For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Going Natural When the Relaxer is Enuf

23 Jun

flickr photo used under a Creative Commons License by malik ml williams

First, if you’re currently considering doing the big chop and you’re not sure–I say, go ahead and do it. As I always tell myself while I’m sitting in the barber’s chair: it’s just hair,  it’ll grow back soon enough, and by that time you’ll be used to whatever state it’s in anyway. So do it, cut it all off.

Of course, I’m sure you remain unconvinced by my goading, since you live in the real world where it’s not “just hair,” but something you’ll be judged on by every one who encounters you. Folks will pull out their best Def Comedy Jam material on you, (you look like Celie from The Color Purple)  and ask you annoying questions about your hair.  Even the ones who think you look great may assume that you are some sort of India Arie cultist. And you rightly want to avoid all that grief, because with relaxed hair you can look presentable, “appropriate” and attractive. In short, you can be normal, without anybody making assumptions about you, for example, that you are weird and Afrocentric.

So why do it? I can’t answer for every woman, but I’ll tell you why I initially did it: because of somewhat immature political convictions. I thought that relaxing my hair was “trying to be white,” and that wearing my hair natural was the only true way of owning and loving my blackness.

Collective internet eyeroll.

I sincerely believed it then, but this mentality is so obnoxiously  “more conscious than thou,”  it unnecessarily divides black women into natural hair Erykah Badus and Yaki Pony/Lace front Beyonces. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t something to be said about the value of critically examining where our preference of super straight hair comes from. To be sure, there are a lot of ugly racial politics which influence what is beautiful and normal in this society. But I feel like as symbolically powerful as it may be , a hairstyle alone can’t singlehandedly rectify historical injustices.  Especially if like me, you wield it as a weapon.

For a while after I shaved all my hair off,  I was buoyed by the feeling of superiority I felt as I walked past other girls and their unbeweavable hair. I’d think that I alone was doing the tough work of uplifting the race, (it’s just me and Malcolm baby, me and Malcolm) and that everyone else had sold out. Consequently, I was very defensive about my hair, and assumed that anybody who asked me about it did so because they had a problem with me and my unmitigated blackness. So I proselytized, and condemned those who didn’t get with my gospel to the same purgatory for non-practicing blacks that Clarence Thomas was sent to. And I judged. And judged. And judged.

But during this whole time, I never actually felt  good about myself. I was still defining myself in opposition to women with relaxed/straight hair, and was frankly envious of the acceptance that those women got. I felt like while women with long, straight hair were presumed to be attractive, I had to consciously work to prove that I was feminine, confident and frankly, not a weirdo. And it’s hard work trying to prove you don’t care what people think, while also yearning for their acceptance. As a result, while I was lauding the virtues of my nappy, oh-so-African hair to anyone who would listen, I was simultaneously becoming more inward and less confident.

And so, six months later, I fell off the wagon, and got my hair straightened again. While I was immediately disappointed with myself for conceding, I’m now glad I did it, because it allowed me to slowly let go off the whole “conscious thing.” It was a relief to not feel like my little inch of hair was single-handedly waging a racial jihad. And it allowed me to ease back into natural hair when I felt ready, not because I felt I had to make a statement.

Two years later, after meandering in an unruly ‘fro, I finally chopped it all off again. It probably didn’t hurt that because of all the “natural” shampoos I’d been concocting on the advice of anonymous people on the internet, my hair had started to take on the look and feel of steel wool.  So, on a punishingly hot summer day, I sat in a barber’s chair while two cute boys my own age waited to get their hair cut just like mine. I felt horribly unfeminine as these boys watched me lose my hair, a stark contrast to the two younger girls with bouncy, shiny curls who sat in the adjacent salon. They would get the boys, I thought, while I had become one of the boys.

But as my hair fell on my neck, I shook all the self-doubt away, and marveled at myself in the mirror after the barber was finished.  That’s really the best part of a bald head, seeing your face anew and learning to be comfortable with whatever character reveals itself. I love touching my hair as it is growing out, and feeling the grooves and bumps of my naps. And I love getting up in the morning and realizing that what I look like when I first wake up is basically how I’ll look when I’m “ready.” There isn’t much one can do to improve a head with no hair.

Of course, this self-esteem boost is partly a result of the fact that short, natural hair is definitely having “a moment.” Everybody and they mama (literally) is rocking it right now, from Solange Knowles to Chrisette Michelle. And of course, (as the two previous singers learned) you can’t go short without inviting comparisons to the definitive bald-headed girl, Amber Rose. Just call me when BeyBey, the Lace front Queen herself, finally decides to go natural.

