Abuse, Ancestry, Color, Intersectionality, Prejudice

When People Are Saltier About Messages Than Burial Soil

Fresh from Fourth of July BBQs, family reunions, road trips, beach days and the like, many black people in the U.S. grieve another person, another black man, another father and partner gone too soon after a deadly encounter with police. The facts, opinions, anecdotes, and reports trickle in, including the announcement that the DeBLMpartment of Justice will conduct an investigation. As a culture we know how this tends to play out.

This experience of reeling from situations we would not know about but for the reels of cellular devices, and citizen journalists and good neighbors who use them, has become commonplace.

By now, most people have heard the name Alton Sterling. They know Baton Rouge police killed him in front of a convenience store, a store where he and the owner had cultivated a relationship in which Sterling had permission to sell CDs outside the establishment.

Many have seen continual video loops chronicling Sterling’s demise. Others decided to read the stories, but not watch the video because the collective trauma of state-sanctioned violence against black people has become too much to bear.

Police have killed 558 people this year in the U.S, according the Counted, a database hosted by the Guardian. The Washington Post reported that American police have killed 122 black people in the U.S. this year.

Late last week a Change.org petition was started against activist and actor Jesse Williams. Cyber signees called for Williams’ termination from Grey’s Anatomy after Williams used his humanitarian award speech at the BET Awards to lambast institutional racism. As I type this, more than 19,000 people have signed.

Williams’ speech was an opportunity to, as folks say, make it plain. He said that the award he received was not for him, but was for “the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.”

He continued. “It’s kind of basic mathematics – the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.” Williams decried disparate treatment of black people and eerily-yet-predictably foreshadowed Sterling’s death.

“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day,” Williams said. “So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”

It is frightening to think, and sobering to know, many people so resented Williams’ speech that they wanted his lucrative and prominent position taken. They were more disturbed that he had a safe space to speak at a BET show, a receptive audience, and that he struck a chord with millions than they were invested in uprooting the realities that motivated his speech. They were salty about the message, hating on the messenger and choose to rationalize the personhood politics and policies that keep America facing mounting black bodies.

One must ask whether the immutability of race will continue muting people in power. What of the capacity for justice? Or is it really just us?

Academia, Beauty ideals, Color, Prejudice

On Dreads & Why You Can’t Send a Girl Who Knows Who She is Home

Exhibit A: Nine year old Imani with a fresh perm and JC Penney dress.
Exhibit A: Nine year old Imani with a fresh perm and JC Penney dress.

“They didn’t like my dreads,” Tiana Parker, a 7-year-old black girl said. “They” are her former school, Deborah Brown Community School. Officials told Parker’s dad, Terrence, that she wasn’t presentable because of her hair.

According to the community school, “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” And chastising little girls to the point of tears about their immutable characteristics is?

I don’t know a 7-year-old white girl experience. But, I remember being a 7-year-old black one and confronting people’s ignorance and distaste for anything that rendered me blacker or highlighted my parents’ conscious choice to let people know who I am. But, they taught me first.

What do I mean? If Imani Jackson shows up as a resume or application, you might not know exactly who I am, but you have a pretty good idea of who I’m not. First, it’s dope that Tiana is brave and bold enough to wear her natural hair at seven. That her father, a barber, champions his princess’ natural mane? Doper. People want their loved ones to love themselves and to present in ways that cause them the least amount of resistance.

But, it’s bigger than individuals, y’all. When I was seven, my mom finally acquiesced. The relaxer I begged, prayed and hoped for finally morphed my midnight mass into long, straight hair. I wore it relaxed for about four years until it broke, fried and drowned in a pool of split ends and spritz.

I experimented with natural styles, and unfortunately blonde hair dye, for a while until at age 17 I saw a picture of Goapele, thought about Lauryn Hill, and decided to quit playing. I began locks at 10 years old than Tiana. It taught me patience, persistence and self-love. Some days I had to go on with life, when my head looked like Coolio and a Chia pet’s Bill Nye experiment.

Gradually, the nappy, curly and coiled collision locked, grew, and became something I’m proud of. But, it was painful to get there. At Tiana’s age, I attended a multicultural magnet elementary school, as in mostly white, with kids of color and military families sprinkled in.

The teachers were generally competent, although some needed to venture beyond their backyards if they wanted to connect with more students. My hair, which my mother braided, pressed and styled in awe-inspiring black-girl styles, reminded everyone that I was different. I was tired of being different.

