the miseducation of me, you, and other black folk.

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the miseducation of me, you, and other black folk.

My Twitter mentions have been jumpin' like Jordan for the past hour or so. Why?

One of my closest friends asked me where my tweets stemmed from, and honestly, they came from a few different places. My brain functions so strangely, but I'll hit you with a quick little list It doesn't encompass all, but it provides a bit of context. I just barely scratched the surface.

1. I love #BlackGirlsAreMagic and #CarefreeBlackGirl...

...but I'd be lying to you if I didn't say that I felt some of the same images get pushed forth in these critical movements. As I expressed in my tweets, I feel this image of an "artsy, educated, bookworm" with natural hair populates these spheres without properly acknowledging baby girl with the laid ass perm or weave and her daily struggle. Or baby girl with the fro and baby hairs who assumes complete agency of her body and does with it what she pleases...but also could list every position in Quidditch, plus a spell or twenty. Or just the roundaway girl. Or the girl who has a salon in her kitchen and always a bill to pay. I don't want the beauty and strength of black women to be reduced to one image. 

As an educated black girl who loves arts and books AND has natural hair, I feel the support in these realms, but sometimes I wonder if other women who I know do, too. I love the movement. God, do we need it. God, is it inspirational. But what about the women who aren't afforded the same opportunities we are? Pushing forth a particular image can make them seem less worthy. Yes, we work hard as hell, and we deserve to be where we are at, but sometimes we have to acknowledge that some black folk are more privileged than others. And they working just as hard (if not more) than we are. 

2. Beyoncé.

For years and years, Bey has been dogged for having a heavy southern accent and keeping quiet. Let's focus more on the accent, though. Often, people equate her southern accent and the vernacular of many other folk to a lack of education. Just because a person strings words together differently does not mean that they don't know what they're talking about. A little twang and drawl doesn't make anyone less "well-spoken" than you...unless you're comfortable in admitting that you're conforming to white supremacy. But how could you ever dismantle white supremacy if you had that ideology? ;)

3. Speaking of accents, let's talk about Rihanna.

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It's almost crazy how much we've been brainwashed into thinking that inability to have complete command of a language equates to erasure of knowledge. This thought process often bleeds into the realm of accents and broken English. A lot of people hear someone speaking with an accent or speaking broken English within their personal sphere and assume they're uneducated since they aren't speaking the "proper" English. Not communicating an idea in a particular way does not lessen the idea. Get it? Got it? Good. 

But yes...back to Rihanna. People, left and right, are laughing their asses off because she's speaking "gibberish" in one of her newest songs "Work." Just because it isn't "proper"...it's gibberish? If you work to understand what she's saying, I'm sure you would actually understand, but go ahead and reduce her caribbean roots to "gibberish."

I guess it all boils down to this idea that elitism is very real within the Black community, and you're immediately thought to be more significant or well put-together if you are traditionally educated. That's a whole other blog post that I will be writing soon. There's just too much to say. 

I have no real conclusion, but hopefully this post (as well as my others) can act as a working space for the progression of our people and the sharing of our thoughts. Let's start the damn conversation. Remember: My word is never law, but my feelings are always valid. 

Any thoughts? Drop them below, or shoot me an e-mail. Love & light. 

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The Real Problem with the #ArchThatBackChallenge

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The Real Problem with the #ArchThatBackChallenge

Am I not allowed to be sexual, proud of my body, and educated? Are these things mutually exclusive?

As part of my daily routine this morning, I decided to scroll through my Twitter timeline. Although this definitely hasn't been proven to be the best way to start my days, I saw a very interesting trending topic on this particular morning: #ArchThatBackChallenge.

I chuckled and clicked the link. I love dancing, I love the song "Arch in Ya Back."  I expected to see light-hearted posts full of fun and...ass. 

I was wrong, because c'mon, this is Twitter. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has something to say. (Especially when they shouldn't because they don't know what the hell they're talking about.)

Just a few of the tweets that populate that space. Interestingly enough, I saw more bashing than I actually saw women and men participating in the challenge. 

One of the first things I realized? The amount of women who were ready to bash other women in order to prove their own worthiness. There is something to be said about the woman who yearns to be praised by men for "having morals" or having an education. The woman who needs patriarchal approval is no woman that readily supports me. The woman who chooses to emphasize her sparkle through the dulling of other women can get the hell out of my face.

Another thing that I realized? That exercising your right to sexuality and exercising your control over your (own damn) body is immediately equated to you seeking the attention of men or desiring many men. Actually, these two things have nothing to do with one another.

Maybe I love my body. Maybe I also love what I can do with my body. Maybe I want to share these things with the world. 

Whether or not you choose to show off your body is your personal choice, but let us not loudly criticize those who do. Similarly, what you choose to do with your own body is your choice, so leave everyone else exercising that same right alone.

(Sidenote: Equally as important, let's not assume that all women are the same and that they do things for the same reasons. Let's say that maybe some women are interested in participating in the "#ArchThatBackChallenge" in order to gain approval and due their low self-esteem. I can openly say that as a young teenager, I thought that I needed boys to validate me. With that being said, who am I to say that there aren't other women who feel the same? That doesn't make it right to bash them.)

But again: Let's not assume that all women are the same and that they do things for the same reasons and that you should even be concerned with why they're doing what they do. 

Beyoncé and Rihanna will throw it back in a second, but I doubt that's due to them having low self-esteem and seeking male approval. I also doubt it's for record sales. The fact that a man without a shirt and lots of sex appeal (such as Trey Songz or any other male R&B artist) doesn't have to worry about his nudity being attributed to his desire to sell records or gain the approval of women says a lot about our society.  

