Thursday, December 31, 2009

Straight and Narrow

Being a black woman in the US, it's almost impossible to avoid conversations about hair. Growing up in the south, all of my childhood memories are peppered with 6 hour sessions in hair salons, either with me sitting in a beautician's chair with a cloud of heat-filled smoke surrounding my head or with me plopped down on the neighboring coach flipping through old issues of jet magazine that was missing half of the pictures as the ladies had ripped them out and stuck them on their mirrors ( "I want the new Halle Berry do- that's FLY"), waiting for my mom to finish. Given all of this, it seems impossible that at the age of 23, I managed to escape this institutional bondage to rock my "nappy" locks happily. My morning hair routine rivals a black dude and I'd like to say that I reinvest those precious moments into my day. But still, I feel like some open letter to the masses is due so that I can live in PEACE. At least once a day, I'm asked "What are you going to do with your hair!?! Are you gonna dread it!! You gonna press it! Ooooo! Why don't you do that!?" I feel like my hair is on some kind college exit interview.

So to the cheering squad of folks on Team: Get Your Hair Straightened, who think my hair and everyone else's is nicest when subjected to the unrelenting heat of a pressing comb, I say, don't hold your breath. You may deplete the oxygen feeding your narrow mind. Sure, when you suggest it once, it's harmless, but when it's your daily, weekly, monthly refrain, I begin to question your world view and subsequent ignorance quotient. Yes, I just referred to you as shallow and narrow minded. It's shameful that despite the Evolutionary Road that African Americans have traveled, there seems to still be one area where we might as well be monkeys walking in the hunched over position.

Hair has always been at the top of a list of qualifiers in the African American community. It's right there under skin tone and before body type. It puts you either at the bottom or the top of the social totem pole. The question of why is far too complicated to answer in a blog entry. Not that anyone really could. Everyone must make their own individual peace about it. Especially since I don't think we'll be coming to any collective decision any time soon. Further, we must surround ourselves with people who understand and are of culturally sound mind, understanding the "long" and short of it. And occasionally that one person that we find worthwhile to "educate." I wonder if Madame CJ Walker anticipated all of this when she invented hot combs and perms and stuff. Did she anticipate that there would be a faction of people, down the line, who would rebel against this technology and consequently live lives subject to scrutiny. I'll go ahead and say no. I'm sure, however, that she had heard one too many people utter the words "good hair." I have to wonder what she thought. Probably what I'm thinking. Anyone who has succumbed to that school of thought has consequently neglected the beauty of their own heritage and said to the world "My views on beauty rival that of a neanderthal." Perhaps India Arie said it best.

"Good hair means curls and waves, bad hair means you look like a slave." And perhaps that's it. We'd rather look like some ethnically ambiguous chick than anything that represents our ancestors? No? Well, get your story straight. Because your ignorance is maddening and puzzling, and I refuse to keep addressing it in the new year.

This is my hair manifesto. And I couldn't avoid writing it. I didn't intend for it to solve anything. As I approach a long overdue hair trimming, I hope that the dead hair falling from my head will go in peace and without the marching orders of a hot comb. If such things are impossible, at least my final words will cause my close minded friends...and family to examine their outlook and see past the "naps" to the root of the problem. I'm hopeful that in 2010 we can not only turn the chapter on a new decade but also on this topic of dialogue. Could someone PLEASE bring to the table, new topics for discussion on race relation. You've got at least a million to choose from...

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Gift

To consider that most of my entries are pre-mediated (I let the ideas simmer for at least a week) and that last year, I was all perplexed about the meaning of the government bailout and it's impact on the meaning of Christmas; this year, I'll aim at something more light hearted....and shorter. (I'll set my timer :-)

Christmas crept up on me this year. Not just because 2009 has been bananas, but also because I have not indulged myself in one ounce of the commercialization of this holiday. I'm proud. It has allowed me to focus my energy on LIFE, and why, of the many gifts that God could give us through his son, he chose that one. Interesting.

