All My Life, I've Had to Fight
Sep 7, 2013

We're STILL talking about hair and skin color...

At least once a week, I am forced to contemplate suspending or turning in my Black Card. I love my people, but I swear sometimes acknowledging that love is far harder than it should be. We could spend months debating the legacy of colonialiam and slavery on Black folks' collective psyche, but there should be an ultimate stopgap measure to keep us from creating policies and social practices that negate the spiritual essence of who we are.

News broke last week about a little girl from Tulsa named Tiana Parker, a straight A student at a charter school run by HBCU Langston University, who was asked to either change her dreadlocked hairstyle or attend school elsewhere. The facts, as stated, are bad enough. They are further compounded by the wording of the school rule in question, which refers to mohawks, afro and dreadlocks as "faddish" hairstyles. Faddish. [I will refrain from even acknowledging the other "scandal" created by comedienne Sheryl Underwood with regard to her comments about black hair a week prior. I try not to curse in these posts, and that mess takes me into far darker places than the story we're sharing at the moment.]

What hurt most about this truly shortsighted, regrettable situation was seeing little Tiana in tears, days after her school's decision, trying to relay the story to a local reporter. Days later, after being consoled by parents who encouraged and supported this child's embracing of her natural hair and the adorable pink bow she sported to adorn them. Days later, after her family was forced to make a last-minute change and drag this child away from a school where she excelled academically and away from her friends. Words sting, and contradictions confuse. How can a father tell his child that she is beautiful, to love herself and her hair, to help her groom and grow this hair in the style of her choosing, only to have that pride undermined by a school she also loves? Parents shouldn't have to work that hard to positively counteract the rules of a school that is supposed to come from a philosophy to uplift the Black community and Black learning. Especially when the odds are that this same little girl will already have to face considerable disdain for her skin color and hair texture and styling choices from people who do not share her same cultural references or background.

It's not the first time such a rule has been enforced by a Black school, right Hampton University? And I fear it won't be the last. Everyone is wrong sometimes, but it is a much deeper issue when our institutions codify language that is so destructive to our self-image and self-worth. Especially when they have dreadlocked instructors on their faculty. That goes from being foolish to downright ass-backwards.

I am now about 23 years into a reclamation of my naturally crazy, curly hair from the chemicals I once used to straighten it. I cut off my second set of locs about 5 years ago. But if I still had them, I would have done every possible to make time to answer the call put out by Dr. Yaba Blay...to submit photos and words of encouragement for Tiana that resulted in a 100-page-plus eBook full of glorious images of beautiful Black women and their locs and is completed with a personal note from author Alice Walker (a link to the book is on my Facebook page). All that, in a matter of five hours, to rush to the esteem upliftment of a beautiful little girl who was made to question her value. I am so proud to know many of the women who contributed to the project, the scholar whose life work is to create such affirming images of our people, and the joy of embracing the fullness of my natural self. But I am angry that we are even having this conversation, as an ethnic community. I want to never again have to hang my head in shame when I hear of our own people referring to our natural beauty as faddish and unacceptable. This can no longer be dismissed as vestiges of our abuse by The Man. We're wise enough to know better.

And if I have to fight, I would rather not have to ball up my fists against my own. But I will, if I have to, and I think that healing is on the other side. I'll hit you, then hug you, to make it better.

Here is last week's playlist: