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Don't judge. And well, it is a little extreme, but it's where my hair is right now.

I invited my friend/beautician over to my house to cut my hair - the same 'chop it off' routine that I go through ever year - and she refused to do it. Refused.

Now, she may not sound like a great friend because of the refusal, but she actually loves me. And my hair. We got prepared for me to get to work and she touched my hair and threatened to strangle me. Apparently, I'd neglected to fully relax my hair. Let me explain...

relaxer is a type of lotion or cream generally used by people with curly-textured hair, which makes hair less tangled and also easier to straighten by chemically "relaxing" the natural curls. The active agent is usually a strong alkali, although some formulations are based on ammonium thioglycolate instead.  Hair relaxing, or lanthionization, can be performed by a professional cosmetologist in a salon, or at home with relaxer kits. As with hair dye, the treated portion of the hair moves away from the scalp as the new growth of untreated hair sprouts up from the roots, requiring periodic retreatment (about every 6–8 weeks) to maintain a consistent appearance.

The relaxer is applied to the roots of the hair and remains in place for a "cooking" interval, during which it alters the hair's texture by a process of controlled damage to the protein structure. The hair can be significantly weakened by the physical overlap of excessive applications or by a single excessive one, leading to brittleness, breakage, or even widespread alopecia.

When the relaxer has worked to the desired degree, the hair is rinsed clean. Regardless of formula, relaxers are always alkaline to some degree, so it is prudent to neutralize or even slightly acidify the hair with a suitable shampoo immediately afterward. The prompt use of hair conditioner is also important in order to replace some of the natural oils that were stripped away by the process.

-Wikepedia, Relaxer


I am admitting that I know the words "ammonium thioglycolate" from Legally Blonde.

Own it, 5 stars!

http://www.subzin.com/quotes/Legally+Blonde/at+the+risk+of+deactivating+the+ammonium+thioglycolate#.UQPV3JdnTIM.email

Anyway...

This is the mechanics of the process of straightening my hair. I used to go to a professional every 6 to 8 weeks and I really appreciated going to her shop because I was supporting small business and she would only have one, maybe two other clients waiting at a time; I'm not a fan of the loud boisterous shops - mainly because of gum popping (a future post).   

When I was single, I made time to get my hair done and my nails and shopped regularly and had the money to spend to do it. I don't regret having taken the opportunity and used the means to do my hair, but I do regret not having had the motivation to learn about my hair and how to best care for it. While considering myself well educated in many areas, hair-care was something that I have never felt 'smart' in. And if you can't do it, then the next best thing was to find someone who could.

Now, to be clear, other than a horrible haircut when I was in the 5th grade - I mean HORRIBLE - I've not really taken the time to learn what works best for my hair because I don't want to take all of the time on doing it. It's been explained to me (and I still don't really get it) that all hair is not created equal. I am fairly easy going about my hair, I think, and actually like when I have a few strays standing at attention. I am not and have not ever been a proponent of what I consider to be "hair as art". Styles where it looks like someone spent hours having designed the runway hair, with lots of colors and no ability to sleep with all of that on their head; guess I'm too practical. I've bleached my hair once and never since - that really wrecked my hair - my beautician even told me it would, but I wanted it anyway. I've learned my lesson and I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm pretty traditional about the styles that I like.   Traditional, bobs, something with a little flow, easy to maintain.

Here's an example of what I like and am shooting for; I have it on my Pinterest page.  http://pinterest.com/tosagigi/

Can't you see it? On me? Slick, professional. I really like the bangs across the forehead because this is area that I need not draw attention to.  I like this cut.  This is what I envision for me and had described to my "Hair Angel" who came to cut it for me last night.

