About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

In a similar way, I want this blog to be a space for fun, spirited and light-hearted discussion on issues regarding black females, our bodies, our hair, our men, and our images. But I also want it to be a forum for intelligent and respectful dialogue as well. Like Jill's poem, this blog will tackle some real topics, and they won't always be light-hearted. They will, however, be about lifting each other up. I welcome such discussion, but if you have nothing positive to contribute, please don't participate. Otherwise, join in!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Natural Hair Resources: A Compendium of Sorts

Hello, friends! In addition to info I provided in an earlier post, I've decided to put together a few lists of various hair products and resources based on my experiences and those of some of my friends, family, and acquaintances. Special thanks to all of you ladies who have sent me info! These lists are by no means exhaustive, but I hope they'll be helpful for those of you who may be transitioning to your natural texture, considering transitioning, or simply looking to try something different. Good luck!

Products:

  • CURLS products: I know several ladies who rave about the wonderful smell of these products, and they can be found in many Target store locations. These products are made of natural oils and other natural ingredients. Check out the link and find out if they're available in a store near you.
  • Kinky-Curly: I know addicts! Lots of ladies love, love, love KC products, and you may too. The founders of this line also pride themselves on the natural ingredients in KC products. I tried the Knot Today detangler and leave-in conditioner and found that it's an excellent detangler. I wouldn't use it alone though, which I typically like to do with a leave-in. Using it alone seemed to make my curls a little bushier, but I know some ladies who like it by itself. KC suggests using it along with its Curling Custard, which I'd rather not do. Remember, every lady's hair is different, so do what works for your hair.
  • Carol’s Daughter: Oprah has endorsed it, HSN shoppers love it, and Mary J. Blige is an official spokeswoman and even has her fragrance, My Life, presented by it. I've never tried it, but I like the fact that Lisa Price, the founder, creates all of her products using natural ingredients in her own kitchen. :-)
  • Miss Jessie’s: These products can also be found in Target stores. I have yet to try them, but I've heard lots of good things.
  • Pantene Relaxed and Natural: I've used only the PRN conditioner, and I love it. I usually comb it through my hair in the shower with a large-tooth comb and leave it in while I bathe. It leaves my hair so soft and easy to manage. I recently heard from a cousin that some of the ingredients are less than favorable, but I don't know details. I'll do some digging. Meanwhile, I really like it!
  • Shea Moisture: Another line of products found at Target, I like their natural bath soaps but have never tried their hair products. My girl Brenna swears by them though. I'm interested in trying them because shea butter really is a great moisturizer for skin and hair.
  • Black-n-Bossie: My friend Courtney told me about these products, and the prices look very reasonable.
  • Taliah Waajid: This is a well established line that even hosts "the world's largest natural hair show" each year in Atlanta. The next one will be at the Georgia International Convention Center April 30-May 1, 2011.
  • Cantu Shea Butter: I've been using the leave-in conditioning and repair cream for a few months now, and it's awesome. It's super moisturizing and very creamy. Plus, it really enhances my curls when I comb it through my hair thoroughly.
Information:

You may have noticed that most of these products are composed of natural ingredients, which is because I tend to lean more that way. Most of them avoid sulfates and parabens too. There's a lot of debate about the actual harm these ingredients can cause, so it's best to do your research and come to your own conclusions. Natural oils (like jojoba) and essential oils, which you can find in natural food stores, are also great choices for natural moisturizing. Enjoy exploring, and I hope you'll grow to appreciate what your hair is like in it's natural state. It will do it's own thing for sure, but the ways you nurture it are on you. Have fun!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Racial Discrimination or Common Sense?

Two Alabama towns are home to legal actions that some say involve racial discrimination, and each instance deals particularly, if indirectly, with black males and the ways in which they present themselves. On one hand, I think the promotion of professionalism and awareness of public perception is a worthy objective. On the other hand, promoting conformity for conformity’s sake is a potentially dangerous notion, encouraging young people to "fit in" at the expense of being themselves.

One scene is set in Selma, in which a city ban has just been enacted, mandating that anyone wearing his or her pants three inches below the hips can be fined $25-$100 (the max is $200 for adults) per citation and ordered to do community service hours. Opponents allege that the policy is racially motivated because it’s “geared toward minority kids,” as reported in the Selma Times-Journal. This charge is a bit fishy to me, though. While the ban might be infringing on people’s freedom of expression, it’s common sense that you’re not going to be taken seriously professionally with your booty showing. How much of a sacrifice is it to wear your pants an inch below the hips instead of three? I would argue that young people should learn to start dressing in a way that will help prepare them for life beyond high school.
Blaise Taylor, with clean,
well groomed braids

Really, one could say the same for the second scene, which is set in Auburn. Auburn University Assistant Head Football Coach Trooper Taylor has filed a lawsuit against Auburn City Schools because his son, Blaise, has been prohibited from playing on the Auburn High JV basketball team. The reason? His braids. Blaise’s coach, Frank Tolbert, apparently told the Taylors that Blaise would not be allowed to play unless he cut his hair, to which the Taylors claimed that Tolbert’s rule violates Blaise’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom from racial discrimination (because black boys are the main wearers of braids).

