Box Braids and Microaggressions

Can I touch your weeaaaveee? Will my hands get stuck? Is this your reeaaaal hair? she has the laugh of a sinister Cruella, but she’s your friend; you think. If you tell her no, will she leave you alone, or will she keep going?

No, you say to answer all questions. She reaches for a  fresh braid. You pull back in defense. My head is still sore, you say. No touching. Not yet.

You lied right through your gap-teeth. Your head is not sore. Your heart is.

You are twelve-maybe thirteen sitting atop the fence of your front yard on a glistening summer day. The radio is playing redundant pop songs you know all the lyrics to. Your friends are doing cartwheels and round-offs on the sharp green grass in mid- June. It feels like school will start again soon. There’s no time to sink into the bath of the shade, wash off the sun. There’s no time to lighten up, so your classmates won’t publicly address how dark your skin got over the summer. Yet the sun is one of your greatest companions.

Do you ever worry about how dark you’ll get if you’re in the sun too long? a friend asks. Do you? You say. No, I’m only going to tan. Well, what about sunburns?  You ask.  It’ll peel away. Oh, right, you say. I’ll be as dark as you by the end of the summer; she cackles at this remark.

You remain silent as the moments pass. A small breeze cools your scalp then you join in on the cartwheels and the round-offs in the grass.

[…]

You decide to look for a job because you’re finally sixteen. You figure it’s time to grow up and make your own coin; you want a car and the best prom dress. There’s also nice boy in your math class want to impress.

The application process is easy, but then comes the interview. Out of ten fast food applications, you get one call. Make it count. Get ahead.

Be here at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, the manager says. His voices sounds like a cat is scratching the inside of his throat. No problem; I will be there.

You show up at 2:47. Mom always says: the earlier, the better. Your friend adds, especially when you’re black.

How can I help you?

I’m here an for interview; your voice sounds shaky. Your nervousness is amplified by the subtle look on her face. She’s sweet, but what is she really thinking? These thoughts usually cross your mind. She then retreats to the back to locate the manager who will be conducting the interview.

A minute or two later, she’s back. He’ll be right out. Go ahead and take a seat anywhere. Her smile seems genuine. You wonder if you’re wrong for wanting to know if she’s judging you based off this brief moment. Okay, you say.

How do you handle yourself in stressful situations?

I keep myself composed. It’s only temporary. Freaking out never ends well. 

Define “composed.” He puts air quotes around the word like you’d just made it up. Like you’re throwing meaningless meanings out there for no coherent reason, and like your entire statement isn’t a justifiable response. You remind yourself it’s your very first interview.

You know, being respectful, smiling at customers, not allowing negative issues to escalate. Your palms begin to sweat and the you’re worried about small things like if your interview outfit is appropriate, or if your breath smells bad.

You sound like a smart girl, he says. And you speak so good!

After the interview, he offers you the job. You’re excited, but worried. What if you can’t keep your composure?

                                                                                […]

Your friends think you won’t care or say anything because you’re labeled the white-black kid, and somehow that means you’re excluded from knowing what it’s like to be a black-black kid–the kid who uses nigga as a term of endearment, yet your friends use the word almost exclusively because they don’t seen an issue. A so-called pal justifies his usage of nigga by claiming that if black people didn’t want to be called the n-word, they shouldn’t say it either. This gives you a grueling migraine, but it’s no different that any other day.

I like that you’re not ratchet, but I bet you can beat a bitch’s ass if need be. You’re like an Oreo-white on the inside, black on the outside. I can’t picture dating a black guy; their dicks are too big. I like doing hoodrat shit with my friends. You dress like a white girl with your American Eagle jeans and North Face jacket. I’m glad you’re not like those other ghetto bitches. The bigger the hole, the bigger the hoe. All niggas care about is pussy and Retros.

A guy in the group starts heightening up his black voice when he approaches you. Ayo what’s up, guh. But the others receive Hey, guys. What’s happening. He always daps you up with awkward handshake language because all black people do it; even the women. The other girls present get hugs and kisses on their cheeks. This isn’t unusual; you just notice it more and more as these friendly outings begin to feel less of that nature.