It is absolutely frightening how conditioned we have become and how dangerous this conditioning can be. 

A woman in control of her body and her mind is seen as dangerous. Therefore, you have been trained to think of her as being weak and needing approval. You have been trained to think of her as a helpless sexual being. 

Well, it's time to change that narrative.

I am Woman, I am strong, and I don't neeeeeeeeed your damn approval. 

 

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The Black Space

A few days ago, I shared an article on my Facebook that made a strong case for why white women needn’t join the #TeamNatural movement. That article could be found here.

I was not surprised about the feedback that I received through my comments from a few unhappy campers. While I am always interested in varying opinions and outlooks, there are some things that should just be understood before one formulates a response.  With that being said, over the next week or so, I will be addressing a series of race-related topics that have surfaced in this debate, topic-by-topic. It is simply impossible for me to formulate a full response within one blog post. Some of these topics will include natural hair, white gaze, culture appropriation, “reverse” racism, etc. Today, I will quickly address the importance and significance of Black spaces, but first, I will share the comments that have prompted the dissection of this topic.

Immediately after I shared the aforementioned article, I quickly commented: Before anyone decides to comment on this, I'll need for you to understand the importance and significance of Black spaces as well as the non-existence of a post-racial society.

Why? Because one cannot completely comprehend the validity of the article without knowing what a Black space is.

Some of the comments that I received:

“That's a funny article considering that Ebony magazine is owned by JP Morgan and had lost their title of being "fully black-owned" a while back. I believe someone owning shares of your company is much more invasive than paying someone to work for you. There are no such thing as Black spaces only Black people being paid by White people to act like they represent Black people.”

“A true Black space would be one that is finance by Black folks to benefit the Black community. I lied when I said there are no true black spaces, I'm part of a few. I meant to say there are no Black spaces in the media because they are all integrated or being paid for by another race. Ever saw The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, she made a video where none of the people that supported her were Black. BET is not Black own just because it has Black in there, it's owned by Viacom. Who is funding CurlyNikki? “

“And why do black people need their own things? (“Our music, our fashions, our foods, everything that is uniquely ours is seized upon until it is no longer uniquely ours.”) So then other races should NOT embrace the black culture? What about Indians? (Native and from India) Should the sounds of music from the middle east also not go into American music? Why can we not be one. Why, if the goal is to achieve unity, are articles such as this one being posted to segregate black people from every other race (not just white, though they appear to be the aim)? Yes, black hair is beautiful and I stand behind the go natural, but I also stand behind it for white people and mixed people. “negate the need for Black women (or Asian women, or Latino women…) to have spaces from which we are protected from the White gaze and able to do and be US. “ – again, why are whites the object of hate? I notice a space for white people isn’t listed here. There are more Asian women than white. So why can white people not be proud? Having numerous friends of allllll races with curly hair, the tone used for “her entry to what seemed like a safe place for Black women, under the tag ‘natural hair icon’ is almost comical (her journey to accepting her hair texture basically involved her going from wearing a bun to wearing her hair down), and certainly sad” is what is really sad. Curly hair is not that simple. Skin pigment doesn’t matter.”

I did respond to a few comments in this way:

I think a big misunderstanding lies within the definition of a Black space. I consider a Black space something like this: an environment (not always physical) where Black people can congregate, feel free from judgment, and speak about relevant experiences, thoughts, ideas, etc. The natural hair community is a predominantly Black space. This article is not at all "whining about a blog/company that hired a White female that was supposedly aim at their culture." This article aims to explain the fact that the natural hair community that exists is one that is for praising all Black women that have made the choice or found the courage within themselves to love their natural crowns. The issue at hand is the fact that a white woman who never faces much adversary for something as trivial as her hair has chosen to take the term/hashtag that we have coined and jump on the bandwagon. Simply wearing your hair down hardly constitutes as going natural. Nope. No. Not having it. Also, the author clearly states, "To be fair to Walton, her site is not about Black hair or Black power. The "About" page states "CurlyNikki.com was created to serve as an online 'hair therapy session' for those struggling to embrace their naturally curly hair." Her mission is clear: affirming those who wish to embrace a certain hair texture. But I think it's worth considering what sort of precedent could be set here if more bloggers embrace an inclusive approach to natural hair." Additionally, the white woman is not getting paid, but she is getting praised and highlighted for wearing her hair down. She is being crowned as a "natural" meanwhile we refuse to highlight my sisters with more kinks than curls. In regards to the rest of your response, I do not believe it directly relates to this piece. This article is about hair, not corporation.

While some of these comments begin to delve into other arenas, I will not be able to address them in this particular blog post. They will be addressed, though.  Best believe.

Firstly, to a Black twenty-something at a predominantly white institution, a Black space is an environment where I feel safe. It does not always have to be a physical place. It can also exist as an online community, a work of literature, a scholarly journal, etc. It is a place where I can feel free of judgment and share relevant experiences, thoughts, and ideas with those that identify with me racially. This space does not have anything to do with money. This space has everything to do with support and comfort.

A white space does exist. It's called mainstream media. It's called society. It's called the KKK. It's called by the names of a lot of wealthy communities. It's called predominantly white institutions. I can really continue. 

Why do I need this space? I need this space because society has failed and CONTINUES TO FAIL (an article debunking the myth of a post-racial society will be coming soon as well) to offer me this space. I must seek this fully inclusive space so that I am able to mentally deal with issues that many people of other races would not be able to understand or help me through.

