly, you should do so – ASAP.

Start here.

“We all have our own thing. That’s the magic. And everybody comes with their own sense of strength, their own Queendom. Mine could never compare to hers, and hers could never compare to mine.”

Jill Scott, 2006, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Success and Scholarship DO Exist in the For-Profit Academy

As a graduate from a ‘traditional’ university where the admissions process was somewhat rigorous (or existed as some form of hazing) and a higher education faculty member that has worked with students in both ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ [read: for-profit] settings, I have first hand knowledge of and experience with the students that matriculate in both academies. What my experiences have taught me is that no matter the score on the GRE, the success and scholarship of the [doctoral level] student often are determined by a number of factors. Some of these factors include the rigor of the program, skill and dedication of the student, support of critical friends and family, and the leadership of the faculty and mentoring of the dissertation chair.

Within the last week, I have had the opportunity to see four of my students complete their final dissertation defenses. Yes, FOUR. For most of my colleagues in traditional settings, this number is extremely high – especially for a week’s worth of defenses. However, this is not uncommon for the non-traditional setting. So yes, I’ve been very overworked at times. But no matter the load, the goal is always to nurture scholarship and excellence. Each of the four students had exemplary defenses – and I do mean exemplary. However, today’s defense is what moved me the most and reminded me of why I do what I do.

James [a pseudonym] has been a student at the university since 2007[?]. As a matter of fact, he and I knew each other prior to me becoming a faculty member at the university. I was his editor when I was a doctoral student. Throughout the years, I have given him writing lessons and tips, encouragement, honest critique, and unwavering support. And today, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of his presentation and the structure of his dissertation. So much so, that I smiled from ear to ear as he presented. He was poised. He was knowledgeable. He was the expert. He was a scholar. And I couldn’t have been more proud. At the end of his defense, the committee provided feedback and the audience commented and asked questions. Then I provided minimal feedback and ended the statement with the following sentence: “I’m going to break protocol here because normally we would ask everyone to leave the room before making an announcement. However, I don’t think that’s necessary because the committee seems to agree…congratulations Dr.” The audience clapped and he put his head on the podium and cried.

Crying during a defense or at any other point during the dissertation process is not an anomalous act. The dissertation process is tedious. It’s draining. It’s emotional. However, I knew that James’ tears meant something more than most of us understood at that moment. When he’d first contacted me regarding editing, his writing was mediocre, at best. His ideas were good but the ability to translate those ideas to paper was insufficient. Two years ago when he was in my advanced qualitative class, I advised him to select another topic and continue to work with an editor because of his overwhelming subjectivity and much-needed writing assistance. When I was assigned as his dissertation chair, I thought, “Oh goodness. This is going to be a journey.” And it was; yet, throughout the journey, he remained positive. He was receptive to criticism. He expanded his literature review when instructed to do so. He revised Chapter Four from beginning to end. No matter how many comments I added to his drafts and no matter the number of times I said or wrote: “Delete this.” or “Rewrite this.” he remained steadfast in his journey. He was on campus like he was employed there. Occasionally, he’d stop by just to talk football or check in. He never gave up. And he did it with a smile and an occasional “Roll Tide” (although he is an Auburn fan and graduate).

For those reasons, I understood his tears and fought hard to contain my own. His tears meant that there is success in the non-traditional university. His tears meant that with appropriate instruction, guidance and self-determination, non-traditional students have the capacity to be competitive scholars in their fields. His tears meant that the relationship between a student and his or her faculty mentor or dissertation chair can be one of the most significant factors in the student’s success.

Yes, there are a number of stigmas associated with attending, graduating from, or instructing at a non-traditional university. Yes, there is some truth to some stereotypes based on the university, the campus, the faculty, and so on. However, what I have learned both as a graduate student and faculty member is that stigmas and stereotypes are no match for a student’s resilience and a professor’s determination. Where those factors intersect, successful scholarship is bound to happen.

Beneath the Masks….

“Many black women in the United States are brokenhearted. They walk around in daily life carrying so much hurt, feeling wasted, yet pretending in every area of their life that everything is under control. It hurts to pretend. It hurts to live with lies. The time has come for black women to attend to that hurt” (hooks, p. 19).

From Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery

We wear the masks

And walk with pride

Strong Black woman

But dying inside.

Carrying the hurt

Of our existence

Strong Black woman…

Façade of resilience.

Silencing the self

Our souls we bear

Truth in our hips

Never escapes our lips

Depression sets in

Its symptoms we wear…

Fibroids and

Cancers

And progression

Stagnated

Empty eyes…

And spirits of hatred.

Death becomes us

As we don’t speak

Afraid of the truth

It renders us weak.

To say we’re strong

But yet we cry.

To be everyone’s go-to

To ourselves we lie.

Saying we’re fine.

We can handle the stress.

Duties of multitudes.

The world we impress.

And still…

Are portrayed as malignant.

To our plights

No one is indignant.

Because…

We wear the masks

And walk with pride

Strong Black woman

But dying inside.

Haiku: The [Writer’s] Block

I’m supposed to write a blog a day, but today the words have not come easily. I’ve typed two pages of a blog and then decided that I no longer liked the words on the page. See, I am still that little kid who crumbles up paper if I’m not satisfied. The pressure to write has elevated my anxiety because I want/need to write. But tonight, I just can’t. And it’s frustrating… But I know the words will come…eventually.

 

Haiku: The [Writers] Block

Today I can’t write.

The words don’t come easily.