Always in the back of the class photos, taller than most of the boys, and having a “foreign” first name in a city that just missed being in South Georgia, my differences felt burdensome.

Why hadn’t my mom named me Brenda? That is her name. It was my late grandmother’s name. Teachers wouldn’t mispronounce Brenda. I wouldn’t be forced into awkward conversations with adults who didn’t know Kwanzaa existed, Swahili isn’t a place, and while Iman was hot stuff, her name is Spanish and I was not named after her.

Teachers barreled through Brittanys, Ashleys and Brandons with reckless abandon. That weird I-word lodged in the middle of the roll was an impediment from quickly assessing which students came to school that day. I learned to raise my hand when anything remotely “Ih”-sounding preceded Jackson.

The long and short of it is that I evolved with family support and love. The kind of love that Tiana has, as her dad, Terrence, went to bat in the media and against that school for her. That’s the same love my father showed when he reprimanded a high school boy who sought to impress his high school friends at the expense of middle school me by shoving a dirty, discarded pick in my Afro at the bus stop.

In many settings I was the only non-mixed black girl who were wore her natural hair. I was nappy and trying to be happy before curling puddings, big time bloggers and a bourgeoning beauty industry would explode into follicular fiestas for women who sat on the sidelines because they didn’t want drama regarding the hair from their mamas.

Today my hair is a big part of my identity. It’s proof that I survived. I was bullied, ostracized, thought suspect and ridiculed for being me in a world that mistreats the other. My hair gets checked by TSA. I force them to discuss the additional searches. I am stereotyped about how I spend my recreational time.

I’m automatically West Indian, even though I’m not. My mom, who has a big, curly fro, is apparently black Latina. Why our ethnicities don’t match is beyond me. I become de facto hair teacher for people of all backgrounds who don’t know how follicular diversity works.

White people tell me about their friends with sketchy showering habits and dreads. Sometimes they share the (BIG!) secret that all of their hair isn’t naturally straight. Rasta men greet me in ways I don’t fully understand. Older blacks tell me that I beat the odds and look nice with “those dreads.” Somehow my dreads inspire conversations about how black men with dreads must disprove ideas that they’re thugs.

Mostly now, I’m embraced. My hair is healthy. It’s strong. It’s long. It’s a lot like me. It’s accepted and acceptable because I accept it, love it, treat it well, and remove myself from situations where I won’t be valued because of what it represents. Life is too short to hang out in hate spaces.

Beauty ideals, Color, Freedom, Journalism

Virginity, public figures and women’s worth

Who doesn’t love an endearing Olympian, one with a story of overcome obstacles and inevitable success? Add to the mix a self-deprecating, green-eyed hottie with a six-pack, cascading chestnut hair and refreshing sexual candor.

The media loves Lolo Jones. And with her work ethic, talent, good looks and smarts, this is rightfully so.

But for some journalists and bloggers, her personal decision to abstain from sex eclipses all the other things that make her rad, namely athletic prowess and openness about a range of topics.

Jones was the leader in the gold medal final of women’s hurdles in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, but she hit a hurdle and finished seventh in the race.

That unforeseen occurrence will likely serve as motivation as she works toward the Olympics in London.

The track and field runner’s likability stems not only from people cheering her on in hopes of a UK win, but also because of her willingness to share different aspects of her life.

She acknowledged childhood trials and said that she could have been a “professional shoplifter”, not because she wanted the latest duds and coordinating accessories, but because she wanted to help feed her family.

That candidness spilled over into her personal life as she took to Twitter about her life as a virgin. She has said that the decision was difficult and, essentially, that it complicates and/or obstructs her dating life.

Jones decided that she would not have sex until marriage and said that she wants the experience to be a gift for her husband.

The choice is commendable, yet universal fixation with her decision to wait can underscore a climate of crotch-watching judgment of women who do not, have not, might not, or were robbed of their opportunity.

The conversation is appropriate in this instance because Jones opened up the lines of dialogue, but there is a fine line between celebrating people who live up to normative goals and making things awkward and judgmental for those who differ.

This includes everything from household composition to economic expectation and worship habits.

Family and relationship dynamics are disproportionately attributed to women, their sexualities and their inherently linked worthiness. Oftentimes women carry babies to term and burdens of patriarchy and sexism for life.

Even so, we know about Jones’ virginity in the same culture that also publicized Tim Tebow’s. One time for journalistic balance.