She wouldn't even entertain cutting my hair, not even trimming because of my below average relaxing job. Well, alright it was subpar.  Okay, I shouldn't have permed my hair at all. I had already scratched my scalp so badly that the idea of leaving the alkaline on my head for longer than the 6 minutes it had been on there (almost worthless in the time of relaxers) was a waste of time, energy and resources.  My hair is in such bad shape that the next week of hairstyles will be me wearing it pinned up in the back with barrettes and bobby pins in order to keep from breaking the hair any further. It's so bad that I was sternly told not to even comb through my hair, I was raking it and you could hear it - it's not supposed to sound like that apparently...

My Hair Angel is really phenomenal for a lot of reasons, but I'm calling her that because her hair is pretty darn remarkable.  It has the right amount of bounce and life while still being one of her greatest accessories - if that makes any sense.  She has explained to me that she has been doing her own hair for a long time and has learned what has worked and what hasn't.  Of course, just like so many other things, its difficult to imagine her with anything less than the gorgeous mane that she sports now because it's the only way I've known her.  It certainly gives her hair clout. I appreciate that she is a black woman with black hair with simplicity. It really is my kind of hair.

Enough of the hair envy.

But.

Why do I fixate so much on my hair? My own stories, but stories like this one from my dear friend visiting from Minneapolis.

I was telling her about this blog post and she had her own story to share. When she was attempting to grow her hair out and it was short and natural, she had a co-worker - that she hardly had a relationship with - share with her that her hair was "disappointing". Think about that.  A person you barely know, not of the same culture as you, rating your hair without your permission, desire or approval.  And to say something so negative.  [Insert head tilt here.] Really, what does that actually mean? And why would the other woman say it? Out LOUD?!?

I have had relaxers for most of my life and have taken it for granted that I've been able to afford to do so.  When a girl is not able to do her hair, there are issues.  This is not a black thing, this is a woman thing...insert your own"Bad Hair Day" stories here... No one should judge whether one's hair is "disappointing" and we really need to be cautious regarding comments about one another's hair.  The woman in the mirror needs to be pleased and really, just her. 

But, I need to confess something.  Remember, no judgment...

I used to wish I had white girls' hair. Even watching black tv stations and shows, I feel the message that was shared was that my hair either needed to be in a afro, braids or straight and I mean weave straight, like the white girls that I went to school with. 

Their hair flowed, it bounced, it was multi-purposeful. My hair stayed like it was constantly playing freeze tag. I vaguely recall a conversation with my mom about wanting my hair to be more white (don't think I actually said that word) and the response from that sticks in my head to this day is, "they can shake their hair out there and it comes back, yours will stay out there." And I think looking back on it now, I was kind of mad at my hair for that.

Not too much time wasted on all of it, I mean I don't recall being obsessed with my hair in those younger years, but I did dream a little about one hairstyle that I could not and still for the most part can never own. For those of you who know me, you know that the one style that I still think should be a fashion icon of its own is the high or low side ponytail. I can't even explain why I like it so much but to say it reeks of personality and freedom. I appreciate the things a woman must be able to say to herself when she is beyond her college years and able to rustle her hair up to the side of her head and bop out of the house with that look. Who's with me?

I recognize the need to find an age appropriate equivalent to the side ponytail because I can not think of a woman in her thirties that I've seen wearing this style on other days than Halloween, but I still dream of it from time to time and have tried to encourage it (is that the right phrase) on my stepdaughters, but to no avail. Sigh... 

It is clear that I need to stop trying to live vicariously through others and others living vicariously through me. Doing this had lead me to keeping a haircut or hairstyle that I don't fully enjoy because of the voices of others about my hair. I know they are talking just about my hair, but I always hear more.  Things like: You are not at all attractive because of that ridiculous short hair.  It's difficult to be around you with that hair. What is wrong with you?!?.  Okay maybe the last one is a bit extreme or maybe, those are the types of things I think of when I see haircuts I don't like. However, I do have the sense not to share it; unless asked - and then, well, you will get the truth.