I'd presume it's because life, no matter how many ways we screw it up, complicated and devalue it, is so much more important that anything else. I had an AH-HA moment a while back that culminted in my understanding that as long as I wanted to be a community organizer, avid volunteer and overall change agent, I probably would never be rich. Or famous. That's fine. As long as I'm happy. And God is pleased. Understanding Christmas means just that for me this year. It makes perfect sense though. (Few things in my life ever do.) That a holiday celebrating Christ, should, in turn, be about life.

To reference the actual story, I never really understood the whole, there was no room at the inn thing until this year (I interpret things in metaphors- I guess that's why). But if Jesus was the gift of life, perhaps (as a metaphor) peoples lives represented the inn. And they were just too cluttered with other stuff they thought they needed: ritual, status, legalism to receive life, and liberty. It's something to think about. Clean out the inn of your life. It's likely very cluttered and confining. And you probably don't have much room to move around, let alone take free gifts. But as the famous song "Joy to the World" goes: "Let every heart, prepare him room." To commune with Jesus fully is to be free and liberated. Food for thought. (You've got enough food to eat this season).

Merry Christmas! (Hey, that was a quick one!) :-)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Let the Circle be Unbroken...

Whether you spend the Holidays with your local “friends but we are more like family” family or whether you travel the 7 seas and backwoods to be with your real family, the Holidays really show you what family ties are made of. If you are like me, you have a very large country-ghetto suburban tendency type family. Whatever the case, family ties are important. They are fundamental to building a legacy. Legacies, I find, are what keep families across the ages, sustaining them with a rich sense of who they are and where they are going. As I sense the baton being passed onto the next generation (me and my cousins-7 of us over the age of 18), I’m getting a bit nervous-not because I don’t know who will cook Thanksgiving dinner in 10 years(though I should probably think about that)-but because I’ve seen numerous families fall by the wayside from generation to generation. I recently watched the show Find My Family. It’s a tearjerker about reunited families and it made me realize how incomplete we are without being connected to our families. I also thougt back to a book I read when I was a kid, Mildred D. Taylor's "Let the Circle Be Unbroken." The novel tells of a 1930's Mississippi family who struggles against all kids of family curses and buried secrets to build a legacy of success far beyond their poor, backwoods community. Skimming through a summary of the book, I am reminded of how many more opportinites that we have now, especially black people, to make the future better for ourselves and our kids. So, if effort to avoid pitfalls, I give you….according to my calculations, 9 Missteps of Building a Family Legacy:

1) We don’t pray together- After your praying grandmother dies, who picks up the slack? Even amidst the catch phrases “A Family that Prays together stays together” and Prayer Changes Things, who is covering your family on a day to day basis? How much time have you taken to pray for your extended family? Or your immediate for that matter?

(2) We don’t learn how to cook – Food brings people together. Correction: HOME COOKED food brings people together. The TV dinner, drive-thru age is kryptonite to the idea that while people’s lives may take many different turns, all roads lead to good food

(3) We don’t stay connected except for Holidays- How many times have you called your relatives “just because.”? It may seem small but the investment we make in the everyday lives of one another, says something about our personal values.

(4) We don’t financially support one other: We all have big dreams, huge even. But what support do we provide for one another?? For the college student needing book money, the uncle trying to start up a business, the little cousin trying to raise money for a missions trip or even the aunt trying to start a soul food restaurant- nothing says strong family ties like financial security and empowerment. African American families, in general, have an issue with this. Today’s immigrants from Asian and Latin American countries can move to the USA and within 2 years, own 10 businesses, black folks can been living in the states 20+ years and still be leasing cars. Really? It may be too much to ask of you and your budget, but sending a few dollars to another family member here or there, stretches our hands towards the hearts of those we care about most. Money isn’t everything, but it’s something to think about.