Even now, when people are suddenly so effusive with compliments about what was formerly derided as “slave hair,”  I’m trying not to base my own self-perception in a fad.  Because we haven’t heard the last from the Yaki Pony lobby, (ha!)  and Amber Rose may decide that the look is played out, and move on to a weave just like any other starlet. Which is fine, because I’m at the point where my feelings about my hair are mostly dictated by me, and the two of us have a pretty uncomplicated relationship.

So I say to you sister-friend, with all the sincerity that the internet will allow me to convey: do it. Not to sink this post with any more platitudes, but cutting it all off will teach you so much about yourself. Not having any hair (and having your own real hair for a change) destabilizes everything you think you know about what makes you beautiful. It will expose your vanity, bring out your worst anxieties, and force you to reconsider your own femininity (if that’s something you’re even invested in to begin with). You will learn to be more confident, and of course not to put so much stock in how you look, which is always a good thing. It won’t all be Chicken Soup for the Black Woman’s Soul, of course. It takes time to adjust to a new length and new texture of hair, and it’s frustrating to have to (re)learn how to style your hair. And yes, all the horrors about the awkward growing out phases are true.  But then, you’ll have really satisfying moments that will really carry you through the day, like when a man on a crowded street yelled “You wearing that cut, sister!” at me, the day after I got my haircut. Or when you meet other women with natural hair, and you give each other a knowing nod or smile of appreciation.

If I may, I’d like to leave you with a little advice based on my own experiences: Don’t let people fetishize you, and force you to enact their most primitive fantasies of a “natural, Nubian princess” (unless of course, that is your thing). I have been there, and the amount of effort I spent trying to prove I was an Earth Mother type was simply exhausting. Your hair should not box you into one persona, that of the hyper militant conscious girl.  Moreover, don’t let them goad you into declaring yourself an enemy of women with relaxed hair. It only entangles you further in the complicated racial politics of hair, the navigation of which will distract you from more important things. Like living your life, getting your swerve on, and most important, being an ally to women, regardless of the texture or the “realness” of their hair.

Because despite  the miserable racial history and the obnoxious standard of beauty, you hair is just hair.  You should feel free to decide what to do with it, and how to feel about it.


Seriously though, America…

21 Jun

…Barack Obama really isn’t your boyfriend.

I know that post I wrote (read by approximately 0.0000000000001/smallest percentage possible) of you might have led you to believe that you are actually in a relationship with him.

But you’re not.

So stop writing things like :

Ronald Reagan could convey command with a smile; Clint Eastwood, with a whisper. Americans need to know [Barack Obama] cares so they can be sure he’s taking fast, muscular and proficient action.

Anytime you hear yourself saying “I wish this person was more like Clint Eastwood” (or more likely, his on-screen persona) just know that you’ve taken your belief in the power of masculinity to vanquish all evil way too far. And while we’re at it, stop whining about how Obama’s not showing you that he cares enough about the gulf, because it literally means nothing if Barack Obama gets emotional about the oil spill. I know that some stereotypes may have you convinced that all brown people have a special, mystical connection to the Mother Earth, the kind of power which we can  summon in times of unspeakable disaster. But I feel compelled to tell you that even Barack Obama’s angriest tears are not going to initiate a magical process that heals the Gulf.  Oil is not get sucked up into the Earth, and millions of pelicans will not gather in front of the White House in honor of  The Great Healer. The reality is that this is a truly awful situation we’re all in, one that has no easy solutions and will likely not change any time soon.

But I get that you are a famously romantic people, and the boyfriend metaphor is too powerful for you to let go. So I’ll work with you.

Asking Obama to “show he cares” about the gulf  is like if you suddenly realized that there was an explosive in your house,  and while you were feverishly trying to locate it before it detonated, your partner was following you around the house, getting mad at you because you didn’t want to talk about how stressed out it was making you feel. Wouldn’t your response be: “You know what, I’m trying to make sure we don’t die!”

And let’s assume that something your partner did, perhaps his/her career as a spy who goes around fomenting unrest in the Middle East (kinda like BP!), led to the explosive being placed in your house in the first place. Would it be so unreasonable for a) your partner to feel guilty and begin reflecting on the danger of the lifestyle choices he/she is making and b) for you to ask your partner to stop doing those things that are putting all of you in danger.