This isn’t a form of segregation. Segregation is telling me that I cannot come into your restaurant to eat after you have beaten and dehumanized my ancestors—much of this dehumanization occurring as a result of the difference in physical traits. I refuse to believe that the creation of a space to welcome and celebrate those once hated traits is a form of segregation. I would like to go further by saying that a need for a space like this WITHIN my space is completely unnecessary. White curls and “multi-cultural” curls that mirror the ones of Sarah will always be accepted. (I've learned a thing or two in my Black studies classes focused on women, and I can gladly elaborate on this, if desired.) This issue of discomfort seems to have stemmed from a personal distaste for her hair while the issue of Black natural hair stems from historical and systemic distaste engrained into society. This is why the #TeamNatural space is needed. This is why Sarah isn’t.

Only my experiences of racism and non-inclusion could help one truly experience why Black spaces are necessary. I am not fighting non-inclusion with non-inclusion.

Do you join a depression support group if you are not depressed? Do you join a suicide support group if you are not suicidal? No, you don’t. You don't say "Man, why do depressed people feel like they need their own spaces?" And why? Because you may just never know how those people feel and why they feel that way. Not every experience is a shared one.

Once that is understood, really understood, then perhaps we can become better at supporting one another.

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The Roots

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The Roots

In the tenth grade, I had an epiphany.  This epiphany may seem like:

  • Common knowledge

  • Foolishness

  • Not a big deal

But it was a defining moment for me. I realized that Black was beautiful, that I loved being black, and that I wanted to immerse myself in any and everything culturally related. This was the beginning of “Afro-centric Kibby.”

From that point forward, I’d become so interested in learning about what I was never taught in school that I took to Tumblr, Twitter, and various other social media platforms to learn from Black scholars. Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have become knowledgeable about so much due web spaces such as Black Twitter, For Harriet, and various Tumblr blogs.

But I say this all to convey that falling in love (really falling in love) with my culture is the reason that I went natural. For me, it was not solely a fashion statement. Truth be told, I was terrified to cut my hair that day in July of 2011. I was even more frightened when I decided to get my last perm that previous August of 2010.

But I did it because to me, loving my culture meant loving my natural roots. I literally asked myself, “How can I be all pro-Black if I’m getting a relaxer to hide my roots?” Loving my culture meant embracing my natural coils so that the future generation of beautiful little black girls could embrace theirs, too. Comfortably and confidently.

Not all natural women necessarily identify with the aforementioned, though, and being natural definitely has become more of a “trendy” thing nowadays. It has also become a sort of divisive tool when it comes to women of color when it should be something that unifies all. This is troubling.

Some natural women believe that women who get perms are self-loathing and weak for giving into societal constraints when they actually just would prefer to have straight hair. It’s not always about giving in. It’s more of a personal preference, and it is not always true. To say that is true would be to say that all natural women are these Afro-centric females who are down for the cause. Trust me, this is simply untrue.

In my opinion, the “natural hair movement” appears to be a fad more than anything. While I do love seeing these beautiful ‘fros out and about, it frightens me that they will quickly disappear once they are no longer “cool.”

Are we truly comfortable with our natural textures now, or are we simply giving into what a sector of society has now deemed cool? 

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The List of Invalidity

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The List of Invalidity

While the recent civil injustices nationwide have been both disheartening and alarming, there is something that has also been of great concern to me.

It saddens me that instead of trying our hardest to unite towards a common goal, we instead are ready to bash one another. We use moments like these as divisive tools. We use moments like these to bash our community. We are belittling and justifying tragedies instead of understanding why people are tired of being devalued in a country that their ancestors built with their very own blood, sweat, and tears. I don’t want to specifically address the situation in Ferguson because I feel as though there is a plethora of content available that takes on every angle, but I would love to just quickly address a number of things related to this soon-to-be historical and game-changing event.

1.     Respectability politics are invalid. To think that you will receive some one’s utmost respect because you are constantly in business dress and speaking the Queen’s English is a lie that you must stop telling yourself. As a woman in the Ivy League, I have been put in situations where I was not respected due to my race. Me being a black woman who speaks “proper” English and has worked hard to earn her spot in a top tier institution does not mean shit to someone (or something) that is inherently racist. Furthermore, we should not have to make ourselves accountable for why people are racist. Why must I brush up on my image in order to gain the respect and value that has been lost due to the melanin in my skin? (With that being said, I also should not use the forces working against me as a means to not better myself. Please, please, please always be the best that you can be. But…for some people, the forces are working so hard that it is difficult for them to do this. Not everyone lives under identical circumstances. As a black woman at Cornell University, I understand that I have a lot more privilege that many of my beloved community members do not have.)

2.     Black-on-Black crime is a myth. Why are we so quick to dismiss the cold murders of black men that stem from the devaluation of their bodies because black people are killing other black people? From 1976 to 2005, The Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows that white victims were killed by white defendants 86% of the time and black victims were killed 94% of the time by blacks. Simply put, white people largely kill white people while black people kill black people, yet we only choose to coin this “black-on-black crime” term. While the homicide rates may be higher amongst the black population, let’s take a look at socio-economic situations. Let’s look at where these people were pushed, contained, and under which circumstances.

3.     Dismissing an entire movement due to looting is a bit extreme. I won’t even discuss the Boston Tea Party and its participants. All I will say is that when you learn that your body means nothing in this country, the only thing that seems logical to you is to destroy something that is seen as valuable. One would start with the businesses in their neighborhoods that are not owned by them but are profiting from them. We live in a largely capitalistic society where the only place to hit them where it hurts is through taking a hit at their pockets.

