November 07, 2012

Congratulations (again), Mr. President

So many Americans are honored and proud to have reelected our beloved President, Barack Obama, for a second term.  After the past year of campaign duplicity and perfidy, so many of us feel vindicated and sane again.

Those of us who are African Americans feel something else too.  It is difficult to put into words (or few words anyway).  I have included a piece that I wrote in 2008 when we elected President Obama to his first term as the 44th President of the United States.  And now that he has been reelected, these feelings have only intensified. 

I remember where I was when the first African American became president.  Sitting in the middle of my bed around midnight on November 4, 2008, I watched, transfixed and silent as the final numbers came in, then brightly and boldly the words flashed PRESIDENT ELECT OBAMA.  As I sat there, unable to move, unable to speak, time seemed to slow and rewind and fast forward.  I started to recall my childhood, growing up as a little Black girl in America.
I was one of those peculiar, heady children who relished history as far back as I could remember.  I would read voraciously great American narratives like Little Women, The Catcher in the Rye, and Moby Dick.  As many children do, I would insert myself into the text, trying to imagine where and who I would have been during that historical period.  History, along with other great American novels like To Kill a Mockingbird, Native Son, and Invisible Man, told me exactly where I would have been.  The Constitution bound my people to a history that negated their humanity, so that they were either invisible in the literary imagination or they were confined to proscribed identities of servitude and inferiority.  If I had been one of the “little women” in Louisa May Alcott’s novel, I would have been a servant at best, nameless and faceless.  Undoubtedly, there would have been no place for a little black girl in J.D. Salinger’s 1951 Catcher in the Rye, as the 1950’s in America were characterized by the height of the turbulent Jim Crow segregation era.  And, although there were no women in Melville’s Moby Dick, history tells me that I would have been a slave in 1851 at the time of its drafting. 
As I sat there watching the words on the screen, PRESIDENT ELECT BARACK OBAMA, and my husband and I received a flood of phone calls from cheering family members and friends, I understood that I was not only witnessing a watershed event, I was apart of one.  No longer the little black girl, but now a black woman with her own black children, I was a part of history.  Now, my children would be able to see themselves in a way that I couldn’t.  They can insert themselves into every narrative with dignity.   Black parents, like all parents, have encouraged their children to take advantage of the American dream, telling them that they can do and be anything they want.  However, when a little black child says he wants to be president one day, black parents often think, if they don’t speak it, that their child has reached too high.  To this aspiration, the parent pats their son or daughter on the head and smiles that smile that says, “I don’t think America will ever be ready for a black president.” However, in this moment, my children and all black children were no longer bound by the chains of their ancestors.  The chains that had been loosened by the Emancipation Proclamation, and unlocked by the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Amendments, had gracefully and quietly slipped off.  My children would finally have full access to America’s promises – promises guaranteed by the Constitution and its Amendments but that have been, nevertheless, institutionally and systematically denied to African Americans – denied until this moment.
Now I watched as the elegant Senator from Illinois, now President Elect Barack Obama, stepped to the podium and began to speak.  As he invoked Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, my tears uncontrollably welled up and overflowed.  I had expected to cheer and jump around like some of my family members were doing.  Instead, I cried.  Yes, I cried for my ancestors who came to America on slave ships.  I cried for those ancestors still in bondage two-hundred years later who secretly taught each other to read by candlelight with the threat of sure death looming if they were ever caught.  I cried for African Americans who were lynched by the thousands throughout the early twentieth century.  I cried for African Americans who endured beatings, water hoses, and the wrath of white racism during the Civil Rights movement.  I cried because I was witnessing the dream and the hope of the slave taking his rightful place as the 44th president of the United States of America, a man with an African father and a white mother, husband to a black woman, and father to two black children.  A black man had galvanized a polarized and cynical country, transcended white racism, and inspired whites, Hispanics, Asians, and Blacks to believe that “Yes…We Can” move America into a new era, an era in which American meritocracy is possible for all Americans.  Those on the margins could now move to the center. 
As the tears continued to flow, now uncontrollably, I thought of the impact and import of this historical moment to the rest of the world.  African Americans would not be the only people whose lives would be transformed.  President Barack Obama will transform the world, not simply because he is a black man and the embodiment of the American story, rather because he has the ability to unite people and inspire them to change.  Already, Barack Obama has done what Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights movement couldn’t.  With his overwhelming presidential victory, popular as well as electoral, white Americans have joyously declared that they want to be led by a black man.  Barack Obama is the new face of America, representing diversity, intellectualism, and conciliation.  He represents the democracy and freedom that America has always promised to its citizens and marketed to the rest of the world.  And, I can say, “I remember where I was” because the unthinkable and unspeakable has happened in my lifetime.  I can now say, with conviction, “I Too Sing America”. 
I remember where I was in 2012 when Barack Obama was reelected to a second term as the President of the United States.  But this time, I cheered and laughed and sang and danced and cheered and laughed again.  America has spoken! 

