An Example…

27 Mar

It was solely coincidence that one week ago I wrote a list called, “The Top 5 Questions Women of Color get Asked out of Ignorance and Disrespect”. I created the list based on personal experience and the collaborated stories and experiences of women of color. Many of the experiences I wrote about were very personal, while others I have yet to endure. The first one, however, is a comment I am very familiar with; The loaded question: “Is that your real hair?”

Good Times!

Good Times!

I went to the mall Saturday evening with my aunt from visiting from Trinidad and with my mom, who also has locks. Oftentimes, as she likes it best, she wears her hair in a ponytail, as she did this past Saturday. While we were walking, my mother was asked by a group of guys walking in the opposite direction, “Is that all yours?” From behind, perhaps they thought she was yonger, possibly my age. But when she turned around they immediately noticed she was older, and tried to laugh it off saying, “Just kidding!”  My mom though, bold as she is, smiled her confident smile and said,”No, you weren’t, but it’s okay.” She conintued, “This is all my real hair.” The boys then, feeling embarrassed and awkward stood there as she proceeded to point me out next her with my hair loose and hanging down reaching past my back and asked, “Do you believe that is all hers?” They said yes because “mine was down and they could tell”, however something tells me that they had their doubts about the authenticity of my hair as well as my mothers. Something tells me their answer changed upon her correction of their incorrect assumption. At least we know they were taught some sort of good manners.

So there I stood dumbfounded almost because once again, I was conflicted with how it could be so hard for another to fathom that a black woman could have natural, lengthy hair. What makes this issue even more difficult is that it is not necessarily a black and white thing. The group of young men who asked my mother this question were all black! One of them, had dreads himself.

Whether one realizes it or not, often times when a women of color gets asked this question the underlying and often unconscious thought behind their inquiry is that it is uncommon or even impossible for women of color to have long, flowing, natural hair of their own. Thus, the problem. Among that central question, I have sort of archived a list of other very stereotypical questions that I personally get asked on a daily basis having dreadlocks:

Are you Jamaican?

Can I touch it?

Does it hurt if I touch it?

How do you sleep on that?

The ever playful,unintelligent, ignorant, sarcastic, yet equally insulting, “Can you give me dreads”?

Were you born with them?

Does everyone in your family have them?

Do you wash it? How?

Are they clean? Does it smell?

You must have nappy hair huh?

Did your parents force you to get them?

…Some of these may surprise you, some of these may sound very familiar because you yourself have thought them or asked them out loud. All of these questions I get asked on a day to day basis, as if my hair was some sort of anomaly all its own. Its funny, when I think of these things, or when I get asked any one of these questions because I shake my head and at that very moment, inside, I feel so out of place. You see, in my community, back home in Trinidad, dreadlocks are normal. They are a part of our culture as a people, and we take pride in having locks down to our backsides r as short as the nape of our necks. Men and women alike with thick hair, wavy hair, thin and straight hair all th same have locks. No one walks up to me and asks, “Is it real?” or, “Can I touch it?” I feel like I belong.

Caracas Beach in Trinidad and Tobago, 2008

Caracas Beach in Trinidad and Tobago, 2008

Little sis and Cuz,Caracas Beach, Trinidad, 2008

Little sis and Cuz,Caracas Beach, Trinidad, 2008

Care free and hair free...The place where I am most happy is the  place where I can be myself.

Care free and hair free…The place where I am most happy is the place where I can be myself.

Bother and cousins enjoying the beach, 2008

Brother and cousins enjoying the beach, 2008

Having grown up, and now being almost used to the questions and assumptions that are imposed upon me, being  a woman of color, and having long dreadlocks, these things , the questions and comments are not so much of a surprise to me anymore. Just because  am not surprised any longer, does not mean that they do not bother me so much anymore. What bothers me is when I think of the young brown girls who are growing up experiencing these same things, recreating the cycle.

I know, that much of these questions and assumptions that follow black women in particular and long hair stem from the way that media portrays them. Most famous black women do have hair extensions. Many black women in general do use chemical straigtheners or texturizers in their hair. The key word though, is “most”, not all! If you are reading this post and are asking yourself, well, what am I supposed to do, or what can I do you should, we all should take on the motto used so often in our judicial system that says, “innocent until proven guilty”. Assume that when you see a women of color walking past you on campus and she has long hair, that it is her natural hair. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Don’t allow the media, our stereotypical society decide for you how you will view the world. Create your own judgements. Refrain from treating a part of her that is so precious and valuable as if it is some strange and foreign thing on top of her head to be examined, and touched, pulled at.  Stop the cycle.