4.     Colorblindness is not an effective means to solve racism. As a white person, you telling me this fails to impress me when race was a social construct thoroughly created by your ancestors. I am not saying it is your fault, but instead of taking the easy way out by “ignoring” race, why don’t you learn more? As a black person, you telling me that we should all be colorblind merely suggests that you really do not understand the complexities of race. You also probably believe in 1-3 of this list, and you should just read them again. Basically, we should all always be willing to learn about our differences and to celebrate them. We take pride in being this “melting pot” in which all of the ingredients are blended together when we are actually a tossed salad—different ingredients that can make for a pretty freakin’ great dish if we try to appreciate the unique flavor that each ingredient brings to the table.

We are so terrified to say that things are racist, especially when they just are. We’ve been told that we are “playing the race card” so many times that any accusation of racism takes a hit at the “credibility” of the accuser. Eradicating the conversation surrounding race and taking on a “colorblind” mentality will not assuage the situation at all. We have to be ready to join these uncomfortable conversations, and we have to be able to learn, learn, and learn. It’s going to take some tough love, it’s going to take some time, but it’s going to have to happen. Do me a favor, and stop thinking that you have the quick fix, end-all solution for racism. It was never that easy.

 

xoxo,

 

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Dear Ivy League Black Women Scholars of the Class of 2018, Be Patient.

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Dear Ivy League Black Women Scholars of the Class of 2018, Be Patient.

To every black woman entering the Ivy League as a member of the class of 2018, I have one important piece of advice for you: Be patient.

 There are not many of us, so sometimes the world forgets that we exist. But sometimes we are acknowledged and celebrated. We are recognized for our high graduation rates and overall collegiate success. We are performing well which leads to a lack of visible resources—both academic and social.

Black women of 2018, you will have to search a bit further for academic resources. You are expected to perform well. Statistically speaking, you typically do perform well. While there may be organizations with missions to help black men on your campus excel, you may not find too many with specific missions geared towards helping you. Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond to find the help that you need. But remember—be patient.

 Approaching the social scene will be frightening. You will be placed into a dormitory, and a lot of the people that you will be living with may be of different races. They will want to know why you toss a satin cap over your hair every night or why you tie down that headscarf religiously. Oh, and for God’s sake, why do you only wash your hair every two weeks?

 When you do find students that look like you, you may be cautious about approaching them. What if they don’t like you? What if they want nothing to do with their culture and would much rather blend in with the dominant culture? What if the upperclassmen girls are catty? It may seem as though they are giving you looks of disproval, but just like you, they are also curious. Just remember—be patient.

 Attending an Ivy League institution as a black woman is a difficult feat. Not only will you have to constantly work ten times harder to prove that you deserve your place on campus, but you will also have to constantly prove your “blackness” to those that discredit your choice of institution. Why didn’t you go to a historically black college or university? Was it not good enough for you? Remember—be patient.

 There will be people that ascribe your success to affirmative action. There will be people who think that you have your nose in the air because your university is associated with such prestige.  And don’t forget the academics. The library will be your home although you are paying an absurd amount of money for housing.

As a black woman attending an Ivy League institution, you will sometimes feel ignored and insignificant, but once you discover your niche—you will feel powerful. And you are powerful. The strength that you will gain from the experience will energize you as you make your way to join the rankings of women like Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey.

Be patient, and soon, it will be your turn to change the world.

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Going Natural: The Political Statement behind a History of Untamed Roots

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Going Natural: The Political Statement behind a History of Untamed Roots

Many people have attempted to make the argument that the wearing of one’s natural hair is simply a fashion statement and not a political one. While this may hold true for a particular group of Black women, it is definitely not the truth for all. The state of a Black woman’s hair has always been significant to her self-identification as well as her political ideas. To many people, the style of a Black woman’s hair often tends to signify how comfortable she is with herself, her race, and her culture. Politically-speaking, during a time when assimilation was necessary to obtain equality and desegregation, pressed and curled hair was the ideal style for Black women across the nation. They had to have some type of commonality with the Euro-centric idea of beauty, and they also had to present themselves as being equal in terms of physical appearance. Overtime that idea began to revolutionize. Radicalism became necessary to obtain wide-scale integration and proclaim Black pride— which were the next few items on the political agenda of Blacks across the country. Accordingly, hairstyles began to change, and the hair of Black women began to be left alone in its natural state to show the comfort within its unaltered beauty. This presented a stark difference between beauty defined by Euro-centrism and beauty defined by the Black community. Having natural hair was a silent protest of refusing to conform while holding the expectancy to be not only accepted but respected. In the minds of Black women, respect and civility would not be denied on a basis of physical appearance. Natural hair would be respected. Quite similar to that earlier time in history, an increasing amount of black women are now neglecting both heat and chemical straighteners and instead opting for natural hair. More than a simple fashion trend, this is beginning to represent non-conformity, black beauty, and the embracement of one’s race.

The political statement within wearing natural hair has been expressed in multiple African-American texts. In Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Walter’s younger sister Beneatha challenged the oppressive white culture through the cutting and naturalization of her hair (Hansberry.) A Raisin in the Sun is set to take place during the 1950’s, a time when assimilation was essential in order to gain acceptance. In an effort to find herself and to avoid assimilation into white culture, Beneatha dramatically changed her hairstyle by cutting it and leaving it in its natural state. Hansberry presented this idea of anti-assimilation while also bringing light to the fact that the physical appearance of Blacks played a key role in the politics and ideas of the community.

