On and On

The subject of natural hair is in the spotlight once again. Though I go easy on social media on weekends I did take note of the controversy that erupted on Twitter over comedienne Sheryl Underwood’s deprecating comments regarding natural hair.  I wasn’t shocked to hear of yet another Black celebrity treating one of the characteristics of our people with such scorn. Indeed, the public disdain that Black celebrities freely show for kinky hair and dark skin doesn’t cut me as it did when I was younger. My thirty-three years of life as a very dark-skinned, kinky haired Black woman who looks the same way her ancestors did when they arrived in the US has acclimated me to it. But then the story of Tiana Parker broke.

On Tuesday September 3rd a report came in of this seven year-old Black girl, reduced to tears and sent home from school as administrators called her dreadlocks “unacceptable” .  I observed this incident with a sense of bitterness-but not surprise. There are two basic factors I really try to keep in mind when I hear news like this. One, I recognize the country of my birth for what it is-a White Supremacist settler state. Two, I see the policing that African-Americans engage in among each other and disdain shown for blackness for what it is:the internalization of white supremacy, the reaction of a wounded people to a deep psychological trauma that we have yet to come to terms with. So I try to be calm and patient. I tell myself that I should express my views in a polite and civil manner. But when I viewed the clip of little Tiana Parker my anger burned.Here we are in 2013, with yet ANOTHER Black child hurt and embarrassed by others due to her hair texture.  When I see Tiana crying I see my own nine-year old daughter, and the utter surprise people express over the fact that she spurns relaxers and loves her afro. I see myself as a teen,hearing my female relatives call my hair ‘bad’ and refer to it as ‘guinea nigga’ hair. I think of the way my cousins still refer to it as ‘nigga hair’, with no clue as to why such talk is so detrimental. I see all the little Black girls who sit between the legs of caretakers  who roughly pull on and yank their hair, muttering complaints about their hair texture which wound them. This year we alone we have seen Black girls have their braids cut off by teachers and the continued banning of natural hairstyles in schools.

What infuriates me the most about the targeting of black children with natural hair is the knowledge that if these babies sported hairstyles which adhered to a Eurocentric standard no one would bat an eye!  When Black parents subject their children’s hair to chemical straightening via relaxers(and all the risk that comes with them) or wear hair weaves from South and East Asia, there is no problem. When Black parents press and flat iron their daughters’ hair, there is no problem. But Black children wearing their natural hair texture in braids, dreadlocks, afros and twists is treated as ‘unacceptable’. This transmits a very dangerous and negative message to Black children. It instills a sense of inferiority and sends the message that they must alter themselves to be good enough for admittance into society.

Now I certainly understand the circumstances that have led to this situation, to our need to police each other and push ourselves to assimilate and conform. Nevertheless it has to end. It has flowed on and on for centuries. It is past time that we aggressively root it out.It may be too late to change the minds of some adults, so it’s crucial that we keep our children from being poisoned. We must continually affirm the uniqueness and beauty of our physical characteristics to our babies. If we don’t we will perpetuate the cycle of internalized oppression that has scarred so many of us.

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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.

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