Sunday, September 25, 2011

Light Skin & Straight Hair: Black Women and Internalized Racism

I have low self-esteem and I always have. Guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking. You know, the long-hair type...Being a regular black girl wasn’t good enough.

- Lil' Kim, Rapper

I was in the sixth grade when my mother finally gave me the green light to put a relaxer in my hair. I was so excited because I would not have to deal with my mom pulling and tugging my hair every morning before school. I remember how envious I was of the other black girls who had been getting relaxers since elementary school. In a sense, a girl getting her hair relaxed was similar to a “rite of passage” of sorts, but I am uncertain of what we became thereafter. Appealing? Beautiful? Accepted? A little bit more white? Once I had my hair relaxed, people suddenly began noticing me as if my natural hair had somehow made me invisible. They affirmed my existence...and I liked it even though I did not understand it. At the time, I was not aware of black peoples’ obsession with long, straight hair (as well as lighter skin tones).

Fast forward six years later: I am walking home from school and notice a little girl who could not have been more than five years old with relaxed hair. For some reason, the sight made me extremely uncomfortable. On the other hand, I had a relaxer, so who was I to say that a little girl could not get one? Age was nothing but a number, right? I suppose what was truly upsetting was the awareness of how painful (and dangerous) relaxers could be and it seemed cruel to make a five-year old suffer through that for straight, “manageable” hair. What the hell was the mother thinking?

Another seven years go by: I am reading a chapter entitled, “Black Beauty and Black Power: Internalized Racism” from Killing Rage: Ending Racism by bell hooks. I have been reading a lot of her lately and after each chapter in one of her books, I have to stop and put the book down. I have to give my mind time to process her words because the issues that she chooses to discuss are so relevant.

The Black Beauty Standard

I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves; and I take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust, and envy for control purposes. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work throughout the South. Take this simple little list of differences and think about them. On top of my list is “AGE,” but it’s there only because it starts with an a. The second is “COLOR” or shade. There is intelligence, size, sex, sizes of plantations, status on plantations, attitude of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, course hair, or is tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action, but before that, I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy is stronger than adulation, respect or admiration.

- from The Willie Lynch letter: The making of a slave

After attending predominately white schools from Kindergarten through eighth grade, I remember being more than jovial when I got accepted into a magnet school in a Black area for high school. I was delighted to think that there would be more than one other Black person in my class that I could talk to. I was delighted to think that for once I would be in the majority; I found comfort in this.

My first day at the school proved to be the complete opposite of what I had expected. There was an immediate division between those who were of Caribbean ancestry and those who weren’t. Rather, those who weren’t were African American, or white American there was a disdain for us. Furthermore, there was even more of a distinction for those who were fair skinned versus those who were dark skinned. There was also an emphasis on “good hair” and “bad hair” than I’d never heard in my life. When I heard terms like “Tar baby” and jokes that started with “You’re so Black..(Insert insult here)” something in my stomach churned. Something made me angry. Then when I got my class schedule because I was in advanced courses, there were maybe three Black persons at the most and I was one of them. I was in the same situation that I had been in all those years before. I was faced with what I was attempting to avoid and shun.

After overcoming the initial shock of this, however, I was able to graduate from high school. A year later, I attended a Historically Black College hoping that because of the higher level of education offered that I would experience what I had been looking for in high school.  However, and to my own astonishment the ignorance was magnified. With my professors attempting to quell ignorance and with the handful of us who actually came to college to learn we were all fighting an uphill battle that was in place before I even thought of being conceived. This battle stemmed back hundreds of years before me. And I realized how engrained in my culture this skewed and European definition of beauty was. Then, in my Africana Philosophy course I read the “Willie Lynch Letter”. This was my second time reading this letter but in retrospect it was my first time because my professor forced us to grasp the concepts addressed by Willie Lynch, and then he forced us to analyze the letter and see its relevance to us in our time. Sadly, not much had changed.

They say the revolution will not be televised

In response to what was going on with Troy Davis, the day he was was executed I wrote this piece. Something revolutionary within me was reignited because of the public outcry (Of which fell upon deaf ears) for justice.

For Troy Davis

Georgia was my home
For moments and hot summers long gone
With willow trees swayin to the soundtrack of wind
Georgia was my home, ya'll
And yours too brother, yours too
That is
Before she castrated your manhood
In her prison system
And paved her country roads with your tears
Georgia was my home
And supposedly you shot someone there
Some cop
Somebody's daddy, somebody's son, someone's husband
Supposedly you shot him
Off duty
He was a cop
Supposedly you shot him
But everybody who saw
Must've been blind
Like our justice system
Must've been blind like our president
Who could intervene
Because it's election time
And someone might notice his

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hey You...Got Revolution?