By cutting her hair, Beneatha made a bold statement about the importance of her African heritage. There was radicalism seeping through her tightly coiled natural which was not easily accepted by American society or her own community and family. In a society that worshipped Euro-centric beauty and straight hair, there was no room for the coiled hair of a Black woman.

Delving into the history of Blacks, it is clearly seen that hair was always significant. Styled in ways meant to be much more than aesthetically pleasing, hair has always served as a medium for an unspoken language. There is evidence that hair was always important in the lives and cultures of Africans. Since centuries ago in West Africa, it has been typical for hair to be used to indicate a person’s marital status, age, religion, ethnic identity, wealth, and rank (Ayana and Tharps.) It also could indicate a person’s geographical origins and last name. A woman’s hair represented a lot and said a lot about her as a person. Through the Middle Passage, many of the grooming tools and techniques that were necessary to maintain the hair of Blacks were lost which resulted in the matting of their woolly hair (Wade.)

Rather than creating products to help make the hair more manageable, there was an influx of ideas and products that were created to alter the hair and its texture. This was more than the resistance of Afro-textured hair; it was an attempt to destroy the African culture and its voice. Another important aspect of Black hair is the difference of treatment given to slaves that were multi-cultural verses slaves that were solely African. It became evident that in order to receive different treatment, one had to mimic Western civilization in appearance. This meant lighter skin and straighter hair. Since hair was much easier to change than skin, it was a change often made. It was also a change that aided in suppressing the self-hatred caused by “nappy” hair. Black hair soon developed a negative connotation and was viewed as undesirable. To straighten it was to destroy negative stereotypes, identity, and history.

And so it was straightened. In order to gain political and social equality, especially during the earlier period of the Civil Rights Era, Black women began to dress and style their hair in a way that resembled those of the dominant society. It was unacceptable to have “nappy” hair shown in an arena outside of the home. Young girls expected to get their hair straightened at a certain age, and before then, they kept their hair neatly platted and tamed.  Hair straightening became a ritual for Black women.

Hot combs and chemical relaxers made this possible while helping to dispel the myth that Black women were ugly, uneducated, and powerless. By having straightened hair, black women began to become more socially accepted and were no longer seen as “nappy-headed” or unruly. Having straight hair became synonymous with being well-groomed which also boosted the appearance of Black women. When it came to politics, black men could also be seen as more credible since the image of their women was becoming more respectable. Black women began to succumb to the pain of chemical and heat straighteners in order to climb upwards on the hierarchy of beauty. In order to gain respect, Euro-centric beauty was mimicked. Black women were forced to destroy their natural appearance and assimilate.

Lisa Jones, a journalist, once wrote, “Everything I know about American history I learned from looking at black people’s hair” (Leeds Craig.) Prior to the 1960’s, straight hair was seen as “good” hair and hair that glorified natural Afro-textures was seen as “nappy.” At the turn of the decade, this way of thinking was thrown out as the once despised hairstyle became revolutionary as well as admired. This was largely due to the “Black is beautiful” lifestyle that began to trickle into Black communities. It urged Black women to love the skin that they were in and to submerge themselves into a pool of Black pride. Another critical factor that contributed to the increase of respect toward natural, non-chemical treated hair was the up rise of the Black Panther Movement. In the late 1960’s, “the magnitude of political importance given to the formulation of beauty” was something unheard of (Leeds Craig.) As Craig notes in Ain’t I a Beauty Queen: Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race, self-love began to present itself in an arena much larger than the homes of black women. Self-love was now political. Black people had to look at themselves in a positive light before they could fight for the same treatment from the rest of society. Sporting natural hair in itself was a way of advocating for racial pride, racial support, and racial determination. It became a uniform for Black love, and it helped members of a fragmented Black political movement find unity.

In addition to being able to showcase Black pride through natural hair, the hair also allowed Black women to develop a closer relationship to their African roots. Craig explains how Myesha Jenkin’s natural hair deepened her connection with the Motherland. “It was like, once I did get into style and got really political, it was like I couldn’t understand why anybody would ever straighten their hair. I mean it just seemed such, like the most obvious contradiction. And in that sense that’s the kind of an authenticity that I felt the hairstyle meant. And it’s like we have this alternative. We can create this new way of being that’s closer to Africa and farther away from Europe” (Leeds Craig.) Having natural hair became a way of asserting oneself as denying the dominant oppressive culture and its cultural restraints. Natural hair was visual evidence of the race having pride in itself. Instead of straightened hair being glorified, it was looked at with disgust by those who took pride in their natural roots. Women with straightened hair were seen as being hypocrites if they advocated for equality and encouraged racial love but opted out of wearing their hair in its natural state. It was seen as a sign of embarrassment. The transition from straightened hair to natural hair was not one that was simple, though, and so it is understandable why Black women would continue pressing their hair despite the important political implications.

Within the community and beyond the community, natural hair and its “unkemptness” was a bad representation of race—specifically in the eyes of the older generation of Black women in the country. To go natural would elicit negative responses. Some women had to go as far as wearing wigs in front of their family members in order to hide their natural hair. Black women urged the younger generation to keep a clean, presentable presence which consisted of pressed hair. In order to gain respect, the older generation believed that this was necessary. In Ain’t I A Beauty Queen?: Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race, Craig notes the outcry from the older generation when women were in an issue of Ebony wearing their natural hair. Some women took personal offense to this portrayal because the beauty and presentation of the Black women said a lot about the community as a whole. Shirley Drake wrote, “Each time I walk down the street and see another woman of my race wearing one of those hideous ‘naturals’ I am so humiliated I could cry’ (Leeds Craig.) Black women were embarrassed of these women that sported the natural hairdo when in fact they were just showing their pride despite what society believed.  The older generation of Black women knew that in order to change common perceptions of them, they had to present themselves in a way that would be widely accepted. All their lives it was preached to them that their appearance was a key factor in why they were treated in certain ways, and so they took this lesson and tried to ingrain it into their daughters. The older generation knew that both the nation and their own community had a contaminated perception of Black people, so by keeping their appearance non-radical they believed that they could counter the negative beliefs.