September 09, 2012

Teaching Tip #3

Most writing teachers are familiar with the Process Approach to Writing.  This particular pedagogy holds that the act of writing (all writing) is a creative "process."  Gone is the expectation that an instructor assigns a writing assignment one day and two weeks later receives a group of perfect essays without any intervention or collaboration from the discourse community of fellow classmates, Writing Center staff, and instructor.  In short, the idea is that the writing classroom is one in which students are perfecting a craft and "learning to write."  

As sound as this pedagogy may be, many instructors toss it aside for the old "one shot" model of writing and teaching writing.  Even though all writing is predicated on some type of process or set of processes, sometimes we still lead our students to believe that they (novice writers) should engage in this process alone.  Furthermore, they should just close their eyes, hope for the best, and submit their perfect essays by the due date.

Well, we know how this story usually ends.  If we don't truly teach The Process Approach, the vast majority of the grades on the first essay fall in the dreaded "C-" or "D" range.  We then bury our heads in the sand and hope that the next essays are better.

So why do writing instructors talk about the Process Approach but don't teach the Process Approach?  As with everything, we believe that we are cutting corners and saving time.  There are, however, hidden benefits to using the Process Approach that may appear on the surface to add extra work to our already over extended loads.  But in the end, the benefits far out way any presumed extra work.

Benefit #1 On the surface, it may seem as if you are reading/grading more, but you're actually grading the same essay multiple times.  The first draft gets the thorough close reading.  While any subsequent drafts of the same essay would include that first draft, all of its critiques and suggested improvements.  So by the time you read the final draft of this essay, you're simply scanning for the necessary changes.  You can now read this essay in a continuous stream focusing on content rather than form.

Benefit #2 Make the weight of the first draft low enough so that the novice writer isn't terribly penalized for a "crappy first draft."  But make the weight high enough so that the lazy student who neglects to submit a draft will have his/her laziness penalized sufficiently.

Benefit #3 Students actually learn to write.  Imagine that?  The Process Approach generally achieves its end.  If students cooperate, and the instructor scaffolds the writing assignments in the course effectively, students will become better writers by the end of the course than they were at the beginning.

And isn't that why we teach writing in the first place?

August 28, 2012

Teaching Tip #2

Never teach the first week of the semester.  Yes, seriously.  It's really only two or three 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hour sessions.

Only minutes after calling the roll and engaging in the obligatory "ice-breaker," many instructors rush to the board providing frenzied notes on "The Writing Process" or sweating through awkward silences surrounding the "What is Literature?" question.  This is a really bad idea.

In an any college course, in which students and instructors alike plan to spend an inordinate amount of time together, there are more important things to cover the first week.  The writing process, literature, and rhetoric won't mean anything at all if students never do the reading, never submit assignments on time, or seldom show up to class.  Besides, after the first week, you have 15 more to teach until you're blue in the face.

So what should you do the first week if you're not going to teach?

Day 1/2
First, don't be afraid to talk about yourself.  Here's the time to dust off that CV and expound upon the glory that is you.  Seriously, your students actually want to know that stuff.  They want to know that the person in charge of teaching them Twentieth-Century American Lit. or Composition and Rhetoric is overly qualified to do so.  This is all about establishing your own ethos.