Be clear: It is not about taking anything from Tebow or Jones for allowing their convictions to mitigate against their carnality. It takes strength and comfort in one’s individuality to do so.

But, it is also cool when people who descend from substance abusers avoid vices, when dropouts birth college graduates, when abuse victims peace out, and when people deviate from a predetermined route that could be easier to trek. Defying negative statistics is made of win.

Yes, there is a case for rarity.

Legitimate virginity (not newfangled this-not-that or s/he-was-actually-a-rough-draft stuff) is an increasingly abandoned choice in a society of notable sexual risk and/or reward—teen pregnancy, general pregnancy, STDs, connections, recreation, enjoyment.

Jones should be championed for being different and because of her capacity to become a  model of perseverance and hard work. (She worked at Home Depot and as a hostess while studying at LSU.)

Critical thinkers have to make sure that celebrating one does not slight the other. Honest questions should be asked.

Would people take as keen an interest in her sexuality if she did not fit beauty ideals? What if she were of mixed gender, not race? How high will the pedestal created for her other aspects of life be now? Will people remember that her life is hers, regardless of her ascension to public figure status?

People are complex. Societies are complex. With diversity and enough intelligence to appreciate variety, we should celebrate respect, honesty, autonomy and selectivity in healthful sexual practices.

We should be careful not to allow women’s bodies, and preconceived notions about how they look and how they’re used, to trump conversations of a more universal and inclusive nature, aka stuff that is actually other people’s business.

We should unpack biases whenever they involve others’ liberties to be whom and how they are—without harming others.

Regardless of notches on one’s belt or the absence thereof, in matters as sacred as one’s body, people are not entitled to more than they are offered.

Sexuality, as with many aspects of humanity, does not exist only in extremes with alienated virgin on one end and walking grab bag on the other.

Beauty ideals, Color, Freedom, Prejudice

Vaginal bleaching? Why, world?

I’m bronze, and I have a vagina. If I lived in India, I might be taught to bleach it.

Indian women face advertisements suggesting that they, in much of their brown-skinned beauty and glory, do just that to be more attractive and supposedly cleaner.

Most of us know the associations made between lightness and darkness with the former representing worthiness, cleanliness, and godliness. Maybe we will discuss white Jesus in another post.

Many communities of color deal with internalized racism and colorism’s residue. An African American friend told me that her cousin bought skin lightening cream, and although the (risky) process took months, she was able to bring her cocoa complexion to a more café au lait locale.

I dated an East Asian guy who told me I was beautiful, but admitted that he wished his honey complexion was “a wee bit lighter.”

It is amazing that as the globe browns the media employs multiculturalism, multiracialism and multiple hues in advertisement. But, it is also apparent that with progress made regarding inclusivity, whiteness is still property in the world.

Apparently reverence for recessive traits including light hair, eyes, limbs and faces is not stifling enough. The intimate bleaching market is now making headlines.

I learned about Clean And Dry Intimate Wash late last week on Jezebel. If you want your skin to crawl, read this: http://jezebel.com/5900928/your-vagina-isnt-just-too-big-too-floppy-and-too-hairyits-also-too-brown?tag=vaginas

One could use the euphemistically termed language of executives pushing these products or call this foolishness out for what it is:  an oppressive and inflammatory attack on women, and especially women of color.

Bollywood films put undue pressure on Indian women to conform to a Eurocentric aesthetic. Many of the women selected for roles in these films are not light skinned Indians. They are white British actresses who could not find work in their hometowns, and benefit from the skewed perceptions of some Indian audiences.

Telenovelas are not known to cast Afro-Latinas and darker skinned indigenous Latinas as objects of affection.

Criticisms of rap music videos have been similar. Although the video model industry is readily deemed déclassé after popular video models admitted that their jobs were oftentimes the result of their looks and for-hire sexual proclivities, in the early 2000s the video girl was the standard of beauty for many black women.

With the intimate bleaching market being relatively new, one can only imagine the adverse effects supporters of these products might experience.

The colonized mind that could give one the ok to strive for a more Aryan vagina needs affirmation and validation. What the user might get is a lighter genital region from products that contain sodium hydroxide, which is used in septic tank cleansers and drain declogging. Nothing like treating private areas like a sewage treatment system.

As if there isn’t enough shame perpetuated in communities seeking to control the autonomy and self-actualization of women, women and girls are socialized to believe that how they were born is not good enough for their partners, who undoubtedly are a reflection of their worthiness as individuals.

Maybe if your lady bits aren’t brown, your man will stick around.