(5) We don’t have family traditions: The day after Christmas, my grandma always nags one or more of my family members to make sure that we get her decrepit Christmas tree gets put up. It’s strange. But it’s tradition. This year, I started a new one. Gathering in a circle and sharing a blessing and a prayer request. You don't have to do anything elaborate. Plant a tree, take a trip (your grandma's house doesn't count) There's accountability in tradition. I heard it said at the Spelman- Morehouse concert that "tradition is the "living spirit of the dead and traditionalism is the dead spirit of the living". I couldn't agree more. Don't make it drudgery.

(6) We let small things break us apart. Remember that one time your uncle re-nigged in Spades and costed your dad $100? And then the world came to a metaphorical end? Yeah, well that should not cause you to never attend an event where he or his children are present. Funny, I know, but we let very small things like this tear us apart. There are, on occasions, things that legitimately deeply divide a family. Child molestation, Alcoholism, unpaid debt, just to name a few. But if we think about it feuds are never worth it in the long run.

(7) We don’t stress the importance of family history or legacy- Just because you don’t have a famous last name doesn’t mean that you and others in your family should take time to value the uniqueness of your family unit. Not all black people are from Africa, Not all white people are from Europe and not everyone’s grandmother is 1 part Cherokee Indian. Find out where you come from. You may be descended from royalty….then again, you may not be. Doesn't matter really.

(8) We perpetuate foolishness- Everyone's family has a story. Some parts good, and some episodes we'd rather omit. The one thing that most families have in common is there are partciular destructive beahviors that we just can't seem to- or care to-erradicate. For example, you've probably got at least one uncle that has cheated on his wife. Or (to be totally PC) an aunt that has cheated on her husband. It may have caused uproar in your family, or it may not have caused the slightest ripple. Whatever the case, it seems almost certain that another member of the family will do the EXACT SAME THING. Why? The gate of permissiveness is open now so you just walk right through? It's like taking a hammer and chisel, and chipping away at the foundations of family. We MUST be ACCOUNTABLE to one other. Even if it mean airing dirty laundry. After, all, it's better than letting is sit and stink up your family. If you are a bad parent who just can't seem to get your act together and be a good role-model for your children, get them a role-model. Stat. It would be a nice Christmas present. :-)

(9) We don't expect enough of one another- This item has close ties to number 8.We expect the world of everyone else. Celebrities included. *COUGH* Tiger Woods* COUGH* But we don't hold each other to any real standard of excellence-academic, professional, financial, or spiritual. In fact, we "hate on" one another for accomplishing more than we do. Yes, even parents can be guilty of hating on their children. We should, instead, have an Army "be all that you can be" motto when it comes to encouraging one another. Generations only get better if it's members value and pursue excellence.

These are certainly not all of the missteps that families make in pursuit of building a strong family legacy, in fact, it's only the tip of the iceberg. I’m in no way suggesting that you have to have a Madea- style family reunion complete with the electric slide and fish fry every weekend (although I do love a good fish fry), but today, in whatever way you can, seek to build a family legacy for your generation. Because we are the future and the future is now….or something like that. It is as much up to you as it is anyone else. So let the circle be unbroken, or break the chain, either one. And at the very least, hitch your little piece to a bright and prosperous future.

In conclusion, there's a writing called "The Paradox of Our Time" that truly sums up the condition of the modern family:

The Paradox of Our Time

We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints; we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less common sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness.

We spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, become too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch too much television, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and lie too often.

We have learned how to make a living, but not a life; we have added years to our life, but not life to our years. We have been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We have conquered outer space, but not conquered inner space; we have done larger things, but not better things; we have cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we have split the atom, but not the prejudice; we write more, but learn less; we plan more but accomplish less.

We have learned to rush, but not to wait; we have higher incomes, but lower morals; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success.

We have built more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever before, but have less communication; we have become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are the times for fast foods and slow digestion; tall men and short character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare, more leisure and less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.

These are the days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are the days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one-night stands, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is too much in the show window, but not enough in the stockroom. A time when technology has brought this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to make a difference, or to just skip ahead. ~One of many versions.