I see the dimming lights in their eyes,
of something often,
of something close,
of something cherished,
of something forgotten.
There is futility in attempting to put these pieces together,
But I am drawn to it–
this exercise in impossibility.
I’ve dreamt of the paths untrodden,
that they might have missed to reach this place
of unfounded dreams and unspoken hopes.
To label this failure would be too easy.
This piece, on the social regulation of black hair is the second part of my Politics of Black Hair series that was featured in the Earlham College student-run newspaper.
Historically, Black hair has frequently earned a reputation of being “unruly” and “unmanageable” with specific focus on it’s oftentimes kinky texture. It is such labels that aided the development and dependency of many black women upon hair chemicals (a multi-million dollar industry1 ) that promised the popular and socially accepted Eurocentric ideal of “good hair”, albeit temporarily. Perpetuation of ideas on what “good hair” must look like and how far black hair is from this idea, has worked to produce much of the social bias that many black people face within the workplace, school and in daily interactions.
Although the natural hair movement, has helped to sensitize and draw awareness about the beauty of black hair, there are still inherent problems with the way black hair texture is viewed. Because acceptable hair texture has often leaned towards the Eurocentric ideal, hair that could at least somehow “pass” as mirroring or attempting to mirror this Eurocentric ideal has usually been accepted within societies, both black and white. In Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary, Good Hair, we are taken into the complex and oftentimes expensive world of Black hair care and the lengths at which black people must be prepared to go, in order to achieve a socially acceptable image of themselves and more specifically, of their hair. Although the natural hair movement, has helped to sensitize and draw awareness about the beauty of black hair, there are still inherent problems with the way black hair texture is viewed. Because acceptable hair texture has often leaned towards the Eurocentric ideal, hair that could at least somehow “pass” as mirroring or attempting to mirror this Eurocentric ideal has usually been accepted within societies, both black and white.
Regulation of Black hair in the workplace is one of the most blatant forms of discrimination against people of color but also against the natural state of Black hair. In their opinion editorial entitled, “When Black Hair Is Against the Rules2 ” (2014), Ayana Byrd and Lori L.Tharps, authors of “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” (2001) demonstrate how the US Army’s decision to revise its appearance and grooming policy, disproportionately affected Black women and their hair. The 2014 policy was said to “refer to hairstyles like cornrows, braids, twists and dreadlocks” while “severely limiting or banning them outright.” Specific language within the policy also referred to these styles as “matted” and “unkempt.”3 Although the policy has since been revised, such action conveys a clear message to black people: The US Army will not accept your natural as it is, alter it or prepare to face the consequences. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that social regulations on Black hair are perpetuated by Black and White people alike, who staunchly believe in the inherent inferiority of black hair. However, the best-kept secret still remains: Black hair should not need reform, rather it is the unhealthy ideals of Eurocentric beauty, unequal racial structures and power dynamics that need to be abolished.
On this seemingly fruitless journey, we have been waiting.
Haltingly going neither backwards nor upwards-
Floating between the intermediary of who we dreamed to become
that which our reflections mockingly produce.
we make gods of our bodies
and starve passion through the unwritten literature of our souls.
we are searching,
searching perhaps for that which we lost long before this journey began.
searching greater still, for that which our hands have not formed
nor our minds fathomed.
And They tell us-
that we are dreaming larger than we can become-
Because becoming has never been
in our power-
I hear them in quiet moments.
These women with their mourning songs-
So hauntingly beautiful,
So hollow and wide
but always reaching my spirit in it’s darkest depths.
I sometimes call out to them to stop.
Knowing however, that I want nothing of the sort.
These women whose wails have created more life
and pleasure than can be comprehended.
They carry their mourning songs sewn and wrapped across their hearts.
These women with calloused hands that have cultivated and uprooted their hopes
and have faithfully watered the ego’s of pot-bellied husbands.
These mourning Women with their distant looks
and forgotten stories.
I have seen them many times before
in mirrors of the past and echos of the future
I shut my eyes and try to paint a lighter reflection-
one that demands less of my being.
She appears again, silent at first
And then her mourning song begins.
she had suddenly found herself growing weary-
weary of the men with grabbing hands.
grabbing at her uncovered flesh and often grabbing at her soul.
their kisses were like warm water on a humid summer day.
they always seemed to confuse their rush to undress her with a distant relative of “passion”
she yearned for soft hands that would caress instead of grope.
for those arms that would carry her above the burning coals.
so she let her mind dance around this new reality-
this reality of soft hands and strong arms.
because grabbing hands made her weary and she felt
it was time to live again.
But to you my darling, I will say-
Few will understand you,
and even less will remember the part
they have played in orchestrating your
Will you call this your reason for
And they keep telling me: my Black is beautiful.
As though this new revelation should surprise me.
Shock me, into
appreciating my existence, and to be grateful for my borrowed space.
How do they know I do not bow to my temple of blackness daily?
and pay homage often to the struggles whitened out in history texts?
They encourage me to accept my wide heavy hips and thick thighs.
They speak in weak tones of expression of inner beauty and imitations of color blindness,
Who are these that dictate what my reflections should sing?
Those who trap my stories in a box
Those who describe me as one thing.
One beautiful Black thing.
Why should i be defined, aligned and understood?
they teach me to know myself, while
always fearing i will recognize the lies behind their borrowed truths
and hand-woven sermons
Having produced an image of me that they find palatable and comfortable,
they clip my wings and demand i soar.
You only ever taught me to love and to be true,
Assuring me that this was enough armor to meet the world with.
You prepared me to hope in the stars and pray to the winds.
You promised that faith could conquer all battles.
You made me understand the pain of others before my own.
You taught me to sooth the wounds on the backs of my foes.
You showed me that wisdom would always dwell in the rows of cornrows that lay upon my head.
You sang the hymns on the misery of wars un-fought.
You decorated my childhood with stories of the evils of men.
You taught me to be silent too soon and
Young girl, I pray you see these vultures hovering over you.
They prey on innocence.
Taking blood when able.
How can you decipher their evils?
My young one, they will come bearing gifts
of perfumed prose,
that may seem heartfelt but is rather a memorized eulogy.
Silky phrases that plead the divergence of legs,
and the raising of hips.
Young girl, I pray you believe your worth.
Immeasurable and unquantifiable.
Young girl, I pray you learn to love the broken reflection.
Tender and complex.
Young girl, it might seem like you will never win,
in this game of greed and falling queens.
But know this
That the worst of the vultures,
that suck you dry, leaving you hollow and barren
They are birthed
out of you
Pulling him to her breast,
She realized what she feared was the newness.
The feeling that perhaps
This moment had never occurred before and so,
the burden of creating something completely new had been given to them:
these young reckless lovers.
Who knew nothing more than to give of themselves,
Hungry, not to conquer but to be conquered.
They reeked of passion,
blinding and burning.
But even in the midst of passion,
She found herself gasping and wondering if the burden was too heavy.
As she moulded her body alongside his,
would this be enough?
She realized what she feared was the newness.
The beauty of creation that lay in the sandy horizon
And the failure of never reaching it,
blanketed her naked statue.