Then mirrors, then men

shadowed moonlight visions I heard

the familiar downpour

always a hollow, almost terrified

shower.

morphed for a thousand and one years of suppression

between rock and the softness

of one set free in an unknown yet shackled way.

i heard but never found the leaking source in time

to perhaps embrace in the way sadness marries hopelessness

giving birth to a single way

forward that at times

promises a thing like

peacefulness.

i was lost most times-

between

the vision and the slippery slopes.

It is now, somewhere between

a past unfinished and a new moon

that I saw the many men crouched, as though in

meditation.

their cries as a melody of shattered mirrors grappling for a reflection

a conclusion of self, a climax of revelations

laid waste but sprouting still

And then the gong-

And then the silence.

mirror became steel again

and all stood upright in a fortitifude that embroidered

silence

around pain.

grey

Listening now to the sound of the gong,

flowing through the membranes of loss,

of loss brought forward as a sacrifice to the gods,

to the gods of retribution who stand between the clear grey line of,

blackness meeting armed whiteness at the back of police vans,

of gunpowder and stolen voices– anchored unto the seams of the Atlantic,

of the Atlantic heavy with unborn child, clinging to the expanse of being and becoming,

of being and becoming in between the greyness of limitations that are both blinding as

they are obscure.

Listening now to the sound of the gong,

praying hope over the darkness of snatched nights, whispering mothers, walking over the edge,

over the edge of our dreams that lay beside us by day and haunt us as they lay beneath us, all too often.

All too often, do we find the greyness, unyielding,

but always

there

 

Letters to Ayoola (3)

Ayoola, ore mi,

A thousand oceans and broken telephone wires could not separate us. As I usually do, I have mused and mused over your last careful and cursive letter. Perhaps, I should have celebrated the coming of a new life by going through the traditional fanfare. Tears of joy. A congratulatory call. More tears. Anticipation. Rather, your impending birth has had me contemplating our beloved Orisha. I’ve thought about it often enough to say it: this new life must be floating somewhere between orun ati aye. Are you impatient? I cannot bear the anguish of waiting or more still, my absence.

Between soothing tears and building broken bridges, I have been praying for light. When the darkness engulfed my blindness I found it easier to shield my body. I enjoyed the invisibility and I would sometimes gracefully dance between the uneven shadows I found. My own was lost but there were many I found along the way. But I still prayed for the light. I prayed fervently and fearfully, knowing that my body- naked, shapeless and contorted would be seen- be unveiled-
to whom?
These questions, as do thoughts of how many tears paradise can carry, elude me daily. Where do we find the strength to build when stones so quickly turn to sand? Supposing I lost my footing, which I constantly do–which of the two worlds would accept my heavy, sinful bounty of a body? Ore mi, I am still falling: 

Ore mi, I am still falling: 

I don start again, abi? I know. All my love to Baba, at long last, some sense in the title. And to my beloved, yes, mine: whisper not only the beauty but also the pure evils and maladroits of our Great Care-Taker. If you won’t, I shall, and you know that is a promise

To more days of Sangria sweetness.

Yours,

 

Politics of Black Hair (part 2): Social Regulation of Black Hair Texture

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.

 

Politics of Black Hair (part 1): Black Hair and Petting Zoo’s

As a young girl my mother’s decision to make me wear my hair in it’s natural state (without any chemical products) largely made me an anomaly amongst my caucasian friends but a symbol of celebration for its length and volume amongst my black friends.

I would grow up to expect the “oohing” and “aahing” of non-African’s at the sight of my hair, followed by the occasional, “can I touch it?” or “how often do you wash it?”. I will admit, some experiences were better than others but not one left me feeling necessarily good about myself or the attention that my hair provided me simply because I did not see individuals of other races being riddled with questions about the “management” of their hair. Disclaimer: In making these statements, I do not attempt to speak for the entire Black race or individuals who share hair textures that deviate from silky and straight. Although my experiences concerning my hair stem far beyond the time I have spent in the United States, I will have to admit that living in the US has opened up me to several new dimensions of the black hair discussion.