This case seems a bit trickier, partly because there’s a lot of “he said, she said” going on. The Taylors say they didn’t find out about the policy until after Blaise had already made the team. Says Blaise, as reported in the Opelika-Auburn News, “I worked hard to make the team and make it through the cuts. I was really disappointed I wasn’t going to get to play with my teammates.” Still, there are sentiments to the contrary. Some of the comments below the story indicate that the policy was made clear well before tryouts, as Tolbert has been using this rule for over 30 years. (Then again, maybe we should take these comments with a grain of salt. They’re not part of the reported story…)

To return to the idea of professionalism, though, it’s probably safe to say that braids are not generally favorable. Yet, I don’t think they connote the same meanings as sagging pants. No, it’s not appropriate to show your underwear or derriere in any kind of business or educational setting. However, hair that is neat, clean, and well groomed shouldn’t be an issue, whether it’s braided or not. In another statement from the Selma Times-Journal piece, “The suit claims Tolbert, a black man, targets black players only, while allowing white players to play ‘even though their hair is long, blown out, unkempt and/or even gets in their own eyes, or the eyes of others.’” Of course, prohibiting braids and allowing hair that actually is unkempt could certainly be considered discriminatory.

Such a position was highlighted in professional cases in the late ‘80s when American Airlines and the Hyatt Regency Hotel were involved in suits by employees who had been fired because of their braids. In 2001, more cases involving FedX and UPS dealt with discrimination against dreads. In the 21st century, though, cornrows and dreads have become much more acceptable in the professional world and have been deemed appropriate in many companies’ grooming policies.* I think it’s safe to say that ideas are starting to change about braids and dreads; they don’t necessarily mean criminal or thug anymore. Now, much of mainstream society is starting to understand that these hairstyles are simply expressive, but they can be so without being extreme or distracting.

With that said, I applaud measures that discourage immature, potentially counter-productive expressions of fashion, but braided hair (sans crazy designs or colors) doesn’t necessarily fit those descriptions. I hope decisions in both Selma and Auburn are based on good sense and not outdated ideas about “acceptability.”

* See Tracey Owens Patton. “Hey Girl, Am I More than My Hair?: African American Women and Their Struggles with Beauty, Body Image, and Hair.” NWSA Journal 18.2 (2006): 24-51, 37-38.



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Power of the Perm: Don't Underestimate It

Before reading this post--really, before watching this video--I would encourage you to read the description of this blog. If you don't find that you're part of the intended audience, you may not want to proceed. You've been advised. :-)

I have to give a shout-out The Sistah Chick, who shared this video on her blog. Thank you so much for spreading the word! As for me, I've been preaching about the need to encourage the beauty of black females' natural hair texture, especially for our little girls. This video illustrates that correlation. Didn't think it mattered that much? Think again...and spread the word.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Explosives in the Curls? An Airport Security Story

In our post-9/11 world, I think most of us can agree that a few airport inconveniences (e.g., long security lines, taking off shoes, under-3 oz. carry-on liquids, and occasional pat-downs) are worth it to ensure our protection. I did not expect the following, however, during a recent security scan at ATL's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

After sending my carry-on items through the scanner and preparing to walk through the metal detector, I was told that I needed to be patted down because I had on a baggy sweatshirt. Cool, that makes sense, I thought. The TSA officer then told me that she needed to check my hair. Er? Is this chick really about to put her hands in my hair? OK. Here we go...She then proceeded to briefly fish around in my hair--for a razor? A bomb?
 
This was a first for me. I've never heard of hair being checked before (except for my homie's recently patted-down headwrap. She was none too thrilled about that). Granted, my hair is "big"; I get that. But are we really suspecting that folks are hiding WMD in their hair now? Well, after some recently foiled terrorist plots, the amped-up security is widespread.
Sandra Oh, of ABC's Grey's Anatomy

This Reuters story reports that travelers and pilots alike are very unhappy with the increasingly "personal" pat-downs. One father had a hard time trying to explain to his 8-year-old son that it was appropriate for a TSA officer to "check his genital area," after having taught the child that only his parents and a doctor could touch that area. (I wasn't too comfortable with the boob-area treatment I got, either.) As for pilots, some feel downright uneasy about the extra-touchy pat-downs.