But no, America, you have spoken, and you do not want to talk about renewable energy or even consider a moratorium on the very thing that led to the disaster in the Gulf . Instead, you’re busy getting your “drill, baby, drill!” bumper stickers, and it won’t be long till you’ve scraped up enough cash to get that phrase tattooed on your ankle. And you will not rest until Barack Obama is MacGruber, and we all die in a conflagration we had the time to prevent.

My Non-Basketball Related Analysis of the NBA Finals

9 Jun

Image used under a Creative Commons License from flickr user my name is dan

The only time that I actually sit down to watch full-length basketball games is during the finals, because they are especially rewarding games to watch and only involve a few days of my life, as opposed to a whole season. I just don’t believe in being that committed to teams that will eventually let me down, so I wait till the finals, and choose the team that has the best/most compelling players. Or (because I am a soulless human being) I root for the Lakers.

Given that I am a rather dispassionate fan of the game, my thoughts often wander to non-basketball related things. Like:

  • Pau Gasol is incredibly hairy, and has got a ’60s counter-cultural kid look going on. Moreover, even though he’s 7 feet and 250 pounds, he always seems really willowy and delicate to me . Which is a good thing.
  • Derek Fisher embodies grace. He’s just such a great team player, and seems to have a well-deserved reputation for being an exceptional human being. And he’s earned brownie points for life with my mom for wearing a WWJD bracelet.
  • Lamar Odom is super cute! But also married! To Khloe Kardashian!
  • Kobe Bryant is also super cute! Plus he’s an exceptional player whose love for the game makes it so fun to watch. And he apparently speaks Italian fluently!  But then he also likely sexually assaulted someone, which puts him in Ron Artest territory.
  • Sasha Vujacic has got the whole collegiate angst look down-pat.  If pro-ball doesn’t work out, I can guarantee that he will have his pick of RA positions across America.
  • Rajon Rondo is so adorable and elfin I just want to put him in my pocket.
  • Kevin Garnett reminds me of a villainous wizard in a children’s movie.
  • Ray Allen’s default facial expression is a sneer, which I kind of love. Also–Jesus Shuttlesworth has gotten so much older y’all!
  • Phil Jackson looks weird without his beard.
  • And finally, I love that the old people are officially dominating this year’s finals.

There you go! No need to thank me for saving you an hour of SportsCenter!

Barack Obama is Not My Boyfriend Anymore

2 Jun

Photo used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user waltarrrr

My dears, it has come to this. A while ago, Bill Maher did a bit telling liberals to stop fawning over Obama because “He’s your president, not your boyfriend.” I read this quote on on Glenn Greenwald’s blog and back then I was like, “right on, right on.” But it was like one of those empty church amens that people do when they’re not really listening all that well, but know they should be agreeing with whatever was just said.

I don’t think I’m the only liberal who had a little bit of “Barack Obama is my boyfriend” syndrome. And who could blame us? After eight years of being stuck in a terrible, unfulfilling relationship with Stifler from American Pie, we were all so glad to finally meet this wonderful guy who promised to make us forget all about that Bush fellow.

Let’s take a moment to remember the times, shall we?

When we first saw him in 2004, we were struck by how perfect Barack Hussein Obama was. Although we’d been told that it wasn’t healthy to pin too many hopes on a guy we’d just met, we couldn’t help but imagine how wonderful it would be to be in a relationship with him. Our new boyfriend Barack was the perfect man– Larenz Tate in Love Jones, if you will. He was so smart and soulful, whispering sweet nothings about hope and dreams and change into our ears. He read to us from his books, and we were blown away by how beautifully he could put words together. By every measure, he was everything our ex wasn’t: cosmopolitan, intellectual, responsive to our needs, and respectful of our feelings. Unlike the last guy, he wasn’t an ignorant oaf who embarrassed us at parties. No, we didn’t have to worry about Barack choking on hors d’oeuvres or repeatedly mispronouncing our colleague’s name. He had a law degree and spoke a couple of languages, so we could introduce him to even our most bougie friends and he’d fit right in. Lest you think he was Carlton Banks, Barack also had a subtle way of reminding us that he was down, a Chicago boy who knew how to brush the dirt off his shoulders. After years of dealing with a controlling partner, it was refreshing that Barack didn’t want to isolate us from our friends, but encouraged us to stay close with all of our mates around the world. We didn’t even mind that he was technically already taken; seeing how wonderful he was with his other family made us love him even more.

