Tag Archives: stereotypes

Top 10 Myths About Africa! Did You Really Just Say That? Listen to Yourself!

27 Mar

Top 10 Myths About Africa! Did You Really Just Say That? Listen to Yourself!.

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.

Black People: Racialized and Normalized in 2013

19 Feb

Moving through my week, attending classes, taking notes and remaining busy as though I had no option but to do so I wondered what my first post could and would be about. I paid close attention to comments I’d overhear in the dining commons, I took extra care to understand the topics and issues discussed in the Ethnic and Gender Studies classes, and I tried to go back in my own mind to moments where as a black woman I was exoticized, racialized, profiled, stared at, judged, forgotten– for lack of a better term, oppressed.  With all of these things in mind I wondered still, ‘how can I express to everyone the ways in which I now know my black is beautiful? How can I tell a story of empowerment, enlightenment, and knowledge in a way that others will be able to swallow wholly?‘ I was honestly conflicted by this because when you care about something so passionately as I do this subject, you want its presentation to be perfect so that others will become just as passionate as you. And then, in my struggle to find a starting point, I remembered something a speaker I went to see earlier that week said to his audience. He said, “Black people have to learn to understand the way that media and society today makes them only good from the waste down and white people from the waste up — black people are good in bed, good at running, and will kick your ass, while white people are educated, intelligent, and wise.” When this man said that I had to take a step back and say ‘hmm…he has a point.‘  Outside perspectives of the way black people are supposed to speak, look, behave, learn, grow is so commonly distorted today and people just digest those stereotypes and assumptions all the while degrading people of color.

This is really such an interesting dynamic because in all honesty, black people and people of color in general do this to each other as well. the whole notion that one can “sound” or “act” white lessens the intellect of people of color. The phrase that is so commonly thrown around in communities of color of a woman having “good hair” all the while making the presumption that black women have “bad” hair. All of these ideas about what a black person is supposed to be is internalized. Young black girls take in the way they are supposed to dress, speak, and behave based upon outside perspectives, and that perpetuates the problem. The point of this post is not to give you a full-blown lesson though. This post’s purpose is to say out loud and to anyone who has ever doubted that my black is surely beautiful because I have the ability to defy all of the misguided stereotypes and expectations of what a young black woman is supposed to be, and others can tell. my hair is unique to me, the way I speak is most certainly unique to me, my goals are defined by the unique way I was raised. What’s more, is that this is not just true for me, it is true for all other people of color as well. All over people are defining themselves on their own terms. And how is that NOT something beautiful?

Hello EVERYONE!

4 Feb

Hello EVERYONE. Any one who has ever wondered about natrual hair on a black woman’s head, anyone who has ever been amazed or intrigued by the numerous shades of brown a black woman can own; Anyone who has ever looked in the mirror and saw more than just the color of their skin, anyone who has ever doubted its power, its strength, or its beauty. I write to those young brown girls who never feel quite comfortable in their dark brown, chocolate, caramel, mocha, or high yellow skin. The young brown girls who want their hair long, straight, and easy to comb because to them that is what they thought would make them beautiful. The young brown girls who refuse to leave the house without makeup because in the media ads and magazine clips  the prettiest, wealthiest, most popular women are themselves covered in makeup. I write to the black woman who aspires to be something more than just a black woman in America. I write to the immigrant woman fresh out of the islands whose tongue still holds the patois accent and the vibrant ting both at the beginning and at the end of every sentence that reminds her of home, the young brown mother whose mother was too young to know how to care for her because she had a mother who was young and in the very same position just the same. I write to the brown woman or girl who “acts white”, and the brown woman who is realizing her dreams, the brown woman who is getting her degree, and the brown woman who is playing both roles as mommy and daddy for her children. But, to write for just the brown woman would be a contradiction in itself I believe, because to deprive all those who do not necessarily “fit” under the category of a brown woman would be to keep the secrets and wonders of our beauty to ourselves. So, I write for everyone. White, black, brown, and any other color our society now commonly uses to replace one’s actual identity for a shade on a color chart. I write for the little white girl new to kindergarden who has never seen a brown girl before. I write to the person who belives that dreadlocks are unprofessional, dirty and only worn by Jamaicans. I write for the young person who was taught that only black people suffer from poverty or only thin African children are starving. I write for the person who feels intimidated whenever more than two people of color are standing in a group on the sidewalk. I write for the aspiring family of color who saved and budgeted to build their own home on the countryside that are commonly referred to as “the new black family down the street”, because the neighborhood is so segregated that when a black family moves in the entire town is aware. I write for the milk chocolate skinned Dominican who once she stepped off the plane from DR to NYC was stripped of her Domincan identity and automatically categorized as black, or African American. I write to you; to all of you…who ever wondered, who ever thought, who ever questioned, who ever hoped. To all of you who dont know…Hello!