Is hair one of those "personal" areas? I don't know. It was definitely surprising, and I'm certainly not used to having total strangers put their hands in my hair. I also had to wonder what the criteria are for search-worthy hair. Does it have to stand more up and out than down? Who decides hair that's not "big enough" to be checked and hair that is? What if I had hair like Sandra Oh's, full and thick--but long? Whose hair is getting searched, and whose is clearly not a threat? I'm all for increased security to keep us safe, but I have to wonder if some lines aren't being crossed in the process. The jury's still out on this one, at least for me.


Monday, November 1, 2010

"Sesame Street" Teaches Kids AND Adults to Love Their Nappy Hair!

I don't know if I'm alone in this, but I've been walking around singing, "I love my hair! I love my hair..." ever since I first saw the now-viral video of a 
Singing, "I want to make the world aware: I love my hair!"
cute, happy little Sesame Street
muppet singing about how much she loves her hair--her kinky hair. :-) (Shout-out to Brenna, Paul and Dubose for sharing!) During the video (clicking the image to the right will take you to the YouTube video too), she's ecstatic about all the things she can do with her hair: wear it in twists, let it fly freely or rock a 'fro, among other things.

This video has inspired so many women (and some men too) with pride in a muppet who doesn't "need a trip to the beauty shop 'cause [she likes what she's] got on top." It made me wonder who the real audience is for this song. Sesame Street historically has been geared toward pre-schoolers, but I can't count how many comments I've read in which grown women reflect on their girlhood days, wishing they had seen a such appreciation and embracing of natural hair on TV.

If you were coming up in the '90s and earlier, you just didn't see or hear ideas like this in the mainstream. Nappy hair was destined to be pressed, Jheri-curled, or relaxed past a certain age. I think I just hit it: braids and twists and afro puffs are markers of girlhood--at least they have been. If I'm right, though, this precious video (the brain-child of a head writer for Sesame Street) is a symptom of changing times. Increasingly, it's becoming acceptable for females of all ages to "love all the things their hair can do." I hope it keeps up in high school, in relationships, in the business world, on job interviews, in academia, and in the mirror.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kitty in my Hair

It always starts the same: Aztec gives me the cutest, wide-mouthed meows; climbs up my chest and onto one of my shoulders; and walks around the back of my neck…to get to my hair. Sometimes, he’ll just place his head against my hair, purring and nuzzling my head. Other times, the times that make me nervous, he proceeds to paw at my hair. Aztec (a boy) is one of my two recently adopted kittens, by the way. He’s gray-tabby, spunky and precious. (See the spunk in the video below.)

video

My other kitty, Skye (a girl), never does this. It makes me wonder what Aztec sees when he looks at my hair. He’s obviously intrigued by it, maybe even comforted by it. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. My hair is soft. If it’s all out, which is often, my hair is a big, curly cloud of softness.
  2. It’s highly textured. I imagine he sees a big mass of twists and turns…like a giant, fuzzy ball of yarn, perhaps?
Aztec, asleep in my lap
That’s all I’ve got so far. Whatever the case, he’s always trying to get to my hair. I’ve never heard of anything like this before…have you? Maybe I should just be flattered and call it a day. :-)


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Music Appreciation

When was the last time you heard a song that made your heart skip a beat? For me, it was about ten minutes ago when I listened to Cassandra Wilson’s rendition of “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” I’ve heard this song at least 50 times, but as I really listened to it, I felt the pain she put into those notes and felt that same pain in the accompanying guitar. I was appreciating music, real music.

Now, I’m an R&B and jazz girl. It’s just in me, so in recent years I’ve been lamenting the virtual disappearance of the likes of Anita Baker, Nina Simone (R.I.P.), pre-1996 Whitney (am I the only one who gets a little teary upon hearing “All the Man I Need”?), Ella Fitzgerald (R.I.P.), Regina Belle, and even the great Cassandra Wilson (I’m a huge fan). Now, some of these women are still performing, but do we hear them? Are they getting radio rotation? No. I have to go to my CDs, old-school R&B stations and Pandora to feel something in music.

India.Arie performing "India's Song" on Oxygen's
India.Arie: Up Close and Personal in 2002
When I’m not time-traveling, I remember that I am so lucky to have been introduced in my pre-teen and teen years to Erykah Badu, India.Arie and Jill Scott. I still start singing “Certainly” from the Baduizm: Live album at the drop of a hat, and India’s playing on my mp3 player every other day. While reading about the slave trade in Savannah during my trip there this past weekend, “Too much hypocrisy in this old Southern town for me. Way back in 1619 began this tragic story..." flowed into my head. If you don’t know “India’s Song,” check it out. Jill’s always in my rotation too, and I just saw her on tour with Maxwell. *Sigh* These truthful artists are still doing their thing. If you haven’t heard New Amerykah Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh, you need to get on it. And I am impatiently waiting for Jill's Light of the Sun to drop. India, I’ll give you a little more time on your next one since Testimony Vol. 2 dropped in early 2009, but try not to keep us waiting too long, eh?