But the thoughts remain.

 

So I will try again tomorrow… 🙂

 

Dissertation Archives – Vignette 3: Hair Story

No matter how else you dress or decorate yourself, you cannot escape the true meaning of dreads. As beautiful as locks may be, they still stand for something: ethnic pride. When you carry dreads you demand a second look. People are intrigued, they wonder, “What’s behind all that hair.” I’m happy to be nappy

~Adrian “Summit” Delaney

 

I fell in love with locks when I saw Whoopi Goldberg’s hair. I had seen African women on television, but never had I seen one with locks until Whoopi was cast as the main character in the movie Sister Act (1991). I had seen The Color Purple (1985), but her hair and her role in Sister Act appealed to me more because of the strength and confidence of the character. I wanted that strength; I wanted that hair. Unfortunately, my mother was not having any of that. “You don’t want your hair like that,” she said. But I did. I really did. Nevertheless, that was one battle I was not willing to wage because I knew that I would not win. So I let go of the dream of locking my hair until the summer of 2002. I had cut my hair from a shoulder length style to a short brush cut in March of 2002, and in late May my stylist started my locks. At the time I was a teacher, so the summer seemed like a good time to lock my hair since I had read that the hair goes through many transformations during those initial stages.

About a week before school started in the fall, I went to my classroom to begin getting it organized. I was there only a short while before my principal called me to the front office. He started the conversation by asking about my summer, but it was not long before he maneuvered his way to his real interests. He asked, “So why are you doing me like this?” Confused, I asked what he meant; and he proceeded to tell me that my hair was not what he expected. He considered it unacceptable. Why was I locking my hair? Noticing the sour look on my face, he tried to appease my by saying that the girls at the school looked up to me and he just wanted to make sure that I was communicating the right message. “I hope I’m communicating that you don’t have to have a certain type of hair – that you don’t have to have weave all down your back – to be beautiful,” I snapped. At that point, most people might have left the idea alone, but he continued with one final insult. “I mean, if you need some money to get your hair done, I’ll pay for it.” I was floored by his suggestion that I was only locking my hair because I could not afford to go to the salon. Further, I was more insulted because the principal was Black as were 97% of my students. So I thought that I was sending the right message: Black hair is beautiful hair – whether locked, natural, or relaxed; short or long. I was sincerely disappointed at his lack of acceptance of my hair and left his office more focused than ever to let my locks be one of my defining African characteristics[1].

I locked my hair in order to identify with my African culture. I’ve had my locks for almost five years. I discovered that you don’t have to have straight hair to be beautiful. Locks are about a deeper love, a self-respect.

~Cheryl Browne

While I considered my locks to be one of my defining African characteristics, I was forced to evaluate why I felt that having natural hair was so African. For most of my elementary school years, my hair was styled with a hot comb or straightening comb. I hated those days. It was always a battle between my mother and me as I sat in a chair in the kitchen watching that comb get hot over the open flame from the gas stove. I would watch my mother remove the comb and blow it as smoke filled the room. Eyes closed, the comb was brought closer to my hair; I squinted tighter as I felt the heat from the comb. My mother was usually very careful, but there were the occasional burns. The “kitchen” and around the ears were the worst. This process continued until I was in seventh grade and I started to do my own hair, to “perm” my hair with a chemical relaxer. Once every six weeks, I stood in the bathroom in front of the mirror to go through the process of straightening my hair with chemicals. Somewhere during the next 10 or so years, I started to equate that straightening process with confirmation that I too had succumbed to the perceptions of beauty ascribed by mainstream Americans. I am not sure what triggered this response. Maybe it was the hair conflict between the “wannabes” and the “jigaboos” in Spike Lee’s (1988) School Daze; or maybe it was Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X (1992) when he shoved his head in the toilet to stop the relaxer from burning his scalp. For some reason, I thought that,

The notion that straightening one’s hair is a mark of aspiring towards whiteness and that we should thus abandon all straightening along with any other form of work on black hair denies the complexity of cultural practice. (Erasmus, 1997, pp. 14-15)

I believed locking my hair contested the notion that I identified with the “wannabes” – light skin, long, straight hair, striving to achieve the Eurocentric notion of beauty. For me, locks were my resistance. That day in my principal’s office, my baby locks were my political and cultural statement. I thought that my natural hair made more of a statement than my relaxed or straightened hair. According to Erasmus (1997), Mercer (1987) “challenges the idea that Afros and dreadlocks are ‘natural’” (p. 15). Instead, these styles are created in the same spaces as styles that many would suggest are non-Afrocentric. For example, it is often the expectation of people that wear natural hairstyles consider themselves African-centered. However, for some, their natural styles do not reflect their commitment to the African family. One of my friends, for instance, had dreadlocks and will state honestly that the only reason she locked her hair was because it was so course. Now, she wears a natural afro and does so simply because it is convenient and manageable. I still believe that my locks are a political and cultural statement; however, I now have arrived at a level of African identity where I understand that my former belief that any Black person that straightened his or her hair is trying to achieve some sort of whiteness identity aligns with essentialist notions of Blackness. I had to eliminate my essentialist view of being African where a hair style was a signifier of African identity (Erasmus, 1997).

[1] After my hair had grown out some, the principal did apologize for his initial reaction and told me that he liked the new look.


An excerpt from my dissertation: To be African or Not to Be: An Autoethnographic Content Analysis of the Works of Dr. Asa Grant Hilliard, III (Nana Baffour Amankwatia II), 2009, Georgia State University.