Georgia. On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, Troy Davis, a convicted (alleged) cop killer, was executed in Georgia despite a lack of substantial evidence and statement recantations from 7 out of 10 original witnesses (read all about the campaign to save Davis before his execution here). His story garnered international attention and Davis gained a large number of supporters who believed in his innocence. In the several days before the scheduled execution, everyone was talking about him. The discussion about Davis was full blown on Twitter.
If anyone did not know about Davis before, then they sure as hell did by the 21st (which was a little late if you ask me). Everyone was Tweeting and Re-Tweeting links to several petitions against Davis' execution, various numbers to contact officials about granting Davis clemency (which were busy as all hell), information about protests and marches, and just plain frustrated Tweets about the situation in general. For the first time, I was seeing people who never had anything substantial to say finally begin to..."wake up." It was refreshing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hello, World

Well, I’ve begun this journey (Blogging) with my dear sistah of soul or “soul sistah,” Sofoni with an open mind and a bit of excitement pertaining to the upcoming articles/posts, some of which have already been written. Sofoni brought this idea to me about a month a half ago and I’ve been thrilled about it ever since. Now that the site is officially up, I am ecstatic!

My intellectual journey rose and reached an amazing peak during my junior year at my prior undergraduate University. I was taking a class entitled “Women in U.S. history” even though I was a Psychology major. Psychology was boring me to tears with all of its schools and trains of thought that were established prior to me, which I could not question, so I wanted to minor in Africana Women's Studies. I wanted to question these different schools psychological thought because only one dealt with minority women. My second major, Philosophy, had me questioning everything that I was learning in about psychology, but was it was dominated by males.

I found solace in the Women in U.S. History class as well as in the office of my outside academic advisor and mentor, the late Dr. Cheryl Hardison-Dayton. She opened up an entirely new world to me in that class and just by being herself. Every notion that I had challenged about gender and societal norms, she gave me the knowledge and the books to educate myself. The world of Dr. Patricia Hill Collins and the world of Dr. Angela Davis were introduced to me. My thirst for knowledge became unquenchable. I lived in my advisor’s office, and I devoured every book she suggested. I took the knowledge she gave to me and the knowledge from prior classes, such as Africana Philosophy and Africana Psychology, and I ran with it. I realized that the standards set forth for black woman were not created by us. A new standard had to be set.

Thus, in writing on this blog we are expressing thoughts. I am expressing myself proudly from the perspective of a black woman whose love for the study of my womanhood and my gender has spanned from my personal life into my scholastic life (I am now attempting to obtain a Master's degree in Women and Gender Studies) and now into this blog. Some of my writings will be in honor of my mother, my aunts, and all the other women who surrounded me in childhood whose guidance was and is priceless. My writings are also in honor of Dr. Hardison-Dayton and for every professor that made me question, and think and encouraged me to rise above and beyond my own expectations and myself

May this journey be a fruitful one,

Danielle C. Allen a.k.a "Midnightrose"

The Start of a Journey

I have come to the realization that we often conform to society's manufactured roles for us without question and accept anything we are told without hesitation. We do not realize some of the foolishness that we condone: patriarchy, racism, the education system, sexism, government fallacies, elitism, etc., etc. As a former faithful (and I do mean faithful) devoter to television, it took a while before I came to this Truth as it is one of the main tools used to brainwash, divert, and deceive us.

I began to seriously question each of these ideas during the senior year of my undergraduate studies. I had an assignment in which I had to complete a paper for my Logic course. The professor told the class that the area of philosophy was constantly criticized because it was basically "memorizing the ideas of dead, white men," which I suppose is true to some extent. So, the professor wanted each of us to write a paper on a philosopher/intellectual of our choice who was living, non-white, and preferably not male. That is how I came across feminist thinker bell hooks and little did I know that she would be the beginning of my separation with societal conformities.

After writing about bell hooks, I could not help but read at least one of her books. I found her book, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, in my university's library and it was like seeing the world for the first time. Although I had been conditioned to believe some things as being "right," it did not make them necessarily True. The more books I read from hooks, the more I began seeing the lies. Then I joined Twitter and began amassing a Twit Fam of folks who were also on the path of seeking Truth and they opened my eyes to even more knowledge (upon my own research, of course).

I wanted a place to share ideas (that gave me more room than 140 or 500 characters at a time), so I decided to start a blog with my soul-sistah where we could discuss the aforementioned topics. Each of us will provide our perspective on a certain issue, which may usually come from an African-American female's perspective because that is our least in this level of reality.

We hope that you will join us on this journey because the only way to learn is from the dissemination of ideas (in a mature and constructive manner). And anything that is discussed on here is a mere grain of sand in the vast ocean of what is the universe...but I like to start from the bottom and work my way to the top or from the simplicity of the outter to the complexities of the inner (I suppose it is the Capricorn in me). This is just the beginning.

Peace, Love & Light

Sofoni Michel