Now, there are some younger artists out there who can blow. I can’t deny Beyoncé’s talent (she’s a notable songwriter, producer, and entertainer too). Keri Hilson has a nice voice, but her music leaves much to be desired. Jazmine Sullivan’s husky voice is alluring, as are Melanie Fiona’s powerful pipes. Chrisette Michele is a cool breeze in the R&B game, with a killer voice and a devotion to the greats: “I've been studying Miss Billie, Miss Ella, Miss Sarah Vaughn and Miss Natalie Cole.” Esperanza Spalding and Janelle Monáe are two young, very creative artists who are doing their thing too. Corinne Bailey Rae is excellent, and I love her new album, The Sea. I can appreciate the fact that most of these women are not playing into the commercial titillating aspect of the music biz. Instead, they can rely on their talent—how refreshing.

Maybe there are some I’m missing, but that’s probably because they don’t get enough attention! (If I hear Nicki Minaj’s pitiful Annie Lennox sample one more time, I might throw up a little bit in my mouth. This is why I don’t listen to the current hip-hop and R&B stations.) Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my old-school R&B stations, CDs and Pandora to get my music fix. If I can’t get it elsewhere, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Yeah, it’s that important. After all, if music doesn’t move you, what’s the point?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Resources for the Ladies Considering Going Natural

I've been having so much fun this past week looking for a new product/technique that will increase my hair's moisture. (Thanks for the new products, Heather! I'm especially looking forward to trying the Frederic Fekkai conditioner!) In the process of researching, I've come across a number of very helpful blogs (like Knapsgirl.com) and YouTube videos with great product reviews and tips. You might find some of these useful too!

One helpful source has been The SistahChick, who has her own blog and YouTube channel. Lots of women have already been inspired by her lively, positive personality. She's part of what some people are calling a "Natural Hair Movement." As you read and surf more and more, you'll see that there's a lot of passion out there--and lots of willingness to share information. It's great!

There's even a growing community dedicated to nurturing children's natural hair. The SistahChick has featured her own daughter, the Little Chick, on her blog and channel to demonstrate all kinds of styles and techniques on her daughter's head of thick, beautiful hair. Another great site is Our Natural Kids, whose mission is "to share ideas & resources while promoting healthy hair care and maintenance for children with kinky, curly, nappy or multi textured hair."

If you're thinking about going natural, there's so much to consider, but I think it's good to see the possibilities of what you can do with it once you make the transition. So many resources are out there, with the express purpose of helping a sister out. ;-) Good luck as you weigh your options, but know that there's lots of help.

So the first new product I'm trying, before I try the Frederic Fekkai shea butter conditioner, will be Kinky-Curly's Knot Today leave-in conditioner and detangler. There's been a lot of conversation about this Kiny-Curly product, sometimes in conjunction with KC's Curling Custard (which I may not try...it's more expensive than the Knot Today). We'll see how it goes!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Little Changes Can Go a Long Way

When I've written in a post or two about the possibility of broadening our views of "pretty," I've imagined an actress here and a model there with different textures of hair, not just long and straight. Such a one-dimensional view of beauty is problematic.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised today when I saw a Regions Bank ad featuring a sister with hair that looked similar to mine. I'm not saying I necessarily want to see hair like mine more frequently, but the broadening is what's important to me.

Granted, banks are a bit suspect these days, but what made me smile when I saw this ad is that it features an everyday woman in an everyday situation: trying to get an education and figuring out how to make it happen. This isn't a hair product ad or fashion ad; this model could be any young black woman in school.

Like other images here and there, it shows that there is a range of possibilities for beautiful hair. A simple ad like this could possibly contribute to broadening the "pretty" horizon. I can definitely appreciate that, and I imagine other women can too. :-)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Handshake of Trust

I don’t quite remember how it goes, but it was a left-handed shake that involved a lot of finger work and even a little thumb war. After having matched wits with my hubby, a regular occurrence, he says, “OK, let’s do the Handshake of Trust.” I follow his lead through the complicated, made-up maneuver, all the while laughing my behind off. It was one of those silly moments that make our marriage fun.

I’m still a matrimonial novice—just celebrated four years!—but I do know that marriage takes work. Any married person will attest to this. It’s not always lovey-dovey fun and games, and bills, jobs, emergencies, children, and life make stuff get real—really real. How that realness works out, however, largely depends on who you marry, in my humble opinion.