I have been battling with these thoughts for a while now. I wondered to myself where do we draw the line between exoticism and pure curiosity? When should I be offended and when am I just being overly sensitive? I have come to this simple conclusion: When I am treated like some sort of exotic thing, a rare animal, something never seen before, when I am treated that way, like a lab experiment, that is exoticism. Pure and simple. All of those questions I listed above are examples of exoticism, no way around it, and it is NOT all right. However, when I am treated as a human being rather than an object, and that includes everything belonging to me, every body part of mine, everything that is me, that creates me and who I am, hair and hips included, and some one has a questions or is interested to know more and approaches me as such, that is pure and honest curiosity, and I have no problem satisfying that.

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Mix it UP!

27 Mar

Black is BEAUTIFUL because of the variety 😉

Multicultural Student Association’s “Multicultural Showcase”

25 Mar

All BEAUTIFUL women of color modeling designs based from Ghana. No one can do it quite like we can.. 😉

Top 5 Question Women of Color Get asked out of Ignorance and Disrepect

20 Mar

1. Is that your real hair? Is that all yours?

Is-That-Your-Real-Hair YES!YES!YES! The idea that a woman of color, a black woman in particular could have natural, untouched by chemicals hair is outside of the norm for many people, but I am here to tell you YES! It is my real hair, her real hair, our real hair. Furthermore, rather than doubting whether or not “it’s really theirs” whenever you see a black woman with long hair, assume it’s hers first. Innocent until proven guilty!

sim hair2.Why areyour hips so big?/ How is your butt so big?

“OH MY GOD BECKY, LOOK AT HER BUTT!”…need I say more? If that phrase means nothing to you, plug it in on Youtube and I am sure you will understand very quickly. The problem with this song that quickly became so popular is that it asserts that having a large backside is a terrible, awful, no good thing. Some believe, women of color, black women in particular make their behinds large. People assume every black woman must have a large, round, plump behind or something has gone terribly wrong! Some women black and non- black get injections to increase the size of their backsides. So as you can see, tackling this question sort has itself a wide range of issues and concepts going on. Often times when I was asked the question it was by a white person who for some reason couldn’t wrap their brains around the fact that having a big butt, a “fat ass”, a larger than most backside, whatever you want to call it was just natural. just born that way. All of a sudden i become the go to person for every non- black woman to consult with who needs to find a pair of jeans that can fit their wide hips because of course i must know.

Where I come from being thick, as we like to call it, is a good thing. And you can be thick with or without having a large behind, and also while being very healthy.

Brown, Thick, and she has long hair! Triple threat! ;p

Brown, Thick, and she has long hair! Triple threat! ;p

Thick and proud!

Thick and proud!

So before you ask a black woman, “why is your butt so big”? or “how did it get like that”? Consider the fact that they were just born that way, the same way you may have been born with blonde hair, blue eyes, a flat stomach, long legs, curly hair whatever!

The person who wrote this is an idiot and has no clue what it is they have written or are doing to perpetuate a negative cycle of stereotypes about black women:

http://obnoxioustv.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/black-womens-best-ass-set-does-a-big-butt-cause-men-to-be-more-sexually-aggressive/

3.Do you get sunburn?

The first time I was ever asked this question I honestly did not know the answer. However, immediately after I was asked it, I felt a tad umm, how should I say, out-of-place! I remember looking down at my skin and back up to the white skinned person who asked me thinking, “wow, this is awkward“. Truth is, the sun, the same way it affects a person with fair skin, causing cancer, darkening their skin etc. is the same way the sun affects a black person. Whether you choose to call it a tan, or just getting a little darker, it can happen to us to. We do not have some built-in protector under our brownness that shields us from the sun. it may be harder for you to tell when we have gotten darker, but we, just like those with fair skin, are human beings; And the sun has certain effects on human beings. Black people are not excluded from that. The assumption or thought that we are only sheds light on the idea, subconscious or fully aware, that black people are some separate group from, oh, let’s say, humans!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ia-IGwRfRQ

4.Do you taste like chocolate?

Often times I have heard this as a pick up line, but let us not get anything confused: This question is RIDICULOUS! Whether asked as a joke, a pick up line, a sincere question out of curiosity. Dont ask it, don’t even think it.

5.Why do you talk so loud? Why do you have so much attitude?