Next, read the entire syllabus (as students read along with you).  This may sound terribly dull and ridiculous. However, this is a crucial component to a successful semester.  As we all know, we spend days (sometimes weeks) laboring over our course syllabi only to never have it read.  Or to constantly respond to every student inquiry with, "It's in the syllabus."  Let's face it.  The syllabus is a rhetorical, contractual document between instructor and student.  And as the instructor of record, you must ensure that everyone is clear about your expectations for the course.  So, yes, read it.  Skip to the important parts, the "pink elephants" in the room -- the Attendance Policy, the Late and/or Make-up work policy, the course schedule, and any other policies and procedures that are deal breakers for you.  Students will appreciate this in the end.  Often times, we hide behind our syllabi instead of standing in front them.

Day 2/3
Get to know your students in a real purposeful way.  Outside of the 15 minute ice-breaker, create an exercise that allows you to find out their motivations, their expectations for the course, and their career and professional aspirations.  This is not a "pop psychology" moment.  This is a time to take quick notes about each student so that you can begin constructing course readings, discussions, and assignments predicated on the interests and motivations of the students in your classroom.

If you have time left over, troubleshoot any of the technologies that the students will use in the course.  

And finally, be ready to teach week two.

August 26, 2012

Teaching Tip #1

With fall semester well underway, many of us are serving hundreds of students more than we did last fall or the fall before that. With State and Federal education budget cuts, the numbers may only increase.  As a result, we find ourselves with very little time to grade essays, create strategic yet quality assignments, and complete all of the administrative tasks that were once relegated to student interns and administrative staff.  There are ways, however, to work "smarter not harder."

Teaching Tip #1:

If you grade it, they will do it.  Gone are the days when students read articles for enrichment or turn in paperwork simply because you ask them to do so.  Our students are now a part of a "dollars and cents" society that always asks, "what's in it for me?" There are simple ways to show our students what's in it for them.  I have found that students will perform for points and percentages, no matter how infinitesimal.  As instructors, we can use this quality to our advantage.  Include administrative paperwork, reading quizzes, even assignment instructions into some all-encompassing category like "Class Participation" or "To-Do Lists." You may only give them 5 percentage points for returning their syllabus signature page or consulting some instructional website.  However, 99% of your students will submit assignments they otherwise would not have simply because they can see the value added for themselves.

I spent the past couple of years resisting this mindset that all of our students seem to have, but recently, I decided to conform to their will.  It's a quid pro quo relationship.  My students get their "points," and I get them to read outside texts and submit paperwork on time.  And maybe in the meantime, they'll learn something from their outside reading, or at the very least, they'll learn to honor deadlines.

Stay tuned for Teaching Tip #2...

August 09, 2012

Oops! Your Africa is Showing

Aside from the unprecedented athletic achievement of Black athletes during this particular Olympiad, there has been one other recurring theme -- a theme that is the source of much water cooler and blogosphere conversation.  Black folks have been sadly critical of black athletes during this 2012 Olympics.  The criticism is not predicated on any lack of athletic vigor or failure on the part of black athletes.  Rather, Black folks have been particularly critical of blackness itself.


Winning the Gold in the overall competition, the charming and talented Gabby Douglas has become a lightening bolt trailblazer for Black women in Gymnastics. Instead of Black women reveling in this accomplishment, they were tweeting and posting their disapproval of Gabby's hair.  As they are wont to do, the mainstream media exploited this peculiarity for all it was worth.  The white mainstream had no cultural context for this kind of absurd discourse.  As a result, many Black women and social critics were forced to analyze the issue (as I do so here).  

Apparently, Gabby has not done a sufficient job of "hiding" her "napps."  Her Afro-textured hair has not been effectively stifled, camouflaged, tied down, gelled up, and chemically beaten into submission.  Because the adorable little Gabby is unambiguously Black (dark skin/African features), complete with Afro-textured hair, she has become an undesirable mirror, a nagging reminder of BLACKNESS to the self-loathing Black women out there.  Gabby reminds them that she is a descendant of Africans, and more importantly, she reminds them that all Black women are descendants of Africans.  Despite their transgenerational identity crises, despite the absurd hair weaves, the colored contact lenses, and all other manner of subterfuge, our Africa is showing.

