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.

January 16, 2012

I Still Have a Dream

"That one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood...When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!
                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" 

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes all we have is our dreams, and sometimes dreams come true.  Thank God I can still dream...

January 10, 2012

What it Means to be Them

photo courtesy of blackstarproject.org
After all of the chaotic, sweaty, frenzied energy that goes into making it all happen - registration, keeping enrollment numbers up, student retention, increased graduation rates, and the adjunct-instructor- recruitment-hell, the smoke clears, and I remember why I do this.

After the first day's proselytizing, introductions, and syllabi, I remember what it means to be them - a young, vibrant, raging combination of angst, fear, hope, and possibility.  Sometimes I forget, even while I am harping on about accountability and the "Attendance Policy" on page 3, what it means to be them.

I forget what it means to have your whole life ahead of you and not know it, what it means to look forward to working an unpaid internship, what it means to be poor but not impoverished, what it means when homework is your biggest responsibility, what it means to have college loan debt in the single digits or not to have any college loan debt at all.

It's a strangely symbiotic relationship - the one between teacher and student.  They promise to read and write and think and discuss.  And I promise to give them my all each term and to do it all over again the next.  And in the end, this relationship changes us all (irrevocably) for the better.  Because, ultimately, I am them and they are me.

January 07, 2012

On Hair: Curl Enhancing Smoothie

Since I have transcended my TWA (teeny weeny afro) phase, the sky has opened, the divine light has come down, and the Hallelujah Chorus is playing.

For the past year since my BC (big chop), I had been wearing my hair in a shrunken WNG (wash 'n' go).  This was a very orchestrated choice on my part.  I do not have the kind of lifestyle which affords me the time to spend hours during the week styling my hair.  Any other style on less than 6 inches of hair requires lots of "attention."  Therefore, the WNG style below freed me up to work the 12 hour days I normally put in every week and be a mother and wife.
Wash n Go 12/2011

I am no longer a slave to the WNG!  I have graduated to the Twist-Out.  So, I had to do a complete overhaul of my weekly (if not daily) regimen.

I achieved my WNG with my former holy grail product, Eco Styler Olive Oil Gel.  However, I knew that gel was not the product I wanted to use to twist my hair.  I did not want crunchy, tacky, sticky curls.

Shea Moisture's Curl Enhancing Smoothie is my new holy grail product.  Not that I am tossing my Eco Styler Gel.  I will definitely keep it for my WNG and summer wet styles.

I achieved my Twist-Out below using the Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie.

This twist-out was done with larger twists than I describe below

How I achieve my Twist-Out:

1.  Co-wash as usual.
2.  Braid in six big braids to keep my hair stretched while styling.
3.  Apply leave-in conditioner.  I still love Carefree Curl Gold.
4.  Apply dime size amounts of castor oil.
5.  Apply Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie (a nickel to quarter size).  This size is based on a
     huge section of hair.  Remember, I had already sectioned my hair in six big braids.  So a little of this
     product goes a very long way.
6.  Finger-part off a very small (1/2 inch) section of hair and twist tightly to the ends.  Because of my
     coily curl pattern, my hair responds best to small twists.  Yes, this takes an hour.  But I do this early
     Saturday morning, and I'm done well before noon. (Note:  my hair is still damp while twisting)
7.  I let my twists stay in for at least 24 hours (to "set" them).  Then I untwist them.
8.  At night, I re-twist in very large twists.  I realized very quickly that my hair cannot remain loose at
     night.  The re-twisting only takes me 30 minutes.  This is a reasonable amount of time for my
     lifestyle.  The untwisting in the morning takes about 15 minutes (also reasonable).  If I'm really
     pushed in the morning, I untwist in the car on my way to work (I have a 45-minute drive and I use
     one hand).

Why I love Curl Enhancing Smoothie:

1.  It keeps my hair moisturized for at least 5 days without reapplying during the 5 days.
2.  It keeps my hair baby soft for at least 5 days
3.  It's not sticky or tacky
4.  It's not greasy
5.  It's 99% natural
6.  It smells good
7.  It's cost effective:  $9.99 for the 12 oz. jar above at Target