I have had this conversation multiple times, and something I constantly come back to is this: black people, black women are not innately loud, assertive and outspoken. We are not some special breed of people who know not how to whisper and come out of the womb screaming, arguing, yelling, and LOUD. Black people, black women, like any other person on this planet, we are passionate, and when we speak about something we are passionate about, other perceive it as loud. Do not make the mistake of assuming that it is in our nature to be loud and obnoxious. It doesn’t matter HOW MANY encounters you have had with a black person, a person of color in general who is loud, rude, and obnoxious. DO NOT GENERALIZE. In the same way, ALL LATINOS DO NOT SPEAK SPANISH OR UNDERSTAND IT, ALL IMMIGRANTS ARE NOT FROM MEXICO AND/ OR ILLEGAL, ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE NOT RICH AND SPOILED, ALL PEOPLES FROM THE MIDDLE EAST OR WITH TAN SKIN ARE NOT TERRORISTS, ALL GAY MEN DO NOT LIKE EVERY SINGLE MAN THEY CROSS PATHS WITH, ALL WOMEN CANNOT COOK AND DO NOT WANT TO COOK, ALL PEOPLES FROM AFRICA ARE NOT STARVING…phew! I could go on forever folks! STOP STEREOTYPING, ASSUMING, GENERALIZING. It’s insulting, and you sound like an idiot.

AND I HAD TO SHARE THIS VIDEO I STUMBLED UPON IN CREATING THIS POST BECAUSE THIS GUY THINKS HE’S GOT IT ALL FIGURED OUT HUH?!

http://

in (HER) view: a conversation with black women

6 Mar

http://

…Because NO one can do it quite like we do…

6 Mar

african-queen-spread

A couple of days ago, I was logging onto the web to access my email when I saw this picture of a young brown girl. She was clearly a model, though I wondered what had happened or what she had done to make headlines on almost all popular websites that cover news. The Headline read: “White African Queen”, and upon seeing this well I just had to read on. There was a picture, followed by a byline that said, “Numéro magazine used a highly bronzed blond-haired, blue-eyed white model in one of its fashion editorials entitled ‘African Queen.'”

african-queen

Eurweb.com wrote about the photos: “The model, however, is a white girl…in blackface. In fact, she’s in blackbody, with dark makeup covering all of her exposed skin”

Here she is, 16 year old Ondria Hardin, the white model from North Carolina who the magazine chose to cover up in bronzer calling it “Celebrating African Beauty”

Here she is, 16 year old Ondria Hardin, the white model from North Carolina who the magazine chose to cover up in bronzer calling it “Celebrating African Beauty”

Hmmm….where or how could I begin to tackle this one? I searched and searched reading blogs, posts, articles, and comments to try and get a feel for the way others were feeling about it and well, the quotes kind of speak for themselves. Some thought the controversy was BS, while others completely agreed with the thought that these photos were racist and exploitative.

Staring at this image, trying to decide how I personally feel about it, I recognized that I agree with many in that this could be considered as blackface, that it is highly offensive, that if they wanted to celebrate African beauty they could have used an actual African, white skin or brown,and that the fashion industry is continuously exploitative and racist towards people of color. My main consensus though, is that this girl, Ondria Hardin, she just cant do it tthe way we do.

You see, being of color is a culture all its own. Completely different from anything else. And having dark skin, well, if you have pale/white skin and have ever been discriminated against because you were weak, disabled, female, blonde, heavyyset, just imagine being black on top of that…things get a tad more complicated.

What’s more, is that upon seeing this photo I almost immediately laughed to myself because when I was growing up, having dark skin was a bad thing. It was better to be light skinned, and it was best to be white. There’s a old saying that runs deep in southern rooted families that says,

“If you’re black get back. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re white, you’re all right”.

This saying developed way back beyond the 60’s and Civil Rights and Rosa Parks. It carries through to 2013 because well, not many people have proven it wrong. In a few of the Ethnic and Gender Studies Classes we examined whether or not children recognize race. We found this video that reveals the way children are socialized into categorizing certain races as good and others as bad. This is disturbingly what we came to find:

Kids on Race

http://

Children not only know race, they are learning, being taught somewhere, that to be a brown child is to be bad. They dont want it. They are, essentially, growing up unconsciously hating a huge part of their identity! If you’re black, get back.

Kids on Race Cont.

http://

Ironically, people with lighter skin, though I do not want to generalize it is mainly white people who tan. All of a sudden, they want to be darker! They use bronzing lotions, tanning beds, cancerous sunlight…all this to get darker. Ain’t if funny how life goes around?

At the end of the day though, while conversations about racism, prejudice, could go on forever, I maintain that if the magazine editors truly wanted to celebrate African beauty, they should have hired a true African woman rather than insulting the African people as a whole by painting some other girl’s skin; because no one can do it quite like we can.

Beauty like this cannot be replicated with bronzer...sham eon anyone who thinks otherwise.

Beauty like this cannot be replicated with bronzer…shame on anyone who thinks otherwise.