So we liked it, and we put a ring on it. Our wedding was fantastic—Aretha sang, and we partied for hours on end. We even got a little vindictive, and made sure our ex was there to see how much happier we were with our new boo. And then we coldly told G.W., “to the left.”

It was really quite terrific for a while, and we woke up everyday pinching ourselves thinking, “Am I really married to this guy? Is it possible for men to really be this wonderful?” It was astounding to us that when there was a problem, he’d actually listen to us and try to fix it, instead of shutting us down and claiming that he alone was “the decider” in the relationship. It took us an even longer time to get over the fact that he would apologize for mistakes that he’d made! What was that thing our ex used to say about the “bigotry of low expectations” again?

Now we’re a year and a half into it, and like all marriages, the shine is starting to wear off a little bit.  We’re definitely still happy, but we want more.  While we wouldn’t dream of going back to our old guy,  we’re starting to feel like our relationship with Barack has plateaued a bit. When we were young and still courting, he made us imagine all these fantastic possibilities, and now that we know how wonderful relationships can be, we can’t settle for anything less than what he promised us. Even though we did our fair share of gawking in the early days, the fact that he still looks good in a tux and can make us smile just isn’t enough anymore. Maybe our relationship problems stem from Barack having to deal with the fact that our ex maxed out our credit cards and started feuds with a bunch of our neighbors before he peaced out. In any case, something has got to change.

So how do we emerge from this relationship malaise, and get the unabashedly progressive marriage we want and deserve? Well, the first step is refusing to look at any more adorable pictures of this man (and his other family) because they always make us forget why we were so mad at him in the first place. Avert your eyes from that smile, we have serious things to be angry about! Like why he didn’t push for the public option like he said he would. Or why he’s been so slow to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And while we’re at it, how come he’s starting to behave a lot like our ex did, what with all that  sinister maneuvering to avoid giving detainees their constitutionally protected right to due process?

This isn’t the guy we married, the first guy many of us decided to trust after we’d been in a series of crappy relationships. I mean, we wore t-shirts with his face on them!

We still see a little of the old Barack here and there, enough to keep the spark alive. But if this is going to last, we need to start demanding that Senator Barack Obama show up more often and remind us why we were totally bonkers over him in the first place. That Barack spoke out against the War in Iraq and opposed the arbitrary detention of insurgents and American citizens.

That guy, with his dreams of transformative change, was–to borrow his term—audacious.

Mugabe and Ahmadinejad are Like Reality T.V. Characters We Hate

13 May

Appreciate the feeling of intense, yet futile rage? Interested in yelling at your computer screen for the next few minutes? Then take a little time to watch the video above, of Mugabe and Ahmadinejad’s press conference in Harare a few weeks ago.

If you can’t bring yourself to click on the play button (I get it, I really do). Here’s the text according to the New York Times:

Mugabe: “President Ahmadinejad and myself have the same policy, and same stance, anti-imperialist, anticolonialist, and stands to protect our sovereignty and our right of ownership of our resources.”
Ahmadinejad : “Iran and Zimbabwe are two countries that continue their efforts to maintain their sovereignty and they move in the path of independence, and do everything in the path of peace, brotherhood and justice.”

You know those people on reality tv shows who take things way too far? Like, Person X in the house finishes their milk so they decide to retaliate by humiliating that person in front everyone else in the cruelest way possible? And then they never, EVER let it go, and use it as an excuse for all sorts of heinous behavior? As a viewer, you think to yourself, “I was with you before you went insane and made this a bigger deal than it needed to be.”

These are the same people who are generally nasty, and think it’s okay because “that’s who they are.”  When others start confronting them about their behavior or actively avoiding them, they claim to be victims of a conspiracy to persecute them.  And then, finally, when they realize how isolated they are, they claim it’s because everyone is just s000o jealous and intimidated by whatever magical qualities they possess. The sad thing about these people is that in claiming that they don’t care about everyone  and “didn’t come here to make friends,” they make it painfully obvious that they really wish that everyone loved them.

On the world stage, Mugabe and Ahmadinejad are these people.

People in the West must hate them because they’re secretly bloodthirsty neocolonialists, and the overwhelming majorities of their own citizens who vote against them must be brainwashed. They, the autocrats, are the real victims in all this, the real peacemakers who are sincerely trying to build a better world.  And if you try to bring up all the truly heinous things they’ve done, you’re twisting the facts to try to paint them as villains. Moreover, it’s important to remember that their cause is absolutely noble, and that whatever means they employ in its pursuit are justified.  So if you disagree, it’s you who has the problem.

