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.

Putting the BIG in bigotry

A routine sufferer of insomnia and social media addiction, I perused my laptop and phone before stumbling across several online references to an op-ed from Louisiana Tech University’s newspaper, The Tech Talk.

Allow me to first say that I am unopposed to this publication. I do not harbor ill will toward Lousiana Tech as an institution or the multifaceted demographic it serves.

But, as a Grambling State University trained journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite, the city and university newspaper, my spirit was profoundly disturbed by the piece “Putting the Hood in Hoodie”, written by Tech’s editor-in-chief, Rebecca Spence.

In the piece, Spence aligned Trayvon Martin’s choice of attire on a rainy Florida night with ownership of his untimely demise at the hands of self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman.

Spence made no mention of supremacy, persistent stereotypes or white privilege, a structure that survives on the oppression of the other, in this case, the black body occupied by Martin.

How else could a slim teenager, returning from a cornerstore be blamed for being observed, called a “f*cking coon” in a police call, shot and killed? What’s in a hooded sweatshirt?

A brown face.

She failed to acknowledge that anyone is entitled to shield him or herself from precipitation and walk freely, however the individual chooses to be dressed, and experience a safe trip.

Instead of addressing the shoot-first nature of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, a victim blaming and particularly troubling narrative that was too reminiscent of journalist Geraldo Rivera’s recent comments, was the premise of her article.

Rivera has since expressed remorse after his son told him that he went viral for the wrong reasons.

“Graffiti artists, rappers like 50 Cent, actors from the hood in movies and various gas station robbery videos have proven that hoodies are often associated with people who are up to no good,” Spence wrote.

Blondes are also presented as licentious and dim-witted. Should we assume that every flaxen haired maiden lacks cognition and plays hopscotch from bed to bed?

Should we assume that everyone in overalls who has a Southern drawl and sunburn is underexposed and incestuous? Do they live in trailers?

Southerners are familiar with race and subjugation in blatant ways that our counterparts from other regions often do not know.

As such, I was not surprised by the editorial decision to manipulate facts of this case and make the deceased victim the aggressor.

I was called the n-word by a white girl in the South. A white woman told her significant other to watch her purse when I was in a department store in the South. I have been pulled over for driving a big-body, old Cadillac in the South by white officers whose voices ratcheted up several octaves upon discovering that the brotha they hoped to pull over was, in fact, a sista.

While northern Louisiana, home to Louisiana Tech University and my alma mater, attracts minds from all over the world and different points on the ideological spectrum, the area is not noted as the apex of culture or a bastion of enlightenment.

As a result, Spence’s comments are troublesome, inflammatory and naive. But, again, hardly surprising.

As a journalist one must acknowledge not only the premise of an article, the very notion it supports, but also its headline, accompanying photos, and factual basis, or in this case lack thereof, in addition to the author’s voice.

Using the word “hood” as a pejorative term for marginalized communities and people is indicative of a lack of cultural competence and sensitivity.

This article is also erroneous. Trayvon Martin was unarmed, underage, 100-pounds slimmer–THE VICTIM. He was approached by Zimmerman, who ultimately shot and killed him.

Zimmerman vacated his vehicle to approach Martin, a pedestrian, after a law enforcement official asked Zimmerman not to do so.

Martin deserved to live regardless of what he wore, and the fact that he was murdered cannot be negated by recent allegations of marijuana possession or suspension from school.

To draw such conclusions is in poor taste.

Spence presented an alternate ending for the slain teen.

“If Martin was not wearing a hoodie with the hood on, his life could have been spared. Hoodies with the hood on have a bad connotation, like it or not.”

If writers, who shape much of society’s dialogue and countless archetypes, do not widen their lenses, they will remain myopic, like it or not.

Note: This post was shared several hundred times on Twitter & Facebook, and garnered thousands of views. When I changed my url to iamfaithspeaks.com the likes/shares were lost in translation. WordPress = hater. Also, after this piece went indie-viral, Louisiana Tech pulled the editorial from its website.