It has been scientifically proven that Black people base their perceptions of themselves upon how closely they resemble Euro-centric society. This is clearly seen within The Clark Doll Experiment. In The Clark Doll experiment, there was “an analysis of the genesis and development of racial identification as a function of ego development and self-awareness in Negro children” (Clark and Clark.) Black children were given four dolls—two of which were Black while the remaining two were white. The children were asked to do things such as play with the doll they liked the best, give the experimenter the doll that looked bad, give the experimenter the doll that had a nice color, etc. Throughout the experiment, it was proved that the Black children thought that the dolls of color had a negative identification which translated in the way that they saw themselves and people of their own race. The white dolls were seen as good and pure which indubitably explains why Blacks felt the need to mimic Euro-centric ideas of beauty in order to be taken seriously. It also explains why going against this established norm was seen as radical and politically moving.

Initially the emotional response to “nappy” hair within the community was initially a strong one, but the tables eventually turned. Soon it was straightened hair that was looked at as unacceptable. In the twenty-first century, more and more women are beginning to either keep their natural or cut off their treated hair. The increased popularity of natural hair is seen as a fashion statement, but little do people know that its roots lay in politics and the evolution of the black community and social equality. Having natural hair may not seem like much today, but many women would not have their hair sprouting out of their scalps in its natural glory if it was not for the political revolutionaries that preceded them.

Today, more women are able to wear their hair naturally without being judged. Some do it in order to prove their undying racial pride while other women do it just for the fashionable aspect of it. Overall this trend of natural hair just means that women are becoming more comfortable with themselves which is a statement within itself. There are more blogs that showcase natural hair and share advice on taming it, there are definitely more products that allow naturals to blossom and show the beauty of their hair, and there are certainly more women walking around, proclaiming “Man, I want to become natural!”

Being natural today would not be possible without the harsh criticism that an older generation of Black women had to endure in order to prove that their natural hair would stay and that they would continue to glorify it. This has continued throughout the decades. More than anything, this shows the evolution of the Black community and the acceptance of its women in their purest state which speaks volumes politically. No longer are Blacks beginning to see Euro-centrism as the ideal example of beauty. No longer does the Euro-centric ideal of beauty sit atop of the hierarchy of beauty. Blacks are beginning to realize that acceptance can be gained without light skin and straightened hair. From the discomfort that used to be created by naturals in the earlier part of the Civil Rights Era to the negativity associated with those without natural hair during the Black Panther Movement, it has become clear that things have come a long way.

Natural hair today still defines pride and expresses an evolving, although imperfect, perception of Black people and Black women. The politics of natural hair has changed, but it indubitable that there is political importance behind the natural hair of Black women today.

 

WORKS CITED

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Modern Library ed. New York: Random House, inc., 1995. Print.

Byrd, A. D., and L. L. Tharps. Hair story, untangling the roots of black hair in america. St Martins Pr, 2003. Print.

Wade, Shawan. n. page. <http://sitemaker.umich.edu/intersections/intersections.cultural.studies/_black_hair_>.

Leeds Craig, Maxine. Ain't I A Beauty Queen: Black Women, Beauty & the Politics of Race. Cary: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Clark, M., and Clark, K.. N.p.. Web. 16 May 2013. <http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/13/doll.study.1947.pdf>.

 

           

           

           

 

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It's My Body, I Can Do What I Want: Beyoncé’s Role in the Reclamation of the Black Woman’s Body and Sexuality

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It's My Body, I Can Do What I Want: Beyoncé’s Role in the Reclamation of the Black Woman’s Body and Sexuality

Sexual empowerment has continued to be confused with hyper-sexualization and sexual accessibility. The three terms are far from identical in meaning, but they are each applicable to the sexual history and culture of Black women. In an age where Black women are fighting to reclaim ownership of their bodies and sexuality, others are critical of these efforts and identifying them as methods of self-sexploitation. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles is one of the women in the hip-hop game that has made it one of her goals to restore the sexual freedom of Black women everywhere. Through her work, she has continuously proven that it is possible to be a professional, mother, sister, wife, and a woman comfortable with all aspects of her sexuality.  “There is unbelievable power in ownership and women should own their sexuality,” Knowles stated in her recent interview with “Out” magazine (Monde).

In the 2007 American Psychological Association Report, the following characterized hyper-sexualization: “A person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or sexual behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person” (Zurbriggen et al.).  Additionally, the term “sexual empowerment” was defined as the “…feeling entitled to and able to experience sexual pleasure and desire in a culture that restricts girls’ sexuality” (Peterson). Women, such as Beyoncé, are beginning to realize that their sexuality is under their complete control for shaping and molding. They are not promoting hyper-sexualization by encouraging sexiness in their music videos and song lyrics but instead are promoting their innate right to be sexy. They make it clear that their value is not solely derived from sexual appeal and that they are making the choice to embrace their sexuality. The Black woman’s body and sexuality is being reclaimed.