You begin to see an eraser at the tip of your shoes working its way to the tip-top of your head leaving only the leftover gray marks on a white sheet of paper. You’re still there, but you’re invisible and being rewritten all over again.

                                                                               […]

You’re sitting at a bar top alone, waiting for  your homegirl  to show up for late drinks when a tall, strawberry blonde man approaches you with a posse of equally tall men.

What’s a fine sista like you doing here all by her lonesome? His attempt to sound cool fails tragically. Even the bartender is unmoved. Any ounce of attraction suddenly dissolves and discomfort unleashes within your arteries.

Drinking an Appletini, you say. Alone preferably. 

He slides himself into your personal bubble as if your message isn’t clear. A girl with an attitude, I like that. You like white boys?

You don’t detest white men; in fact, you’re in an interracial relationship. You’re just sick of being approached by fetishists. You’re tired of being a hot topic or taboo or a story he can tell friends about the next day. Your pussy, your ass, your breasts are not for his unwarranted sexual fantasies. How do you make that abundantly clear without causing a stir?

I have a boyfriend, you say. He’s on his way, as a matter of fact. 

But just in the nick of time, Liza shows up. We exchange half hugs. Hey giiiiiiirl. Hey girrrrrrl.  You’re relieved to see her highlighted face and Senegalese twists for the first time in months.

Mr. Nuisance chimes back in. I’ve never seen black women as beautiful as y’all.Never been with a black woman before. I hear y’all are freaks. His buddies laugh, but you’re not sure it’s because they think he’s just making a damn fool of himself. Or if they’re actually entertained.

You and Liza exchange looks that settle the moment. Anyway.  Let’s go, girl.

                                                                       […]

You never took the Doll Test when you were a child, but you may as well have. Because for a long time, you felt the same way. You just don’t know until it’s brought to your attention by a psychology class that acknowledges the science but not the issue. It is ingrained in you like race and gender. It affects you the moment you realize you can conjure up your own thoughts, but sometimes they are not your own thoughts. Everything you see, hear, smell, and learn has implications. Nothing is one-dimensional in this world.

Your PWI embraces their level of diversity like it’s supposed to make them seem special and accepting of evvverything. You know they mean well, but you still feel out of sync. There’s no telling why except knowing that you are a small speck in a fraction. You wonder if it’s affirmative action or if things are changing at an alarming rate in a good way. You know you worked for that acceptance letter. You deserved that acceptance letter. No one can tell you otherwise. A sense of gratitude to yourself rushes up your spine.

                                                                         […]

 A brunette woman stops you in your pursuit to locate the Fruity Pebbles cereal in Walmart on a lousy Friday morning. It’s too early as far as you’re concerned but breakfast is necessary for the what the day will bring.

I hope I don’t sound rude, but just where did you get your hair done? We just adopted a five year old African American girl and have no idea how to tame her hair. Any recommendations? I’d do it myself, but I’m not too skilled with  her hair.

Her smile is big and innocent. You’re trying to think of ways to politely tell her go away, but you think of the little black girl. How precious she must be. You wonder what she must have been through before being adopted. You wonder what exactly the brunette means by “tamed.” The girl isn’t present but you wish she was. You can usually tell the future, but this one is rather unclear. You know her new parents will love and cherish her no matter what, but you also wonder what she’ll have to deal with in school and if she’ll know it’s work. Assimilation is work; loving yourself is work. This is advice you wish you could give her. You secretly hope you run into this woman again next time with her daughter.

There’s a place downtown called Aphrodite Salon, you say. They even have a store where you can buy the right products to maintain her texture.  No appointments necessary. You throw in the last statement to cease the awkwardness.

Great! Thank you. Your hair looks amazing by the way. . Her smile simmers down as she strolls her cart the other way.

Memories begin to strike you like a bolt of lightning. You see yourself as the five year old girl getting her very first relaxer. The Vaseline. The burns behind your ears. The feeling of being pretty as the final result. The ability to twirl your hair like the white girls in Pantene commercials.