Sadly, these women have no idea that they are caught up in a complex web of gender and racial paradigms of beauty that they have all internalized.  All women have bought into the patriarchal notion that a woman's worth is found in her aesthetics.  In other words, the sum total of a woman's value is her physical beauty.  And since race often times trumps gender, Black women have been socialized to value white standards of beauty.  This is why there is so much capital in hair weaves and chemical hair straighteners.  And, this is why Black women have been projecting their own self-loathing onto Gabby Douglas' hair.  Sad, but true.

Lost in all of their identity crises chatter is Gabby Douglas' phenomenal accomplishment.  Lost are the historical footprints that Gabby has left for Black women and Black girls all over the world.


Serena Williams' awesomeness has been overshadowed by the absurd criticisms of her victory dance after the slaughter match in which she won the Gold medal for the US.  All Black folks know that the "funny little dance" Serena was doing is called the "crip walk."  Those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s (primarily in the hoods of Los Angeles) or in any urban metropolis in America are well acquainted with crip walkin' at the skating ring, at basement house parties, or any where the mood struck.  However, Black folks (and now others) have been using the dance to hurl accusations of gangsterdom or gangsterism at Serena Williams.  This would be laughable if it weren't so sad.

This accusation is yet another example of Black self-loathing.  Serena's crip walk was too non-mainstream, too counter culture, too hood, too BLACK.  First, Gabby's hair is "too nappy." And now, Serena's crip walking is embarrassing us by making us remember that she is a Black woman from Compton, CA and not a apart of some privileged elite.  The message that Black people are sending to each other and the world is that we are ashamed of our own blackness.

If we don't embrace our blackness and our inclusion in the African diaspora, how can we expect others to do so?  Remember, we show others how to treat us.

We are African American, Black, Negro, and Colored.  Our Africa is always showing.  And we should be proud of it.

July 09, 2012

How to Moisturize Kinky Curly Hair

Those of us in the "natural hair" community have heard this repeatedly:  the key to healthy, beautiful hair is "moisture." Blah blah blah.  But so many of us don't really know what that means for our individual hair.  Because every single head of curly hair is absolutely different from every other head of curly hair, many products that work for some don't work for others.

Calling all type 4a/4b/3c/3b with thick and/or course strands!  I think the following will work for you:

1.  First, co-wash your hair more often than not.  My new favorite conditioner is Tresemme Naturals (silicone free).  Occasionally, it's necessary to wash the scalp with a sulfate free shampoo, but weekly washes should be done with conditioner.

2.  Next, use a leave-in conditioner or moisturizer.  My hair craves Care Free Curl Gold.  Yes, I know what you're thinking.  Those of us who were children of the 80s associate this product with the much stigmatized Jheri Curl!  However, as the product label claims, it 
"Activates and moisturizes in one easy step! Restores curls, smooths hair and adds sheen, while the silk moisturizers soften and help prevent breakage. Leaves hair feeling silkier, looking livelier... never greasy or stiff." 
This product "activates" your natural curls and hydrates them like nothing I've ever seen.  The ingredients list is quite revealing.


Note that the first ingredient is "water."  Yes, black people, water is the best and most effective moisturizer.  The problem is that curly hair absorbs water quickly, and depending on the porosity of the hair, water may evaporate quickly.  Therefore, we need other ingredients to lock the water in. Hence, the next few ingredients.  Propylene Glycol is a humectant, which promotes moisture by absorbing water from the atmosphere.  Glycerin is also a humectant (that also comes in an organic form) that kinky curly hair loves.  Stearyl and Cetearyl Alcohol are "fatty" alcohols. "Fatty alcohols provide an emollient effect, and bind water and oil" .  Of course, the next few ingredients are the somewhat controversial silicones.  For me, daily use of silicone-containing products might prove problematic, as they coat the hair, don't wash out easily, and could lead to damage.  I have not experienced this, however, because I use silicone-containing products once per week at best.

3.  Finally, for styling twists, braids, cornrows, and later twist-outs and braid-outs, a buttery oil is imperative.  My butter of choice is Shea Moisture's Curl Enhancing Smoothie. I looooove this stuff!  Again, let's examine the ingredients.