Watch this video. I got this CD from a white woman. We were bridesmaids in her sister's/my friend's wedding over 10 years ago now and I had never heard of India Arie. I share that to explicitly own the irony of a white woman giving a black woman music by a black woman about black culture. The memory is one of my favorites in regards to being honest about what has shaped my blackness, another stereotype crusher.

"I Am Not My Hair", India Arie - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_5jIt0f5Z4

The next time you look and want to size someone up based upon their hair, or even yourself, stop and shake it out with India and remember, we are not our hair.  All that said, can't wait until my Hair Angel works this stuff out on Saturday.


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The hair I think I want.
 
 
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Okay now, take a few deep breaths before you go off.  

Take a few more breaths and really look at this picture.

A bit of context.  I do not know these people.  This picture was posted on Facebook and people were asked to "like" the picture if they could tell what was wrong with it.  Since I am so deep and complex (ha!), I see a lot of things when I look at this picture.  For starters, the woman falling out of her dress and the half dressed young man kneeling on the floor - I mean, aren't they cold?

Alright.  Let's talk about it.  What in the world were they thinking?  All of them.  Is it possible that they put this picture out there to make us all think about how our society perpetuates negative and tense relationships between blacks and whites? 

Your own truth first.  Do you believe that the black man is being victimized or do you feel that they are good friends and were just having a good time?  He has black spots painted on his chest and a dog collar around his neck.  They are all smiling and he is...what is he doing, pouting? posing? 

Based upon their outfits, it is clear that this was planned.  People went to the store or into their closets/homes to pull this photo opp together and make it happen.  Then, they got together at a social setting of some sort and then had someone take the picture and then, (surprise!) it showed up on Facebook for people to weigh in on.  They went to completion. I did not bother to read the comments, there were a lot of them.  I mean a lot of them.

Here's what I think.

They are probably friends.  The black man is likely posing for this picture and participating in the ruse because it is only one outward showing of the daily life he lives.  He may be really impressionable still, considering it easier to pose for the picture than to speak up against the many layers that are happening here.  Maybe on some level he considered that being on his knees with a collar around his neck may have made him look like a slave, being owned by his masters.  Perhaps he considered the sell out that he might seem to others who know nothing of his situation or relationships when he let the white people outnumber him; them smiling and he looking somewhat confused or distressed.  Though not clear by the picture, he could be the ring leader and have some sort of black power over them (through drugs, money or pimpin') that some might imply to excuse the poor decision making on all their parts - while continuing to develop the stereotypes we can have perpetuate about black men or blacks in general.

While I've never posed for this kind of picture with my friends, I must admit that looking at it exposed some insecurities from my past.  I was one of the few black students in my high school back in 1987-1990.  We did not hang out, we were not friends.  I regret that.  I was so protective of the 'work' I had done to assimilate into the majority of white students that I stayed with what I'd worked so hard to fit into.  I explicitly remember a comment that was made about how accepted I was ("we don't think of you as black").  

I look at this photo and this is my connection.  Hundreds of people will post on Facebook their outrage about this photo and us not talking to all of the people in the picture only gives us a fragmented picture about the real dynamic between them.  Who knows really and even more importantly, it's really not enough to get up in arms about and get angry.  I can't be outraged anymore because the photo symbolizes my own experiences of hiding out and fitting in.  

I don't know about you, but this is the very thing that fed into some of me feeling ashamed of being black.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  It just seemed to be less work to change parts of myself when with certain people, than to be all of my best self and share who I am with the majority.  Not really fair though because I don't think I really ever did too much to share with them.  I settled at keeping the culture that we had at home separate from my everything else. 

Probably just a picture of some kids trying to be original at a costume party, but to me, it is certainly worthy of deeper thought and consideration.  




 
 
I'm realizing how very big of a project this could turn out to be.  I have people expressing their interest in readership (though I only have one follower) and those who have even given their input and advice about keeping the project from overtaking me; not to allow the journey down 'race lane' to turn me into an angry black woman. I hope that doesn't happen and will be praying that it doesn't but I must admit that I am enjoying the opportunities to see the world in a tremendously different light than I've been looking at it in.