I just happened to marry my best friend, and he still manages to surprise me with his ideas, creativity, and silliness. “You’re really weird” is one of my daily remarks to him. But he also gets on my doggone nerves sometimes—love you, babe! *MUAH*—and we both have to find ways to let off steam. Again, any married person can attest to this realness.

I think life’s realness also works out in a marriage depending on the “character” of the two people in it. For instance, my hubby and I are two creative, silly people, so our interactions (on a good day) are characterized by creativity and silliness. It’s why a Handshake of Trust can crop up in an otherwise ordinary conversation and why my hubby laughs at me Every. Single. Day. And I have friends whose relationships have completely different characteristics. The commonality is commitment, though.

As my girl Quisha and I were just discussing recently, so many people get married because they’re in love—I know I was head-over-heels when I got hitched. We’re not that old, still twenty-something, but we know that too many marriages have been done in by the myth that “love will keep us together.” After tossing around the idea, Quisha and I came to the conclusion that some of this disillusionment can be avoided with a reality check: a beautiful wedding has no bearing on the marriage, marriage is not easy, and love alone will not make it work. Commitment is the glue that keeps it together.

What does commitment look like? Well, I’d love to get my J. grandparents’ perspective on this. They just celebrated sixty-four years of marriage—a lifetime!—so I’m sure they can preach on this. (Note to self: ask Grammy and Granddad about this.) From my measly four years, I can say it looks like remaining a team in the midst of financial disagreements, illness, emotional strain, journeys to self-discovery and job uncertainty, along with date nights, dinner at home, impromptu dance sessions and silly little moments involving silly little handshakes.

I won’t even presume to know all the reasons some people’s marriages end. Sometimes it has to be done; sometimes it doesn’t. As a novice, I have more faith than experience: faith that commitment is the glue that will keep mine together. Matrimonial veterans, whatcha got for us babies?

With that, I’ll close with a song I’ve been playing a lot lately, Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Wait Till You See Her,” because the hubby has inspired it in my mind these past few days:

Wait till you see him, see how he looks. Wait till you hear him laugh. Painters of paintings, writers of books never could tell the half. Wait till you feel the warmth of his glance, pensive and sweet and wise: all of it lovely, all of it thrilling. I’ll never be willing to free him. When you see him, you won’t believe your eyes. You won’t believe your eyes.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

One Thing I Want My Daughter to Know: "Good and Bad Hair" Revisited

All right, I'm gonna talk about hair again, and then I'll leave it alone (until I get moved to talk about it again. That's right. I said it.).

I was watching a rerun of The Game on BET—don’t judge me—when an ad for Motions Silkening Shine Relaxer came on. I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard “Get pretty.” Then my ears perked up. The line continued, “…with shiny, make-them-stare hair.” Then it hit me hard: this is why little girls grow up thinking the hair they were born with needs to be fixed. Otherwise, it’s not “pretty.”

This ad reminded me of a recent conversation I had with my pastor, when he told me that we partly form our identities based on the models before us—that is, both fashion models and everyday examples. Little girls, for instance, grow up knowing what’s “pretty” without having to have it blatantly stated (although this ad is pretty blatant). We have Barbie dolls, TV, magazines and movies to tell us.

The thing is: the “popular” models, as opposed to the everyday ones, get more pull as kids grow up. We know this. And if we’re talking about models of “pretty” hair, the view is pretty one-dimensional. For black girls growing up today, their models are the likes of Beyoncé, Queen Latifah, and the model in this Motions ad: beautiful, influential women who relax their hair. I imagine the message for a little girl is that “shiny” hair like this model’s is the only way to “make them stare.” This type of hair is necessary to be considered beautiful.

I’m aware that these are arguably trite ideas--we all know that trying to be Barbie has screwed with quite a few minds--yet these ideas about "pretty" keep being recycled. In spite of all the conversations about multivalent versions of “pretty,” we’re still getting “pretty hair=straight and shiny” coming through the tube. To a little girl, who may have few, if any, models of naturally textured hair that is “pretty,” this ad provides the key to “pretty”! Shiny, blow-in-the-wind hair that correlates with all the other models out there.

I think we’d see a lot less negativity surrounding nappy hair if black females in their girlhood, where ideas about “pretty” firmly take root, can actually see more than one type of “pretty” hair. If they can see hair that looks like theirs as “pretty,” not just at home or in the neighborhood but on TV and in magazines, then maybe we can add a few more dimensions to the idea.