The More Things Seem to Change…

20 Feb

I could tell you a few of the stories about the things I as a woman of color, or my friends as people of color have experienced on this campus and you wouldn’t believe your ears. I could sit with you and tell you stories of the people we have encountered here on this campus and tell you all about the things that have been said to us. I can tell you about the young Latina, first year on this campus, first year in college who mid semester of her first year wanted to transfer because of her multiple negative experiences being Puerto Rican on this campus. I could outline a series of events which led to the daughter of a boss of mine so innocently asking me, “did you paint your face that color?” Or that of the girl who decided it would be better for her to walk in the middle of the street  rather than the sidewalk when she saw my boyfriend and I holding hands, even though we were walking in the very same direction as she was. I could sit, and tell you stories and anecdotes of harassment, disbelief, being uncomfortable, stereotyped…stories of the Urban Education Program. I could tell you all these things and some of you still wouldn’t believe me, while others would be just as shocked as I was to hear these stories from others. But what are these stories worth if I can’t relay them to the people who matter? What are these stories worth if nothing is being done to change the environment so that history doesn’t repeat itself?

So, I’ve joined a new organization on the WSU campus called M.A.D.E. Stands for Multicultural Awareness and Diversity Educators. The previous organizer of the organization had graduated and the club advisor was looking for someone to fill that role. Figuring it was about time I step up into a leadership position, I offered to fill that void. In taking on this new role I was actually taking on the task of going back to the drawing board with this organization, finding out what it was meant to do, and figuring out a new strategy to achieve the goal set by its founder one year ago. During our interest meeting last week, I expressed to everyone willing to listen that the goal of MADE would be to actually promote diversity on campus, and to not just talk about it. I made it clear that diversity was more than just black and white, and being so, we would also address issues of discrimination towards people  that are disabled, issues surrounding gay rights, structural racism, feminism (and its true meaning, not bra burning, men hating women), issues surrounding health in underprivileged communities and the list goes on. Sitting down at this interest meeting, my goal was to convince every person present that they had something more to gain being a part of MADE than just being able to say they were a part of an organization on campus on their resume. It was then that I realized the true reason I wanted to join MADE. I told them, “I am doing this, because my greatest fear is that years from now when I return to Westfield State, or when my sister or a family friend decides to attend, I don’t want to see that nothing has changed. I don’t want to see that young hopeful and ambitious students of color, gay students, students that are disabled, women are still being treated the same.”

SO to combat these things that affect WSU students everyday, I decided to do a little bit of research of my own. I decided to go back to the place where my journey began, WSU orientation.

There I was, a first year student fresh out of the Urban Education Summer Bridge Program where I went from this:

 Urban Education Summer Bridge Program Class of 2011

Urban Education Summer Bridge Program Class of 2011

to this:

orientation

WSU New Student and Parent Orientation Team 2012

Oh! It gets better! Follow this link to see the four videos that were supposed to convince me to come here:

http://www.westfield.ma.edu/prospective-students/undergraduate-admissions

Let’s be honest. The first thing that anybody judges another on, is appearance, solely because that is the first thing we see. Upon meeting someone, 95% of people judge others by the way that they look. So there I was, new freshman eager to see what WSU had to offer me, and I watched these videos that had all of 2 students of color in it. And to be even more honest, it didn’t even look like they belonged there. I literally thought someone had just cropped them into the rest of the video. Oh! and let us not forget the international exchange student, because she counts too. Need I say more?

Taking this all in, I entered that Fall semester regardless of my first perceptions for a few reasons having nothing to do with my skin color. WSU had an irresistible study abroad program, the price was right, and the flexibility in choosing my major was just what I was looking for. Not to mention I had an older brother already here, and friends from the summer program as well.

Figuring that I would get nowhere by clinging to the people who looked or acted like me I attempted to branch out, speak to people I usually wouldn’t speak to,surround myself with different crowds. There was a part of me that thought I could almost suspend my race. There was a part of me that thought that if I could stop myself from seeing color, others would too. I was mistaken.:

So here I am one full year later, recalling my experiences as a student of color on this campus and I now know for sure things have to change for the sake of future scholars like my little sister. You see, I am fully aware that WSU is not some anomaly of all universities, and that there are tons of colleges and campuses out there with students who have similar experiences. In my opinion, the first step to addressing issues like these, is getting them out in the open and discussing them. Kinda like what these people are doing:

So you ask me, well, Simbrit, what are you doing about it? And to that I could tell you all about the events MADE has planned or the degree I am working on, or the people I am connecting to WSU, but rather I will only reply, “I am writing this blog arent I?”