Recognizing the theme is one part of blogging through this journey.  Another part other is having a bit of a roadmap to guide us through this.  Yes, for those of you who know me, you knew that was coming.  There.must.be.ORDER.

This is me with my journalist notebook.  It is the notebook that I decided to use to record all of the amazing ideas that seem to jump up and down in my face as I'm out and about living life, running errands and exploring Milwaukee.  It is the record of my mind as I embrace looking at my life and culture and bringing it into focus.  

For example, while walking around the Target that I most often patronize, I remembered that I needed an eyeliner that went on more smoothly than the one that I have now.  As I began walking around, I noticed that there were pictures of beautiful, black models attempting to help sell me Cover Girl, Revlon and Maybeline, but I'm no regular patron anymore.  I've got an agenda. I whipped out my iPhone (okay, it was already at hand) and I searched Safari for "Black owned cosmetics companies".  Maybe it was the spot I was standing in inside the store or my connection - I was using their free wi-fi - that it took so long to pull up cosmetics companies I had not heard of.  I got through the top 2 out of 10, grabbed a $7.49 eyeliner from one of the most well-known companies and went to check out.  I knew what this meant.  I was going to have to go to a different Target in a different part of town than I live in, in order to have a chance to expose myself to cosmetics made for black women. It was not an irritation to me, it was actually exciting.  

Will it always be as exciting?  When I'm back to work full-time next week and have limited time to explore, question and search, will it be exciting to have to drive across town or plan my day around where the culture is and then diving into it?  And ultimately, I've chosen to live where I live.  When I chose it, I did not take the time to look at things as I'm attempting to now.  So, if not exciting, then for sure different.

With all of that said, this first month of blogging will be around 'things that make me go hmmmm".  [Yep, dating myself.   Here it is for those of you who do not know the C&C Music Factory.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XF2ayWcJfxo]   


Again, I am so excited about this journey and am happy that you are along for the ride.   









 
 
Day two of the new year and it did not take any effort on my part to find the topic of my next post.  

Perusing my Facebook page, I came across this 'news' story about a Senator that thinks that Kwanzaa is a waste of a holiday.  http://ow.ly/gujo5 

I mean, if I'm honest, I have to say I barely thought about Kwanzaa this holiday season.  Isn't  the way that we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year as designed by consumerism to zap of our time, money and energy not enough?  You want me to add another holiday for being black?

So, I thought it was interesting that this Senator Glenn Grotham had something to say about Kwanzaa, first because I was like, dang can't we have a holiday if we want to without homeboy steppin' all up in our territory.  Then, I was irritated because he is a white man telling other people that "almost all black people ignore" Kwanzaa.  He don know me.  So, ahem, for not having met me, (loud sigh and neck roll inserted here) how did he know that I am one of those black people that does not observe Kwanzaa?

After my mild irritations subsided, and because I laughed at my own ridiculousness, I decided to do a little research thinking that maybe I'd read all about it and decide that Kwanzaa is something I'd like to start preparing to celebrate in 2013; I mean, I could open a Pinterest board and starting planning now.  

Honestly though, I will admit that I've often felt guilty about not taking on more responsibility and educating my own kids and students I have taught, about Kwanzaa.  A perfect example of doubting my own blackness.  

Never mind that my parents and extended family hardly talked about Kwanzaa and did not celebrate it. I am straining my mind to recall whether there were any decorations, books or talks about it all.  Huh.  Nothing comes to mind, but somehow I've still allowed this holiday to cause me shame about not being the proper amount of black because I do not celebrate it.  

In my research efforts, I found a lot of information but for the purposes of this post, I will not explain Kwanzaa in depth, but will refer you to the Official Kwanzaa website here: http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml

The website introduces the cultural celebration by stating the following:  

'Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community and culture. Celebrated from 26 December thru 1 January, its origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili, a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African language.'