I’m not naïve, however. I know that part of kinky hair’s lack of visibility has to do with its paltry level of acceptability in the fashion, TV, and film industries. But we’ve seen kinky hair featured in the worlds of fashion and entertainment, as in this photo of Beyoncé. (Granted, I don't believe this is her hair, but the point is that the afro is getting some play!) World famous model Alek Wek is also an example of kinky hair in the fashion world. Kim Myles, of HGTV’s Myles of Style wears her hair in its natural texture. Jazz, blues, and folk icon Cassandra Wilson has been wearing locs for decades, and soul singer Leela James has a very prominent afro.

There are models of black women with naturally textured hair out there, but they’re nowhere near as prominent as models of straightened and relaxed hair. Where are the Carol’s Daughter, Miss Jessie’s, and Kinky-Curly TV ads? Maybe they’re on their way. They’re fairly new companies, after all.

With all this in mind, if I ever have a daughter, I’d want her to know that she’d be pretty no matter what she did to her hair, that there’s more than one type of “pretty” and that she wouldn’t have to change the texture of her hair in order to get it. But she could if she wanted to. It's one option and not the only one.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Bone to Pick

Black men, a lot of people have a bone to pick with you. What did you do? Or maybe it’s what you didn’t do, according to some. I’ve noticed that black men’s roles as protectors and nurturers are being questioned lately, not that this is a new topic. The question came up recently in an earlier post on this blog. Chris Rock humorously alluded to the question in 2004’s Never Scared when he warned fathers that the test of their fatherhood would be whether they could keep their daughters out of “clear heels” (i.e., strippers’ shoes). Toni Morrison raises this question with the character of Cholly Breedlove in my favorite novel, The Bluest Eye (1971). The question is much older than that, though, going as far back as the days of American slavery, when countless black men were left defenseless as a white male-dominated world raped their women and sold their children.

Now, the question rises again—in a world that is fundamentally different from one in which men could only stand by while their women and children were violated. Check out this video depicting audition clips for a reality show featuring rapper Plies. (Shout-out to my bro-in-law for posting this on Facebook!) The women depicted here are clearly proud of their sexual “talents.” More power to ‘em and Lord love ‘em. But note not a spirit of simple competition but of divisiveness that permeates these women’s statements. They’re bragging that they’re better than every other woman in line because of what they can do in the bedroom and because of what they’re willing to let Plies to do them. While there’s some pride in being independent and being able to cook, for example, the emphasis is placed on sexual versatility and skill.

Interestingly, the person who posted this video to YouTube titled it “BLACK MEN RAISE YOUR DAUGHTERS SO THEY WON’T DO THIS!” Black men, fathers in particular, you’re being called out! And all this makes me wonder why it’s the father’s responsibility to keep their daughters from seeking this type of attention and from promoting this type of division. Is it not primarily women who are interviewing other women for this TV show? Granted, these women are working for a man, but they don’t have to. These women are choosing to do a job that exploits some arguably weak-minded women. Is this a complication that should be laid at their fathers’ feet too?

Perhaps, but who knows what kind of fatherly experiences we’re seeing the fruits of, from one woman to the next? There are women out there who were raised by hardworking men who taught their daughters to love themselves and others. Others may have had absent or horrible fathers. Still others may have had nothing but negative experiences with men, to the point that they don’t know how to deal with them or themselves in a healthy way. Then again, while some may have missed their biological fathers in their lives, maybe they had uncles or teachers or neighbors who filled the void. Whatever the case may be, 1) there’s got to be a level of personal responsibility involved here, and 2) women have to bear some responsibility too. That’s not to discount the long-term psychological and emotional effects of absent, deadbeat or otherwise subpar fathers. I realize that men do have an important role to play in helping to shape their daughters’ and sons’ futures, but they don’t play the only role.

Jill Scott tackles this issue from a slightly different angle in the August 2010 edition of her Essence column, “I’m Just Sayin.’”August’s installment, “Boys to Men,” argues that, while women can instill morals, values, and a treasure-trove of knowledge into their sons, there are certain aspects of manhood that boys can learn only from men. The most important point she makes, however, is that so many black boys lack instruction from a community of black men. A community of black men instructing their sons, she argues, is invaluable:
While there are men who take pride in raising and instructing their sons, there is very little communal education. Just imagine if our men taught our boys conflict resolution—how to settle a dispute so that everyone walks away alive. Maybe if our outstanding men shared that one skill with our boys, there would be fewer violent deaths in our neighborhoods. […] What if our great men taught our boys how to nurture women and children with love, respect and understanding? Maybe our artists would be more creative when depicting women in their music and videos. […]
And maybe our rappers would be more creative when depicting women in their reality shows too. Do you see why I love Jill? She’s making a very cogent argument about how a concerted effort of our strong, dedicated, responsible men can turn the tide of negatives in our communities, from violence to relationships. I think she’s right, but the concerted effort of our men and women is really the ticket, and that’s what I’m getting at--an idea clearly not lost on Jill, as she explains her role as a mother. I wonder how many of those women waiting in line for Plies’ show are mothers, and I have the same curiosity about the women behind the interviewing table.