The attention that black hair garners whether in it’s natural state or in other styles such as wigs, crotchet braids or braiding extensions has often left me weary. Weary of explaining the “how’s” and the “whys”, weary of defending that black women’s decision on how they choose to wear their hair should be left to each woman as an individual and not a collective and weary of feeling like an animal at a petting zoo. The general inability for black hair to simply exist without question or analysis is frustrating, to say the least, and although there is so much discussion on the topic, so much ignorance still pervades the issue. In her internationally acclaimed novel, Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie demonstrates the difficulties that the protagonist, Ifemelu faces in deciding how to wear her hair and the consequences that arise from either wearing it naturally or using chemical products. Although Adichie helped to provide a platform for the discussion of the politicization of black hair, much more needs to be done. So my advice to anyone who feels the urge to grab a braid or quiz a black woman about the texture of her hair is to Stop! you are not at the petting zoo.Black Hair Collumn

Paradox Unraveled

I know she often thinks of the beauty of death.

As she lays down her weary body

That once swayed gracefully from side to side

That once paid homage to the goddess of vitality.

But she is now weary and withdrawn-

Withdrawn from the world and withdrawn from herself

Unable to recognize the reflection of the ghost before her

She weeps quietly,

Inwardly

It is the inward pain that has devoured her

It came silently but knowingly

Knowing the destruction it would cause and the

Disarray that would be the final result

And as she lays down her weary body

I want to reach out and pull her

Close to me

Close to something

Living-

Because life is what she has lost

Because life is what she has used to barter

Because life is what she deserves to have.

But she is weary now

Weary of living.

The art of unliving

Of always giving of herself

Is one she has perfected

Thus, she no longer knows

What it means to live whole

And not,

as a sacrifice.

As she lays down her weary body

Her eyes grow distant and wide

Searching for her home above the heavens,

her place among the stars.

Perhaps, this is really living

She has found peace in this paradox

Of being dead to find life

I want to reach out and pull her

Close to me

But there is futility embroidered around this effort

She has found something-

Something much more potent than life itself

Black Gold

I am Black Gold

They try to crack the ridges

And ends of my being

but my armor is impermeable.

They try to sing my freedom songs

And buy my history.

I am Black Gold

My calloused memory

Retains the path of my ancestors

Whipped and raped

Forced to grovel

But continuing to rise.

I am Black Gold

They try to resist the flowers that bloom within me

Telling me there is no place for my beauty

Rejecting my roots

And defining my identities

While erasing my mother tongue.

I am Black Gold

They teach me to walk straight

To tilt my hat

To hide my colors

But to open my legs

And to always keep my mind shut.

I am Black Gold

Sold by my brothers

Who saw their reflections in the mirrors

But did not see the evil of their ways

Who prayed to a God of a color

That bore no resemblance to their own

I am Black Gold

I stand tall and break free

I have found my way home

In the belly of the Niger River

I found love in the blackness

And I have made peace with it all.

Along the lines of truth

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.

and time.

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.

The African Dream

When they painted the African narrative

They did not anticipate growth.

Or perhaps they prayed against it?

The beauty of the African dream,

the black dream in the white mind

is that it never comes true.

It must remain blurry and murky before it can be realized.

For it is upon the pot-bellied rulers that they discuss

“the New Africa”

the “Rebirth”.

The beauty of the African dream-

must be found in the impoverished infant

suckling a dried and withered breast

of a smiling corpse

The beauty of the African dream

is the illiterate woman,

toiling the fields,

for crops that will never yield.

Of the dirty children playing under the

Amarula tree.

The beauty of the African dream

is found in the colonized ideology fed to the locals

in the disguise of the Saints and Mother Mary.

That is the only narrative the white mind

can swallow with his morning tea.