Deionized Water , Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) , Cocos Nucifera Oil (Coconut) , Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil , Persea Gratissima Oil (Avocado) , Vegetable Glycerin , Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract , Silk Protein , Ammonium Salt , Melia Azadirachta Seed Oil (Neem) , Daucus Carota Sativa Seed Oil (Carrot) , Sorbitol Esters , Panthenol (Pro-Vitamin B-5) , Caprylyl Glycol , Essential Oil Blend , Lonicera Caprifolium Flower and Lonicera Japonica Flower Extract (Honeysuckle and Japanese Honeysuckle), Tocopherol (Vitamin E)

There's that water again.  Next is Shea Butter.  This butter is the key to the magic of this product.  Shea butter stretches and smooths kinky curly hair.  Alone, however, it tends to be stiff and not malleable.  But with these other wonderful natural oils in the ingredients list, shea butter is perfect!

So the moisture mystery is solved.  A combination of these products, in the order I mentioned above, not only moisturizes my coarse hair, but keeps my hair soft and billowy for 7 days.  If you're one of those coarse haired naturals who has always believed your hair was just permanently "hard," try these products.  You'll be pleasantly surprised.

May 30, 2012

For the Love of Students

I had a wonderful opportunity to present at the NISOD International Conference on Teaching and Leadership.  In short, the focus of our research is to contextualize Arts and Sciences courses at technical colleges, so that students will value those courses and see them as a crucial component of their technical programs.  Of course, we have devised, and continue to devise, strategies and methods to foster that contextualization, so that students will ultimately achieve success, and quite frankly, so that instructors can teach along the path of least resistance.

The focus of this four-day conference was the role of community colleges in higher education.  There were some wonderful gems throughout the four days.  There was Eduardo Padrón, President of Miami Dade College, who has received countless national and international awards for his institution's results in the areas of student success, retention, and graduation.  Dr. Padrón's open and inclusive approach has helped to fulfill the dreams of hundreds of thousands of students in an urban and immigrant community that would otherwise have no access to higher education.

There was also the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching represented by Susan Fong, Karon Klipple, and Jan Muhich.  Their research focused on non-cognitive paths to student success.  They found that, often times, barriers to student success in English and Math are rooted in faulty mindset.  It's an old concept with a new approach.  "If we believe it, we can achieve it."  Change the mindset – change the behavior. 

The most memorable keynote speaker was Dr. John Roueche of the University of Texas at Austin and the Sid W. Richardson Regents Chair in Community College Leadership.  His talk was titled, "Student Success is Everyone's Job."  From the moment a student steps onto a college campus, moves through the admissions and registration process until the student enters our classrooms, that student's success is based upon each of those experiences. Ultimately, he said, "You have to love your students more than you love your discipline."  This is what it boils down to.  This resonated particularly, because "loving" students is at the core of any good research on humanistic approaches or non-cognitive research or paths to student success.  Many of us teach because we want our students to feel that same sense of pride, accomplishment, and empowerment that education (no matter the discipline) has offered to us.  And we keep coming back, semester after semester, for more punishment because we live for that spark, that hunger, that drive we see in our students when they finally "get it." Those of us who teach at community colleges and technical colleges eventually become entangled in the web of our students' lives.  We become invested in their success.  We become a part of their support systems.  And if we're lucky, we become a part of their story.  And, yes, I guess that's love.

May 13, 2012

Open Letter To My Mom

Dear Mom,

When I was growing up, I thought you were the most beautiful woman in the world.  With your beautiful figure and big bouncy hair, I really thought you looked like a movie star.  You out shined all of the other mommies, hands down.  

Then I started to grow up, and a funny thing happened.  I did not hang on your every word any longer.  You said, "No."  I said, "Yes."  You said, "Stop."  I said, "Go."  Those years between training bras and pantyhose were a bit rocky for you and me.  

Then one day, many years after training bras and pantyhose, I became a Mom.  And your "No's" and "Stops" all started to make sense.  More than just understanding your perspective, I knew who you were for the first time.  I began to admire your grace under pressure.  All of those years with your flawless make-up and hair, you made motherhood look so easy.  But motherhood is not easy.  In fact, it's the hardest job I've ever done.