Maybe a community of men can prevent boys from exploiting females on national TV, and maybe such a community can prevent those females from exploiting themselves. Perhaps, too, the combined instruction of men and women can curb the unhealthy images promoted by “television and hustlers in the streets,” as Jill puts it, and help our boys and girls grow up to be men and women who respect and love one another and themselves: not a selfish love but a love that appreciates one’s inherent value. That’s not the value being promoted by these women clamoring to be “Bust it Babies” or by the women and men seeking to put them on TV.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Death to "Good and Bad" Hair!

Let me start by saying that I’m not going to comment at all on Chris Rock’s film Good Hair. The world has about mutilated that dead horse, right? This isn’t about “Straight and Nappy” from Spike Lee’s classic School Daze, either (although it’s playing in my head right now, high kicks and all). Instead, let me tell you a story.

A woman of a certain age was once describing to me the hair textures of three biracial women she knew. One of them, she said, had hair the most like “black people’s hair,” more on the kinky side of things. Another had hair that was “like good black people’s hair—but better—like a Latina,” and the third had “good hair,” which I assumed meant naturally wavy or straight hair. I smiled and nodded, but I was struck—and slightly saddened—by the enduring idea that a black woman’s hair is bad or somehow lesser. The uses of good and better here imply that a black woman’s hair is naturally bad. And in my experience, it’s not just women of a certain age who use and believe in this idea.

There are women out there who believe the natural texture of their hair is bad for the simple fact that it’s kinky. That’s it. It’s not that it’s damaged or falling out; it’s just nappy hair! There’s a historical dimension to this sense of shame, partly rooted in very old racist ideas about beauty and partly linked with long-standing fashion trends. Both are hard to contend with, but this leads me to wonder: when my sisters look at their nappy roots in the mirror, what runs through their minds?

Back when I used to straighten my hair (never had chemicals), new growth meant, Dangit! I have to straighten my hair again?! After a while, I realized that I didn’t have to do anything, so I stopped straightening my hair. It was intermittent for a while—I might straighten it; I might not—but after a few years it became a firm decision. I noticed that I liked the things my hair did on its own. If my hair didn’t want to stay straightened and downright refused to do so, who was I to try to force it? A very liberating experience.

It’s been an interesting ride. Family and friends alike have ridiculed me, sometimes in the spirit of fun and sometimes in the spirit of flat-out dislike. Here’s one of my personal faves: “What happened to your hair?” I went from having “good” and “pretty” hair—hair that fell mid-back when straightened—to “wild” and “big” hair. (Compare the pics: 2004 with straightened hair and 2008 with hair doing its own thing.) Some people like it, and some don’t, but I’m glad that I got to the point where I don’t care what others think about my hair. It’s healthy and reasonably well taken care of. ;-)

Of course, I don’t expect all sisters to do what I did. Different strokes for different folks. Some people tell me, “Oh, well, you don’t need a perm.” Who does need one? Some women choose to straighten/perm their hair because it’s what they’ve always done. Some do it because they have comb-breaking hair–I broke several combs as a child!—and just don’t have the time and/or desire (in some cases, the ability) to deal with it. For some it’s just more convenient to perm it or wear wigs and weaves. To each her own, but I would encourage my sisters not to base these decisions on notions of “good and bad” hair. If women can be born with “bad” hair, hair that needs to be “fixed” from jump, then countless little girls are coming into the world with a completely messed up sense of beauty. They’re born lacking something because their hair coils up. That can’t be the case; I just don’t believe that’s true. But how many women do believe it’s true?

I love a t-shirt one of my dear friends owns. It reads, “Good hair is healthy hair.” If your hair doesn’t constantly break off or shed a thousand strands a day, then you have good hair, whether it’s nappy, wavy or straight, long, medium-length or short. Wash it, condition it, and trim those split ends. Whatever else you do, consider canning the idea of “good and bad” hair. It’s so passé. Look around: slowly but surely, the world is changing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Black Girls: Still Big Booties and Pu**y? (That's not putty...)

OK, WTH?! This was my immediate reaction upon coming across the Google search results for “black girls” that are displayed in this image (right). (Note the sponsored links, too.) Mind you, I was searching for an organization, Black Girls Rock, Inc., that I had come across months ago and wanted to revisit. I couldn’t quite remember the name but knew that black girls was part of it.

