Over the weekend I overheard a conversation that has troubled me ever since. Combined with other discussions I’ve witnessed regarding the legacy of slavery and racism in the USA over the past few months, this incident has left me feeling as hurt and disillusioned regarding my community. Without further ado I’ll share the story and why it bothers me so deeply.

Last Saturday I hosted a get together at my apartment for my family. We originally planned to have our gathering at a hotel room, but the plans fell apart at the last minute. I volunteered to host the event so that we wouldn’t have to cancel. Overall we had a great time. I enjoyed seeing my relatives together, laughing, drinking and basking in each others’ company. But by the end of the night I realized that even when among those who share my culture and blood I’m not safe from the sting of white supremacy.

The night was drawing to a close and people were beginning to leave. As one of my cousins left she gave another cousin a hug, then patted and stroked her hair. Though my cousin has what Black folks call ‘good hair’, on this occasion it had been flat ironed to sleek, bone straight perfection. As my other cousin admired the fried, dried and laid to the side do’ she told my cousin-whose mother is white-that she was lucky to have white blood in her, as everyone on our side of the family has ‘bad hair’ that my cousin would have inherited if she wasn’t mixed. And as I stood in my living room hearing this I felt so wounded. For I’m not mixed heritage, and I have the kinky, twisted ‘bad’ hair of my ancestors, undiluted by infusions of European and Native blood.

Now I’ve never been under the illusion that my physical traits are admired and loved among my people. I know better. But to hear someone related to me uphold whiteness in such a manner, and for no one else around me to even see, let alone be offended by it, made me feel so defeated. It opened up wounds and memories I’d rather forget. I could hear the way my aunts used to suck their teeth when I dared to wear my hair natural for the first time at sixteen, telling me in a matter of fact fashion that I had brillo pad, ‘Guinea nigga hair’ that should be kept out of sight. I hear the black boys who told me I was too black for them, that I’d never measure up to my light skinned and biracial friends as I was just dark girl with only African blood, not good enough for them. I hear the Black American young men who thought they were doing me a favor when they said I was cute for someone so black. I remember all the rejection, shame and pain my own people made me feel for being who I was and how I didn’t date Black American men because of it.

Life continued on though and I told myself it would get better. But it’s 2013. I will be 33 years old this summer yet I’m still part of a community that would prefer to render people like me as invisible or at the bottom. Back in the day there was a saying: if you’re light, you’re alright; if you’re brown, stick around; but if you’re BLACK, step BACK. And I shake as I write this, for even with the fall of Jim Crow, even with a ‘black’ man in the White House, my own people seem hellbent on perpetuating white supremacy and African inferiority. What does one do with this? How do you respond when your own people don’t want to accept and celebrate you? I no longer have much hope that we can rid ourselves of this complex. I think it’s time for me to give up on my people in that sense. I have to accept that I can’t change anyone but myself and that my influence is really limited to my child. So every day I will do to her what my Mama did to me. I will tell her that she is beautiful as she is, that I love her color and her hair and she has no need to alter herself to please anyone else. I will teach her to hold her head up, proud of her ancestors and her heritage, instructing her never to bow and never to deviate from that. I will surround her with positive images of both her Black American and Continental African culture. I’ll sing the bars of James Brown’s powerful “I’m Black and I’m Proud” to her. And I won’t do these things to make her feel she is above any other group of people, or to hate anyone else. But all the microagressions that I witness have led me to the conclusion that expressing pleasure and joy in what we are is not an act of hate. It is a necessity in the society that I live in, a form of psychological self-defense. So many of my people have been led to believe in that they are inferior and they pass on that plantation mentality. I refuse to let my child fall victim to it!

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A native Seattleite and East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been.

7 thoughts on “Weary

  1. I love this post; excellent writing, Danielle. But it brings to mind a lot of issues that I had/have to deal with within my own family regarding hair. When I decided to wear my natural hair, my mother informed me that I don’t have “good, curly hair”, so it was a bad idea, that I was too pretty to ugly myself up that way. When my sister and cousins saw my hair, the gave backhanded compliments about how long and thick it was, but too “nappy and African”. I made the hurt less painful by making a conscious decision to do with my hair and body what I wanted and only what I wanted, no matter what anyone else thought and it has helped me break the chains of slavery to the opinions of others. It saddens me that my family will simultaneously say “Black and proud” and embrace weaves and relaxers, but I’ve also learned to embrace their choices and the insecurities that led to those choices.

    I am so proud of you for doing your best to ensure that your daughter will be a proud, confident women who will be free of such insecurities.

    1. “It saddens me that my family will simultaneously say “Black and proud” and embrace weaves and relaxers, but I’ve also learned to embrace their choices and the insecurities that led to those choices.”

      So true Emelyne. I really appreciate your remark about embracing the choices of our loved ones regarding this issue. That is something that I struggle with and need to make progress on as well.

  2. Wow, it’s so sad to see the way the subconscious self-loathing has been so interwoven in our fabric. It’s been saturated in some of us so well, we don’t even know that we’re hating on ourselves most of the time. Being a fair skinned black man, one of the things I most loved about myself was actually the fact that my hair was so kinky….it was my way of distinguishing my being black to the more ignorant. To hear that story saddens me, so crazy how we can’t do better to love and truly accept each other….respect our versatility instead of cast aspertions to it. We are so versatile and can’t be pidgeonholed, yet we do all we can to do just that. It starts one house at a time, I will be sure to be on point with mine. Hope springs eternal, though.

    1. “Being a fair skinned black man, one of the things I most loved about myself was actually the fact that my hair was so kinky….it was my way of distinguishing my being black to the more ignorant.”

      Indeed! It’s sad that we often want to alter our hair in such ways when it is one of the features that sets us apart from everyone else and makes us unique.

  3. Brian, it’s interesting that you say that. My father, like you, has fair-skin (I will admit that I’m peeved by the term “fair” (as if dark skin is “unfair”, but that’s another conversation) and he has very coarse hair. He relished the fact of his hair because though he is bi-racial, he identifies as a Black man. Not because of society’s definition, but because of how he feels within.
    Many people, after learning that he was not (just) White, people would make jokes (?) that he “should at least have hair”. This served to create a lot of insecurities for him, and discord at home (I’ll share the story of that at a later date if anyone expresses interest).
    It is sad, and like you D, I have given up on Us as a people when it comes to truly loving ourselves and expressing it accordingly.

      1. Ok, I’m new to WP, and have discovered that it was the symbols I used, that keeps out the word I intended, which was “good” hair from showing up. Please delete this and the previous comment so your post won’t be littered with the unnecessary 🙂

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