And now, that I feel like the little old woman who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn't know what to do -- now, Mom, you are my friend.  You have been an incredibly hard act to follow.  I have attempted to be the kind of mom to my children that you were to me.  And I am certain that I have missed the mark.  But that's ok.  Where I falter, you come right in and save the day, because you're also the "best grammy ever."  

I am so proud of you as a mother, as a professional, as a woman, and as a friend.

I love you

Happy Mother's Day

April 17, 2012

Why Ann Romney Hasn't Worked a Day in her Life

This week, democratic pundit and strategist, Hilary Rosen, accused Ann Romney, the wife of the Republican nominee-apparent, of "having never worked a day in her life."  Rosen's comments sparked quite a bit of debate and controversy from Mrs. Romney, and both women on the right and left.  Ann Romney responded predictably.  She perceived Rosen's comments as an attack on motherhood itself and an implication that mothers who remain in the home to raise children are not doing "real," credible work.

Rosen eventually backed out of her original claim and apologized for her remarks.  I suppose Rosen was instructed to do this by the Obama camp.  If she had been left to respond without apprehension, I believe she would have gotten to the core of her argument.

Wealthy women of means who choose to stay at home and raise their children, never do so alone.  Women of average means who make the decision to remain at home and raise their children, usually do so with great logistical and financial difficulty.  As a mother who has both remained at home and returned to the workforce while raising children, I am very well acquainted with the extreme difficulty of both decisions.  At-home mothers of average means single-handedly become maid, cook, nanny, chaffeur, lover, and confidante.  The at-home mom must manage several feeding schedules, multiple homework assignments from varying grade levels, several sports agendas, different meal plans for all of the allergies in the house, a cleaning and laundry schedule, all while remaining positive, slender, and sexually available for her well-meaning yet clueless husband.  

Does anyone honestly believe that a-day-in-the-life of Ann Romney ever resembled any of the chaos above.  Ann Romney is a privileged mother, and privileged mothers are privileged because they don't have to bother with the drudge and nastiness of every day life.  Women like Ann Romney may have one set of domestic workers to clean their huge estates and another set to manage and plan the meals for their families.  Often times, wealthy mothers employ nannies to do most of the work that we call motherhood.

So to assert that Ann Romney never worked a day in her life should be always already understood.

April 16, 2012

Justice for All

Last week, after 45 days of public and private outrage, protest marches, and over a million signatures in online petitions calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, Zimmerman was finally arrested and charged with the second degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  Zimmmerman will appear for his formal arraignment on May 29, 2012.

Hours after hearing that his son's murderer had finally been arrested, Tracy Martin announced
"We got a long way to go, and we have faith," he said. "From the first time we marched, I looked to the sky and I told myself, 'When I walk, I will walk by faith.' We will continue to hold hands on this journey -- white, black, Hispanic -- and continue to march and march until the right thing is done."
In my previous post, I implored Americans not to allow this to happen, not to allow Zimmerman to murder someone's child with impunity.  I am relieved and pleasantly surprised that Americans all over the country - black, white, Hispanic, Asian, old, and young - stood up and let their voices be heard.  45 days after Trayvon Martin was murdered because he "looked suspicious," we are watching the American justice system finally begin to work.

And once Zimmerman is sentenced for the murder of Trayvon Martin, we can begin to chip away at the infamous and insidious "Stand-Your-Ground" Law that empowered Zimmerman to become judge and jury in the first place.

March 22, 2012

We are ALL Trayvon Martin

Over the past week, the Trayvon Martin murder has mined the depths of black fear and unearthed an age-old human rights issue.  I would argue, though, that this tragedy strikes at the core of America's most polarizing and most urgent issue.  As the phrase has been coined this week, "We are all Trayvon Martin."