                                                                      […]

The night draws to a close at a sleep over with your middle school friends.Mom calls to remind you to wrap your braids and spray sheen before going to bed. You do just that before joining the other girls in Dariah’s room.

You look like an old lady. You look funny. Hahaha.  Meanwhile, Dariah sits aside silently shy. You don’t blame her. You do the same thing.

You let these comments slide because you’re too exhausted at this point. You always let the comments slide.

Goodnight girls, Dariah’s mother shuts off the light and closes the door. Her apologetic smile toward you is comforting and mother-like. You feel slightly better.

Before the night really begins with ghost stories and truth or dare, there’s one last thing:

All of the black girls disappeared, one says followed by a dark room full of light chuckles.

Advertisements

Unpacking Buzz Feed’s Video “27 Questions Black People Have for Black People”

 By Alyssa Lorraine

BuzzFeedPic
Enter a caption

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/imY-vSn0b18

 

First and foremost, I need to acknowledge that the video (as tragic as it is) does not anger me. In fact, I believe there’s some slight truth to it, and there were things said that some black folks need to consider like the concept of colorism and the light skin vs. dark skin battle that still thrives within our race. And the question on why we don’t like to address our mental health issues– a valid question but with unreasonable consequential misunderstanding due to a system that expected black people (women especially) to repress their depression and be strong black women.

However, I want to take the time to unpack this video because even with the undertones of truth and seriousness, I found that it was created to generalize our race from within and in a few ways, oversee those of us who are trying our darnedest to eliminate these generalizations, micro-aggressions, and social stigmas that quite frankly boxed us up in the first place. Basically, the video was a slap in the face for the majority (just look at Twitter) who answer questions like these with rhetoric designed to uplift us and not appeal to those who see the black race as a joke or a monolith of failure, daddy issues, or “ratchet”ness. Many of the brethren believe these questions were all questions that we as a black race want to know and conclude. They think that these thoughts exist and procreate in our black minds because all together we are damaging ourselves. I’m analyzing this video because I want my people to know where we went downhill, and it starts with cosigning with stereotypes that exist to belittle us to the deepest extent.

The video starts off with a gentleman asking, “why is it so hard to be on time?” I pressed pause on the screen and wondered if it was worth it to continue watching. My second thought: what the hell does not being on time have to with being black? I supposed I knew what I was getting myself into, but how are we going to make a statement about how we generalize one another, all the while committing the same act? Food for thought…

When we descend into the Curiosity subsection, the most disappointing part of the video, it feels as if the questions asked by black people were not legitimate. It feels as if these folks were given a script for them to ask “funny” questions and mimic a part of our black youth that struggles or isn’t encouraged to engage in politics or start businesses. The fact of the matter is: people spend so much time judging those who don’t live up to our standards instead of understanding why they’re there in the first place. Yes, she asked WHY, but was she really trying to know why? I doubt it. I doubt it because it was subjected to a comical video and not to research that would have faithfully come through with a plethora of reasons why our little black girls and boys engage in latest dance trends more often than in politics. When videos like this are created, context is important. The context I received after watching it–say, three or four times, tells me that the black race disappoints these participants although they claim to love our race, and I know they do; however, on a personal note I believe this is a step back into the diaspora of blackness and subjects blackness to folks either hating our own race (which in part is true) or embodying a complex that separates the good black people from the bad black people. The winning black people and the losing black people.

“How did watermelon become our thing?” When I heard these words fall from the lips of the first commentator, I must admit that a ball of heat filled my chest. To answer his question: watermelon was never a black thing. Blacks never claimed watermelon as our own fruit, and we sure as hell don’t support the notion that it’s a part of our culture, because it’s not. For those of you who don’t know, the watermelon in regard to the history of our people was used in pro-slavery paintings and propaganda that depicted slaves and poor black folks as happy-go-lucky niggers who were rejoiced with watermelon for being obedient to white people. I agree with him; everyone should enjoy watermelon, but that isn’t a question for black people and the idea didn’t derive from our ancestors. NEXT.