The historical tragedies surrounding the inhumane exposure and abuse of the Black woman’s body play a role in making the movement of sexual reclamation supported by Beyoncé a difficult one. Since the Black woman’s body has been degraded and taken advantage of historically, it is frowned upon when their bodies are flaunted in this day and age. Ever since the Elizabethan era, Blacks were considered to be lusty with bestial sexualities. This served as justification for the rape of Black slave women by white masters. “The Black woman was depicted as a woman with an insatiable appetite for sex” (Rhymes, 2007).

There were a few features of the slavery institution that fueled the idea that Black women were innately and uncontrollably sexually immoral. Slaves were frequently stripped unwillingly and examined before they were sold off. While the function of this procedure was to ensure that the slave was healthy and free of any whipping scars that would suggest that they attempted to run away in the past, this procedure also put the women at risk of sexual exploitation. It was not unusual for them to be taken advantage of during this process. Nudity during this time was associated with a “lack of civility, morality, and sexual restraint even when the nakedness was forced” (Rhymes). Since slaves were thought to be subhuman, they were often left with few clothes. If they did not have sufficient clothing, the quality was raggedy and left them exposed. This deeply contrasted with white women who were always fully clothed—thus creating polar opposite stereotypes with white women being “civilized, modest, and sexually pure” while Black women were “crude, immodest, and sexually deviant” (Rhymes).

Over time, there was also an abundance of household items that featured half-naked Black women, which played a major role in objectification. Things such as postcards, ashtrays, and drinking glasses were decorated with the bodies of Black women. These sexually explicit items were popular in American culture and contributed to the hyper-sexualization of Black women.

Being that Beyoncé’s significant role in the modern movement of the Black woman’s reclamation of her body and sexuality proves to be problematic due to a rich history of hyper-sexualization and sexual accessibility, the role that Sara Baartman, also known as Hottentot Venus, plays is a critical one. Baartman was a woman from the Khoikhoi group of South Africa. During colonial expansion, English men took her in order to travel England and to use her in an exhibit solely for entertainment purposes (South African History Online). Because of her atypical, large buttocks and brown color, she became an object of fascination. Baartman was put on display in a cage, and people from various parts of Europe paid to see her body that was often advertised as being “the ne plus ultra of hideousness” and “the greatest deformity in the world” (South African History Online). During her time in the exhibition, she was often showcased alongside zoo animals and ordered around like she was an animal herself. All the while she was scantily clad. Eventually, French anatomists, zoologists, and physiologists took her to be studied for her seemingly rare body shape, and they concluded that she was a species in between human and animal because of her “odd” body characteristics. Once she died, there was a plaster cast created of her body, and her body parts were kept on display in a museum. Women like Sara Baartman were mocked and objectified due to their African features. Black women today are flaunting the very body parts that they were once put on display for which causes much debate. While it can be said that this sense of pride can be seen as complete disregard for the past embarrassment of the Black woman’s body, women like Beyoncé are taking complete ownership of their bodies by taking control of how much is seen and how frequent it is seen. They are also controlling this aspect of their life by shaping the discussion surrounding their bodies.

Lily Burana, the feminist author of the memoir Strip City, said, “Feminism took a switch. It was no longer women saying, ‘To be taken seriously, I need to be asexual.’ Sexuality became more egalitarian” (Sharpley-Whiting). Becoming sexual without embarrassment or objectification became a viable option for women, especially with role models doing this in the hip-hop industry. As the poster child of this movement, Beyoncé unexpectedly released her self-titled album on December 13, 2013. Not only was it highly renown because of it’s sheer shock factor, it was also popular because of it’s sexual content. It is arguable that this reclamation of body and sexuality started well before the debut of her self-titled album.

In 2004, Beyoncé released her single “Naughty Girl.” The popular ode to a woman’s freedom of sexuality and choice to share her body with the man of her dreams was accompanied by an equally sexy music video. Upon the beginning of the music video, Beyoncé and her dancers are mysterious silhouettes dancing behind a white screen to the track. Before the beat drops, Beyoncé rips off her skirt and begins to dance sensually with her girls. Throughout the remainder of the video, she is seductively dancing with Usher Raymond as he finds it hard to resist the spell that her and her body has him under. Beyoncé shows what it means to take power in the ownership of her body and sexuality by doing whatever she wants with her body. Unlike Sara Baartman, there is no man putting her on display for the masses; she is choosing to share what she was born with and embrace it. This isn’t degradation. It is empowerment.

In the “Naughty Girl” music video, Beyoncé took distinctive characteristics of two traditionally negative stereotypes of Black women and transformed them into a positive, uplifting image. By being a woman that resembled a mulatto with light skin, long hair, curvaceous body, and few African features (Jezebel image) that used her sexuality to emasculate and control the man in the video (Matriarch image), she created a more unique, modernized image that asserted her as the person in control.

"You can be a businesswoman, a mother, an artist, and a feminist - whatever you want to be - and still be a sexual being,” said Beyoncé in her “Out” magazine interview (Monde). She is a woman that has her own fragrances in the market as well as a clothing line. She is the mother of a two-year baby girl. As mentioned in one of her latest singles “Flawless,” she supports feminism as it relates to the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. At the same time, she poses in photographs that show off her curves and has no shame in doing so. She balances her right to sexuality and independence.