We are all Trayvon Martin because those of us who are parents of black male children have often receded into those dark thoughts of what could happen to our precious children when they are out in the world without our protection.  Every black parent in America has had "the Talk" with their sons.  For those of you who don't know, "the talk" goes like this:

 "The world" does not love you, my son.  In fact, the world perceives you, your black body, your corporeal self as just that - a body - a body without a soul, without history, without beauty, talent, personality, integrity, intelligence, family, love, and a bright future.  The world perceives you as a menace, a monster, a "blind accident of evolution," a criminal, a fiend, and a terroristic threat that must be exterminated on sight.  Your body, my son, is a representation of white fear and rage.  

And as we have "the Talk" with our beautiful boys, they go through the stages of grief:  anger, denial, bargaining, and acceptance.  When we see the shock on our son's faces and the blissful innocence of childhood fade from their eyes, we fight back the tears - tears that are born from the realization that we must release our children into a world of rage that we did not create and we have not been able to change.  Unlike other parents, we are forced to train our children to be aware that they are perceived as dangerous threats and to act accordingly.  This is the coming-of-age moment for our black sons.

So when I heard about Trayvon Martin, a beautiful boy, who reminds me of my own sons, nephews, and cousins, I instantly and uncontrollably shed tears.  He could have been my son, I thought.  He is my son.  He is all of our sons.  We are all Trayvon Martin.

When George Zimmerman went hunting that night like a predator in search of black male prey, he found someone's beautiful son, someone's hopes, someone's dreams, and someone's joy.  And, with one brutal, fell swoop, George Zimmerman snuffed out a mother's child, a father's legacy, and a family's hope.  Zimmerman (even if he isn't white) was motivated by the persistent white rage and white racism that has scarred and plagued America since its inception.

And if that wasn't tragic and heart-wrenching enough, Zimmerman has been allowed, by a racist local judicial system, to act with impunity, to act with permission and local sanction.

This cannot happen.  This is not a black problem.  This is an American problem.  This is a human problem.  So, if you are not a racist, and you do not believe that all black men are simply criminals and monsters waiting to attack the "good white people" of America, you should be just as outraged, just as heart-broken, just as sad, just as afraid to live in a country that would not only allow this to happen, but encourages it to happen daily in its vitriolic, xenophobic, racist rhetoric.

"Get up!"  "Stand up!"

March 11, 2012

Heed the Call

If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is inside you, what is inside you will destroy you.

I have often times quoted Julia Alvarez's "Ten of My Writing Commandments" from her collections of essays, Something to Declare.  I find myself in this place more often than not.  

I manage to do everything except bring forth what is inside me.  I have all of the usual distractions:  kids, husband, family, work, miscellaneous responsibilities, etc. etc.  "It" keeps returning, though.  "It" is a force well beyond rational understanding.  "It" is incomprehensible, inexplicable, yet persistent.  "It" is the call to write, to testify, to tell "it."  The stories will not be stifled or silenced for very long.  The voices rise up inside of the writer like the voices of so many small children demanding attention, demanding nurturing, demanding to be heard.

All of you who hear the voices, heed the call...

February 25, 2012

I Am Because They Were

Toni Morrison
bell hooks
Audre Lorde
Beverly Guy Sheftall
Maya Angelou
Nikki Giovanni
Octavia Butler
Sonia Sanchez
Alice Walker
Rebecca Walker
Nella Larsen

Zora Neale Hurston
Anna J. Cooper
Francis Ellen Watkins Harper
Pauline Hopkins
Sojourner Truth

February 16, 2012

Are You Making Natural Hair Look Bad?

The natural hair revolution has unearthed a few zealots who may be sending some offensive messages to the non-natural hair population.

I was talking to one of my non-natural friends recently.  We've been friends for years, and the fact that I have natural hair is not at the center of our conversations nor is it an integral part of our relationship.  She has a cadre of natural friends, however, who are really making her loathe the phrase "natural hair."  She told me that these particular women feel that they must represent natural hair in its raw, unadulterated state.  In other words, they wake up and however their hair looks, that's their look for the day.

Not only does their hair look reminiscent of poor little "Buckwheat," the very racist representation of blackness from 1930s American media, but these women are elitist about their unkempt "naturalness." They often subjugate and ridicule other black women with chemically straightened or heat straightened hair.  Apparently, these types of "Natural Nazis" are growing in numbers.