And just like when you’re watching Real Housewives/The Real World/The Hills you want to scream: People don’t hate you because they’re jealous! They hate you because of the awful things you do!

The nice thing about reality t.v. shows is that you know that these people are going to get their comeuppance one day. It will either happen on the reunion special (when the rest of the cast gangs up on them) or it will happen after the camera stops rolling, when their lives fall apart and they inevitably become has-beens.

My question is: when will the real world start resembling The Real World? When do the millions of people who have borne the costs of Mugabe’s disastrous policies get to see him shamed and punished? If he ever gets indicted by the International Criminal Court, I don’t want a professional, austere trial. No Truth and Reconciliation Commissions for me, I want it done reality t.v. style, complete with cruel humiliation! I’m talking the Real Housewives of Atlanta Reunion level humiliation, with tears, jeers and Andy Cohen feverishly attempting to moderate. We could even bring out surprise guests, like people who have been illegally detained and tortured in secret prisons! And of course, someone will attempt to beat Mugabe up, except this time, Andy Cohen will be instructed not to intervene and instead, just let it happen. Aaaaaaaaaaah.

And then Mugabe will say he’s so sorry for every single thing he’s done. We’ll listen quietly while he talks, but then we’ll tell him that just like Jill and Bethenny, we’re DONE. “Get a hobby!” we’ll say, “Preferably one that suits the prison inmate lifestyle.”

Eric Holder Should Switch Lives with Stedman Graham

9 May

Image used under a Creative License from flickr user ImagePros

Image used under a Creative Commons License from flickr user Floyd Brown

Just think about all the perks, Mr. Attorney General!

  1. No one would notice! Stedman is totally your celebrity doppelgänger (or maybe you’re his). It’s like you both went to the same stylist and said, “give me some gray hair and a freakishly dark moustache.”
  2. You wouldn’t have to read graphic accounts of U.S. authorized torture anymore (because the torture memos aren’t part of Oprah’s Book club, and she would tell you that all those gruesome details bring too much negative energy anyway).
  3. Additionally, no more having to constantly explain why waterboarding is morally abhorrent, ineffective, and actually illegal! Your only responsibility, per Oprah, would be to “live your best life” (which I assume means eating a lot of amazing food and hanging out with Deepak Chopra)
  4. This most malicious rumor people could spread about you is that you are Oprah’s beard, not that you are an Al Qaeda mole intent on destroying the US from within.
  5. Dr. Phil would be at your beck and call, and I’m guessing after a year on this job, you could use some therapy.
  6. Barack Obama would go from being your boss to the guy your awesome partner helped elect. Which means he’d have to suck up to you.
  7. The only people yelling  stupid questions at you would be paparazzi, not Congresspeople and tea-partiers.

Of course, the only glitch in this switcheroo is that there’s absolutely nothing in it for Stedman, so I don’t see him saying yes. Unless he really feels like his life wouldn’t be complete without death threats from crazy right-wingers

An Open Letter to Clair Huxtable

8 May

Dear Mrs. Huxtable,

You are the most amazing fictional character ever.

Thanks for providing little black girls like me an excellent model of what it means to be a “modern woman.” You are so uncompromisingly intelligent, and most importantly, I never get the sense that you feel guilty about being ambitious and smart.  I remember an episode when you came home and talked about the amazing job you’d done at work that day, and it was so lovely to hear you unabashedly acknowledge how awesome you are, with no hesitation and no false modesty. Not only are you a good lawyer, you are also apparently fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. I don’t know what kind of law you practice, but I’d like to think that you would have made a way better Supreme Court Justice than Clarence Thomas (but I understand that your filming schedule probably got in the way).

Even though I remain a little grossed out by how much you and Dr. Huxtable apparently get it on, I do love that you guys have such a great marriage. You make the whole idea of an egalitarian marriage seem so easy and natural (when it is anything but). And you have tons of fun together! You go to jazz concerts and dance all the time, aaaaand spend like 90% of your marriage laughing. Props to you for knowing how pick ’em!

I hate to add this, because I shouldn’t have to say it just to make you seem more delicate and less threatening, but you are a great mom. You treat your kids like actual human beings who have opinions that are worthy of respect, and you push them to justify their beliefs or actions when you disagree.  And you know how to give a really scary “Oh no you didn’t” eye when your kids (mostly Theo) say something ridiculous. That alone makes you a winner in my book.

But mostly, I love you for this moment:

Thanks again