Ego Trips, epiphanies and intellectualism with Nikki Giovanni

When public figures present their humanity to crowds it is that much easier to understand why people love them. This could not have been more apparent than when Nikki Giovanni made an appearance in my hometown, Jacksonville, Fla., last night.

It was an honor not only to see her encourage and empower a mostly Black audience at Edward Waters College, but it was also humbling to see that a woman, whose brand withstands the test of time, share triumphs, pain and progress with audiences.

She delivered a constructively critical presentation and performed spoken word.

After signing every autograph requested of her, she graciously engaged the media and talked everything from peace to hairpieces in a  press conference at the college. She told the media that she had nothing else planned that night and would answer every question asked.

She re-emphasized the need for urban youth to have technology, namely computers or iPADS. She shamed anti-immigration legislation.

When asked about natural hair, Giovanni did not espouse self-hatred themes about women who embrace chemical alterations.

In fact, she said she thought it was quite clever when young women had green hairpieces.

“One plays with oneself,” she said. She shared that when overcoming cancer she colored her hair blonde to show her mother that she would be ok. Also, as a woman with tawny skin, her hair color gave what she described as an instant tan.

Giovanni kept it real. She kept it human.

The professorial poet reminded listeners of the need for emotionalism in light of technological advances. She said that she does not ask her students at Virginia Tech year specific questions that could be answered with their gadgets.

Instead, she said that she asks questions like “What role did personal ambition play in the Renaissance?”

Many told her that they had never encountered emotional responses to academic material.

I could go on and on about the myriad perspectives that she shared and causes she championed… However, I hope that you’ll check out my story for HBCU Digest on her visit.

** Sneakpeak**  She and I talked hip-hop and misogyny.

 http://www.hbcudigest.com/34244/

 

Learning from the Penn State allegations

Joe Paterno’s recent death caused many to wonder if he succumbed to lung cancer or stress stemming from the larger than life Penn State fall from grace.

When multiple sexual abuse allegations surfaced, many Eddie Robinson fans believed that Paterno’s record was invalidated by his inaction.

Regardless of where people stand on interrelated issues of  records, sports lore, abuse, victimization, brand building and power, sensitivity is important.

Communities want to keep their legacies. And while that is understandable, if the Penn State  debacle does not serve as a lesson, it was for nought.

Peace to all involved. Protect children. Check out my post on HBCU Digest on the subject.

http://www.hbcudigest.com/joe-paterno-and-eddie-robinson-reflections-on-character-and-action/

P.S. Why did Sandusky, the man charged, issue a statement? Errr. Does. Not. Compute.

State of the Union reinforces education

President Obama ministered to my spirit in last night’s State of the Union address when he said, “Higher education cannot be a luxury.”

Despite education’s liberating properties, it struggles to endure.

It gets gutted in budgets. In the face of unsettling economic times, it is undermined.

In an age of overly relying on standardized tests and normative assessments, it is confined to a box that many would rather skip altogether in pursuit of scant odds at becoming a star.

When knee-high to a grasshopper, many of us were taught that knowledge is power.

While pedagogical progress is hardly limited to classrooms, desks, chalkboards and Smart Boards, “book smarts” frequently contribute to the lives of people across the globe.

Education orders thoughts, increases knowledge, and illuminates cultural similarities and dissimilarities. But, it also swags out pockets, opportunities and lifestyles—when done properly.

Recent Census Bureau data reports that a master’s degree renders $1.3 million more during a lifetime than a high school diploma. A bachelor’s degree tends to add nearly $1 million more in lifetime earnings for an individual.

Certainly people nab high paying jobs without additional degrees. Some build fruitful lives for themselves and their families.

But, the president would not have ascended to his position of power without the world-class education that he received. Numerous others have similar stories.

As a recent graduate in a funky economy I am aware of pessimistic reports, and unfavorable odds; however, I come from long lines of educated people on both sides of my family.

Plus, we grind. Challenging work is often more exhilarating than exhausting.

It will be interesting to see how the political season inspires more conversations about the validity of degrees and the need for knowing.

I am ready to take notes.