On her newest album, another single that proclaimed her sexual independence was “Grown Woman.” “I'm a grown woman, I can do whatever I want, I'm a grown woman, I can do whatever I want, I can be bad if I want, I can say what I want, I can live fast if I want, I can go slow all night long” (Knowles) is one of the verses that captures Beyoncé’s movement going against society’s restraints and doing what is rightfully owed to her due to her maturity and independence. The verses, “Go girl (go girl), She got that bomb (that bomb), That girl can get whatever she wants, Go girl (hey girl), She got that tight (that tight), Them boys, They do whatever she like” (Knowles) makes a reference to the desirability of her vagina and how it helps her in asserting her power. She has claimed her body as weapon of control. She knows that what she has is wanted, and she is claiming the rights on how she chooses to distribute it.

Additionally, there was much debate surrounding one of her newest singles from her self-titled album. “Partition” was an ode to being freaky for her man, and the video was an explicit visualization of that idea. “Driver, roll up the partition please, I don’t need you seeing Yoncé on her knees…” (Knowles) is how the song begins—and it had many jaws dropping. She hinted at giving her man fellatio while in the vehicle—something that was completely explicit and racy but honest nonetheless. There was no man forcing her to get on her knees; she expressed her choice and accepting of doing this act. Other controversial lyrics from the song included, “Now my mascara runnin', red lipstick smudged, Oh he so horny, yeah he want to fuck, He popped all my buttons and he ripped my blouse, He Monica Lewinski'd all on my gown,” and “Hand prints and good grips all on my ass, Private show with the music blastin', He like to call me Peaches when we get this nasty” (Knowles).  Those lyrics are indubitably explicit in nature but also tell a story of a woman enjoying a sexual encounter with a man. For Beyoncé, it tells of the sexual encounters that occur between her and her husband. She aspires to create a shared narrative that many Black women, especially those whom are married, are discouraged to have—a sexual narrative that gives the women enjoyment. She closes the song with a few French verses that translate to, “Do you like sex? Sex. I mean, the physical activity. Coitus. Do you like it? You're not interested in sex? Men think that feminists hate sex, but it's a very stimulating and natural activity that women love” (Knowles). Beyoncé is no longer insinuating that she is a sexual being; she is explicitly stating it while suggesting that it is completely okay to love sex and retain your rights as a woman. She also openly shows it during the music video.

At the beginning of the music video, she suggestively drops a napkin on the ground and tries to seduce her husband from across the dining table. At the start of the next scene, she is then leading a car that contains her husband down a road. She is dressed in a rain jacket and at the end of the road; she opens it and exposes her lingerie. The video then cuts to a hot and steamy scene of her and her husband caressing one another in the vehicle. He is undressing her as she moans and touches herself. The scene then cuts to a dance number in which she is dressed in a diamond bikini top and thong. She seduces her husband, who is seated in front of the stage, through sensual dance.

The “Partition” music video was Beyoncé’s main weapon in reclaiming the Black woman’s body and sexuality. By choosing to dance for her husband and have him see her naked, she controlled the way in which he would be able to view her. By making this a music video available to the masses, she also controlled how the world would see her and proudly upheld her “sexy mother and wife” image. She controlled the way in which the world would be able to view her. The music video was consciously created by her and helped her in accomplishing her goal of showing that she had no problem being a sexual being and role model for other Black women who should also feel the same way.

“"There is a double standard when it comes to sexuality that still persists. Men are free and women are not. That is crazy,” Beyoncé commented during a magazine interview (Monde). Black women are not openly accepted when they embrace their sexuality and choose to reclaim their bodies by decorating it in whatever they desire and flaunting it as they want. As stated before, sexual empowerment has continued to be confused with hyper-sexualization and sexual accessibility. Just because black women are beginning to feel entitled to sexual pleasure does not mean that they are encouraging sexual exploitation of themselves. “I'm very happy if my words can ever inspire or empower someone who considers themselves an oppressed minority … We are all the same and we all want the same things: the right to be happy, to be just who we want to be and to love who we want to love,” commented Knowles (Monde). By creating anthems such as “Naughty Girl,” “Grown Woman,” and “Naughty Girl,” Beyoncé is creating a support system and source of encouragement for Black women that never existed before. She is empowering all women—both old and young. She empowers her ancestors that were taken advantage of before her and objectified—such as Sara Baartman—by reclaiming her body and what it can be used for. By taking control of her body, she is taking control of the portrayal of Black women and letting society know that Black women could be whoever the hell they want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Knowles, Beyoncé. “Grown Woman.” Beyoncé. Parkwood & Columbia, 2013.

 

Knowles, Beyoncé. “Naughty Girl.” Dangerously in Love. Columbia, 2004.

 

Knowles, Beyoncé. “Partition.” By Terius "The Dream" Nash. Beyoncé. Columbia, 2013.

 

Monde, Chiderah. "Beyoncé Graces Out Magazine's Power Issue: 'Women Should Own Their Sexuality'" NY Daily News. N.p., 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.

 

Peterson, Zoë D. "What Is Sexual Empowerment? A Multidimensional and Process-Oriented Approach to Adolescent Girls’ Sexual Empowerment." Sex Roles 62.5-6 (2010): 307-13. Print.

 

Rhymes, Edward, Dr. "A 'Ho' By Any Other Color: The History and Economics of Black Female Sexual Exploitation." Alternet. Black Agenda Report, 18 May 2007. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

 

"Sara "Saartjie" Baartman | South African History Online." Sara "Saartjie" Baartman | South African History Online. South African History Online, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

 

Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean. Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop's Hold on Young Black Women. New York: New York UP, 2007. Print.

 

Zurbriggen, Eileen L., Rebecca L. Collins, Tomi-Ann Roberts, Deborah L. Tolman, L. M. Ward, and Jeanne Blake. "Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls." Http://www.apa.org. American Psychological Association, 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

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