Later, when one of the participants asked why her natural hair was seen as a political statement, my eyes widened with sadness. I wanted to inform her that her question was not for black people, but that it was for the system that decided black natural hair was not professional enough or beautiful enough. I wanted to explain to her that well-qualified black women were denied jobs for wearing their hair the same way she is: beautifully natural and vibrant, but to most companies– it was an atrocity and had to be tamed (hence hair relaxers). Black women who claim their natural hair is a “political statement” are saying that what we look like and how we decide to wear our hair should not be cohesive with who we are as people. For decades, the natural hair of black women resulted in the popular belief that we were too “wild” or “disobedient” and they absolutely could not allow it. It’s a statement because black women are TIRED of having our hair define who we are as people and what we’re capable of. We’re tired of our hair being a condition of if we’re pretty or sexy. They’re taking a stand against mainstream conformity and challenging oppressors one good riddance of the creamy crack at a time.  Does that answer your question, baby girl?

You know what… The entire Dating and Beauty subsection was tricky for me, so I’m going to answer the rest of these questions separately:

Why do we think that light skin is better than dark skin? Because we’ve been conditioned by non-black advertisements, products, pop culture, and just plain history that dark skin is ugly. Whether it’s up close and personal or subliminal, we as a whole are taught to negate darkness because it’s unattractive, unappealing, and in some cases, animal-like. We praise light skin, because we are told to believe that it radiates calmness and goodness. Light= beautiful. Dark = scary and unappealing. To keep it short and sweet.

Do you really believe that black is beautiful or is that just something you say because it sounds cool?  At this part of the video, I’m already annoyed and pissed off by what I expected to be decent conversation starters among black folks, but here we are. To answer this absurdity, yes. I think black is beautiful because for a long period of my life, I was made to believe that black wasn’t beautiful and that I wasn’t beautiful because of my dark skin. It makes me grateful to those who went through extreme measures to undo the damage posed on black people who abhorred their skin, and to ask this was to initiate the thought that nothing’s changed, and that being pro-black and pro-black beauty is a fad of 2016.

Why do some people say you’re pretty for a dark skin girl? Because boo, colorism and internalized racism are alive and well within our race. This is all ties into the light skin/ dark skin BOHSHIT  that is going to take a lot of time to erase and dismantle. Luckily, nowadays we’re off to a start… And when the natural-haired beauty then explained how that still made her feel like the ugly black thing, it becomes even more apparent that we as a race still have miles to go until we accept and love all melanin. Blacks weren’t told to hate our skin until race became a construct that excludes us from beauty standards especially if we didn’t pass the paper bag test or weren’t born to interracial couples.

Why do some black men only date white women? I recommend watching Dark Girls. There are plenty of black men in that film who explain why they prefer light skin or white women over us dark skin gals. It’s unfortunate thinking, but a real life scope to the demon that is internalized racism.

….but not okay for a black woman to date outside of her race? I used to wonder the same thing, especially when I started dating my boyfriend. We received backlash for the fact that I’m black and he’s white; however, the vast majority of that backlash came from white folks, and the black folks who didn’t approve believed that no one should date outside of their race. Again, this ties into internalized racism and prejudices that presume black women as less than human. Often times when black women date white men (aside from looove), it’s because black men lacked interest in black women, but still expected us to adhere to them. It could also mean that they’re simply in love, and black women were viewed as unlovable especially by black men.There are many reasons and answers to this question that could not be identified so concisely. Again, I recommend watching Dark Girls.

The Community Support subsection undoubtedly has some truth to it, BUT I must defend the Black Lives Matter assumption that we “tear each other down in the next breath”. Too many people falsely link BLM to their ideals on black life. They are a legitimate organization with legitimate advocates and activists who live for the sole purpose of uplifting black people and remaining resilient. Why do we say black lives matter, then tear each other down in the next breath? How are you going to generalize a population of black folks who stand for the protection of black lives and box them with those who have yet to endure a social awakening?