The 7 Swahili principles of Kwanzaa:
  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (self-determination)
  • Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
  • Nia (purpose)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (faith)

Created by Ron Karenga back in 1966, the holiday is a bit controversial for many reasons and I believe that it is wise for any person to research Mr. Karenga and his checkered past before simply accepting the pillars and living the traditions of the holiday.

I won't argue the authenticity of the holiday's foundation in Africa - Karenga says it originates from the first fruits, hence the name Kwanzaa (in Swahili) other journalists and historians argue that Kwanzaa's principles are not at all founded on African principles over a technicality that Kwanzaa in Swahili is only spelled with one 'a'.  No matter its origin, continuing to celebrate without understanding more of who this man is, is in my humble blogger author opinion, unwise.  

Karenga is quoted as admitted that he created the holiday as a way to bring people together around shared culture.  

“I created Kwanzaa,” laughed Ron Karenga like a teenager who’s just divulged a deeply held, precious secret. “People think it’s African. But it’s not. I wanted to give black people a holiday of their own. So I came up with Kwanzaa. I said it was African because you know black people in this country wouldn’t celebrate it if they knew it was American. Also, I put it around Christmas because I knew that’s when a lot of bloods (blacks) would be partying!” - Ron Karenga

Read the 2007 article, "The Story of Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa's Founder" for more details. http://www.wabashunion.org/dec2007/the-story-of-ron-karenga-kwanzaa’s-founder  

In and of themselves, the principles of Kwanzaa seem fine to spend time looking into. However, I don't think that I need another holiday to celebrate just because it was created by a black man for black folks to "party" in order to be more connected to black culture.

Asking one of our children what he knew about the holiday, he said, "Isn't that the one with the 8 candles?"  

Why confuse him?  We'll stick with Christmas.







***Photo from Google Images (www.communities.washingtontimes)

 
 
Well first, Happy New Year!  Ours was uneventful and restful which lent itself to a lot of time to have the creative juices flowing.  So, with a new year I have new theme.


After researching the top tips for writing a successful blog, the one that stood out to me was the idea of having a blog with theme that runs through it.  Whether writing about one's business, about parenting children with special needs or making lists (apparently people just love lists) the blogger needs to know and write about their theme.  


So, I went back to me.  What I am interested in.  What continuously weighs on my heart and mind.  What I circle back to in my mind.  What I discuss in small groups with my peers, with my family and without words when I sit quietly with God.


The inner conflict about being black.  


There is one.  How in some circles, I'm too black and in others, not black enough. And how I've coped is to murmur about it, to go around it, to bury it or attempt to assimilate into "it".  Over the years, I feel I've earned the lingering shame in not knowing and sometimes not wanting to understand my blackness.  It has been a life of lessons with no handbook as to how to navigate it all and somehow, I feel I've been doing it wrong. 


Now, I'm a mom of four and am married - to a white man - and am ready to expand the understanding my life as a black woman and share it with our family.  


This blog will be a reflection of the journey.


The posts will driven by thoughts from books I read that allow me to study and challenge the racial constructs that have been placed on our society.   Posts will come after meeting and interviewing leaders in the community, after enjoying a 'new' cultural dish or learning of an artist.  Excerpts of (approved) conversations with other black women in interracial marriages and their kids will make the blog.  Television shows, businesses, news...it's all fair game for my road to black clarity.  I also plan to use all of the social media (see the buttons under my blog description on the home page) that I know of to do so.  


To be clear, with the theme and blog being my own, the terminology will be too.  When I use the word black it will mean the color of my skin as well as the culture that describes African-American ways of living.   As I learn more, I will clarify more.  Decisions about changes in terminology will be confirmed as I read, research and adapt, so language will be a part of journey too.


My only promise to you, and to myself, is that I will try new things, challenge the status quo and have fun writing while doing it.