Now, I really don’t want to get into a ramble about historical depictions of black women as lusty, animalistic, lewd sex-toys—trust me, I could go there—but the irony of this situation is troubling in itself. For the last few years, I’ve been mulling over the idea of a non-profit organization designed to help young black women combat the afore-mentioned negative images, particularly as cultivated in various aspects of hip-hop culture, music videos, films, and print media. Black Girls Rock, Inc. is an organization that does such work, and I wanted to peruse it for inspiration. (Adding inc. to my search got me to the right site, by the way.)

But alas, of the first seven entries that appear in these Google search results, only one of them does not relate to black women as purely sexual objects. And these are the top results of 276 million. What causes this particular content to appear first in a search for “black girls”? Well, I had to do a little research.

Determining search results and ranking them are complicated processes that involve some pretty fancy computing (all kinds of algorithms and such that I know nothing about), but the quality of web pages is an important consideration in ranking search results. In a newsletter called Librarian Central, Google gives librarians various teaching tips, one of which deals with search engines. In an issue titled “How Does Google Collect and Rank Results?” Google offers this information after having provided material on data collection:

Now we have the set of pages that contain the user's query somewhere, and it's time to rank them in terms of relevance. Google uses many factors in ranking. Of these, the PageRank algorithm might be the best known. PageRank evaluates two things: how many links there are to a web page from other pages, and the quality of the linking sites. With PageRank, five or six high-quality links from websites such as www.cnn.com and www.nytimes.com would be valued much more highly than twice as many links from less reputable or established sites.
This is interesting information. According to Google, it prizes foremost the number of sites that link to pages containing the items in the query (in my case, the number of sites linking to sugaryblackpu**y.com and the like) and then the credibility of those sites. This leads me to wonder, Where are the “quality” portals of information that positively discuss black girls? That’s not to say they don’t appear somewhere in those 276 million results, but they’re clearly not as prominent as those sites linking to pages that perpetuate an idea of lewd black female sexuality.

Apart from the numbers and quality of web pages that link to the words in a searcher’s query, Google states that relevance is a key determiner in ranking results:

As a rule, Google tries to find pages that are both reputable and relevant. If two pages appear to have roughly the same amount of information matching a given query, we'll usually try to pick the page that more trusted websites have chosen to link to. Still, we'll often elevate a page with fewer links or lower PageRank if other signals suggest that the page is more relevant. For example, a web page dedicated entirely to the civil war is often more useful than an article that mentions the civil war in passing, even if the article is part of a reputable site such as Time.com.
Because the sites that link black girls with hot sex are so much more abundant than those that don’t, the relevance factor appears to be more important than the reputability factor here. What’s relevant regarding black girls appears to be those who are involved in porn. Hmmm…

I’m not out to attack Google, though. The company is only collecting and sorting data. My concern is that, in 2010, so many users of the World Wide Web are more interested in black girls for their big booties and pu**ies than, say, for their creativity, beauty, or anything not related to their anatomy.

It’s not like black girls are unaware of this interest. Any given day, you can see young black females in skin-tight, low-rise, hip-hugging jeans or shorts that look like underwear with their booty cheeks all out (check out Jill Scott's "The Thickness"!). Why? Is it because such looks are trendy, attractive to males, or plastered all over videos and magazines? It’s likely that all these possibilities hit the nail on the head, but the important thing is that so many of our girls want to emphasize their sexuality when they walk out of the door. The curves are given top priority, and this valuing of the body isn’t spawned in a vacuum. It’s cultivated by so many forces in the world we live in.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with females embracing their sexuality. In fact, the ability to do so is one of the triumphs of feminism and other movements that now allow females the freedom to express themselves. However, when that freedom privileges sexuality, then we have children growing up placing their self-worth in their curves and in attracting interest in those curves. Where’s the true self-love in that, the value of a woman’s essence that doesn’t reside in her anatomy?

That’s also not to say that young black females are the only ones who wear revealing clothing. Of course, women of all shades, sizes and ages dress this way. But I’m focusing on this style of dress in conjunction with the historical images of black women (that have not died) and the clearly continued fascination with black women’s supposedly animalistic lust, as evidenced by the associations that web users make between black females and their sexuality.

It’s clear that if we parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, preachers, and friends don’t educate black girls about their inherent value, apart from their bodies, then there’s a whole world, a whole culture out there willing to educate them instead. Maybe my now-foggy ideas about an NPO will eventually become a real entity that counteracts these views of black females. Thank goodness for programs like Black Girls, Inc. and Hot Girls, Inc. that are undertaking this work now. But the truth is this: we have to do this work for the good of our daughters and their progeny, or else we’ll never see the end of centuries-old ideas that encourage black women to love their big booties and their pu**ies while truly hating themselves.