When we skip over the to the question of homophobia in the black community, I agree with her to the full extent that I too, am over it. I’m over hotep twitter and their nauseating views. I’m over it too, girl. It needs to stop. As a race, we have a lot of work to do and that starts with accepting the LGBTQ folks of our race and letting them know that they are loved, they will be protected, they are our brother, sisters, lovers, friends, and so much more than their sexuality and gender identities. They are human beings. Thumbs up to that one.

Why is growing up without a father so common in our race? *rolls eyes*. As a black woman whose father was pretty much non existent for most of my life, even this question was irritating. To be honest, and like this entire post, it’s an opinion; I believe that “absent black father” narrative is a on-going myth. I also believe that those of us black folks who’ve had absent fathers are conditioned to believe this narrative due to media influences that depict black fathers as absent low-lives. The statistics of single black mothers, 72%, does not indicate that black fathers are absent, and it’s a slap in the face to black fathers who are there for their children which shockingly enough is most of them! Again with the generalizations…

Why don’t we like to confront our mental health issues? She asks this with a comedic tone– almost as if she knows it’s a dumbass question. It’s not that we don’t like to confront our mental health issues, it’s that we don’t know how to. Chronic depression affects blacks folks more than it affects any other race. On a personal note, I’ve suffered from depression since I was nine years old–possibly even sooner, but I didn’t “confront” my issues until I was fifteen. Not all black women were as fortunate as me to receive help, medication, and a referral to a therapist. Most black women don’t have the accessibility, resources, or information to get to the help they need. Many don’t even realize that they’re depressed. Therapy may be a magical and wonderful place, but it’s not that simple and if it was, don’t you think depression stats among black people would be significantly lower? C’mon now, sis.

Moving down to Identity and Authenticity

Why is there a check list for being black? My answer to this: ???????????????What are you talking about, dude??????????????????????????????

Why is being educated considered a white thing? Here is where I begin to wonder if this video was even conjured up my black folks because sis could not be serious. There are so many “white things” to be considered, but education is not one of them at least not this day in age; however, historically speaking, education was considered a white thing just not by black folks. Early to mid 20th century, Black children enrolled in schools were receiving “Jim Crow education” that limited equal and fair education and maintained the Jim Crow persona that wanted black youth the accept their abysmal economic situations and quarter-assed education so they couldn’t get ahead in life. Because of the Jim Crow laws, schools were segregated and the white schools, of course received the better education. I guess this technically answers the question.

Black isn’t only defined by adversity? Yet almost this entire video perpetuates the common adversarial constructs of blackness used against black folks and collapses on itself in the end.

This concludes my rant. While there were parts of the video that I understand, I still feel as if it’s a comical witticism of blackness and the flaws of our people in society. A debilitating contradiction. It almost inspires me to make either a video or a post asking questions to black people that initiates the aspects of self-love, prosperity, acceptance, etc. as opposed to this catastrophe that is supposedly meant to ask us what we’re afraid to ask other black people and what we’re afraid to tell. I realize I could be digging too deep into this video; however, the context is clear. I can’t help but to question its legitimacy, the folks who participated, and why the hell internalized racism isn’t acknowledged properly. I can’t help but to wonder if these folks have been so deeply enriched with generalized sentiments that shame us for engaging in dance trends, but don’t know how in depth we are in politics. I wonder about the “black card” rule because honestly, where the hell did that come from? So many thoughts peak in my mind… 

A.L.W

Questions or Concerns contact me at: alyssa.wilbert@gmail.com.

Follow the new MindoftheMelanous twitter account: @mindofthemel.

 

 

Quote of the Week.

The ever so clever Audre Lorde
The ever so clever Audre Lorde

I am a Black Feminist. I mean I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my blackness as well as my womaness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable.” – Audre Lorde.

Today I am thankful for Audre Lorde’s perseverance and unapologetic voice in Black Feministic perspective. While taking a Women of Color: Image and Voice class, I was introduced to some of her work such as I Am Your Sister and Zami: The New Spelling of My Name, and I was immediately enticed by her authentic and insightful analysis of not only being a black woman, but of being a lesbian black woman whose oppression ran deep within the walls of blackness and sexuality. R.I.P to a very real, inspiring, and beautiful woman who will always have an everlasting influence on my own Black Feminist perspective.