The point of any revolution should be to voice the frustrations of the people and bring about a change that the people welcome.  If we are in the midst of a natural hair revolution, these natural Nazis are not likely to recruit new naturals.  The "Buckwheat" fro is just not a good look.  The character of Buckwheat was not constructed to represent a cute lovable ideal.  He was constructed by the white mainstream media of the 1930s for the amusement of white audiences.  Buckwheat's wild, electrified hair, large white eyes, and stylized dark skin was a common racist trope of the early 20th century.  The "jigaboo," "spook", "porch monkey," "sambo" character represented the racist stereotypes that defined black folks as aesthetically ugly if not comical and feeble.

Natural hair can be, like any other hair type, beautiful.  But purposely refusing to manipulate natural hair, like any other hair type, leaves it matted, unkempt, and unappealing.  Wearing a "Buckwheat" look would not and should not encourage any non-natural to toss the chemicals.  New naturals need not wear their naturalness like armor, beating everyone else over the head with it.  Looking beautiful in their natural skin is what encourages other women to "go natural." And if we are waging a natural hair revolution, ultimately, we need new recruits.  

February 04, 2012

Too Black Too Strong

Kathleen Cleaver and Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale
Oakland, CA 1968
This is the first in a series of posts that I plan to showcase this Black History Month.  This post will not contain a long exegesis of the plight of the African.  I will not examine the African diaspora.  Instead, I just want to display an African aesthetic that moves me deep down in my core.  I hope you are moved too...

James Baldwin, Odetta Holmes, Ralph Ellison,
Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee

Malcolm X, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Angela Davis

Bob Marley
Pam Greer
Bill Cosby

Booker T. Washington
Cast of the Cosby Show 2011

Until next time...

January 22, 2012

Curls, Color, and Race

Since my locs' big chop a year ago, I have learned a few things about black folks and natural hair.  Until my "big chop anniversary," I wore a wash 'n' go variation every day (pictured below):

To my surprise, I received daily inquiries about my hair.  The first question was always, "How do you get your hair like that?"  And my response was a long run down of my co-wash conditioner and regimen, followed by my leave-in moisturizer, castor oil, and the best darn gel in the world - Eco Styler.  Much to my chagrin, instead of nods and note-taking, what ensued was almost always an "ugly" twisted face followed by, "Oh, so you just have curly hair?"  Reluctant to respond, I would eventually acquiesce and say, "Yes."  To this, I would receive a spectrum of responses - anywhere from shoulder shrugs and ambivalence to downright hostile eye-rolling.

My mother, who is natural too and big-chopped when I did, explained similar experiences.  However, some of my natural friends explained very different experiences.  The key variance was that no one ever asked my friends, "How do you get your hair like that?" When I discovered this, I started to think more critically about the discrepancy.  What was the difference between my mother, my friends, and I?  Sadly enough, the only difference was skin color.  My mother and I are dark-skinned black women, and all the natural friends in question are light-skinned black women.

The interrogation that my mother and I experienced repeatedly was the result of the two of us curly heads betraying an unspoken stereotype, a paradigm.  Apparently, black folks have constructed certain images for blacks.  Until I contradicted this socially constructed image, I never knew it existed.  It is very simple:  light-skinned people have curly hair, and dark-skinned people have kinky hair.  And, as many hair blogs attest, in the politics of black hair, curls have become the holy grail.

So when black women would stop me in the grocery store, at work, or on the street and ask, "How do you get your hair like that," they were assuming that I had "manufactured" the curls they were seeing.  I, however, assumed they wanted to know how I achieved shine and staying power.  So, when my lengthy response betrayed their assumptions, they would become incensed.  My light-skinned counterparts are never questioned about "how" their curls occur, because the expectation is that the curls "naturally" occur.  After all, light-skinned people are "supposed" to have curly hair?  Right?

My experiences over the last decade and half with natural hair are reaffirming rather than contradicting my theories about race and identity.  As much as India Arie and others proclaim proudly that "they are not their hair," there is so much evidence to the contrary.  Women's hair (regardless of race) has been a symbol of beauty, femininity, piety, reverence, patriarchy, sexuality, and the list goes on.  In our contemporary world, we cannot trivialize black women's hair and what it symbolizes.