As a young girl growing up in Tottenham, my mother used to ‘press’ my hair. Because it was unusually long (I’m quite dark skinned so it was considered an anomaly), it didn’t make me popular amongst my black peers and of course, to white girls I was still black. But my mother insisted that I should ‘straighten’ my hair because it was time consuming if it was kept natural, and because she wanted to show me off to her friends. And in those days you didn’t challenge your parents. I was supposed to be proud of being blessed in this way but I was not. It just left me miserable. The key thing is how we, black women, so much despised who we were and our looks and wanted so much to be white – I included, even though I was not exempt by having long hair. However I do remember teachers, and some white girls commending me that I had the ‘best looking hair that they have seen a black girl’ but ‘compliments’ could only take me so far.
And of course there are the practicalities of having long straightened black hair: running out of the rain or keeping away from anything that resembles water; retouching the virgin bits of hair every three months; hair gradually falling out due to chemical left on too long or the weight of the hair being too heavy (??); when they style that you’ve worked so hard to resemble (in those days it was Farah Fawcett-Majors just ends up looking too dry and sticking out, then the whole thing is defeated.
Some thirty years on, I constantly keep my hair in braids/extensions and really love my look (after all black skin does age well). But the fight now is to convince my daughter that she should keep her hair in braids but she wants to relax her hair and look like Raven! I guess it will always be a fight to make sure that black skin/hair is fairly presented along side with long flowing curls.
The friendly face of racism?
Never thought the day would come when I would write something on my blog about Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party. I guess this shows how far Old Nick has come. The annoying BBC with its need to show ‘due impartiality to a legally constituted party’ has made this man’s wishes come true by giving him all the publicity he needs and therefore enabling 1 in 5 people in Britain to vote for the BNP. Doesn’t Auntie ever learn?
The man tried hard to show himself as the friendly race of racism, that he can hate blacks but still sit next to them and smile with them. And on top of that, he has the nerve to say he is neither a Nazi nor a racist. I wonder what he will say next. Perhaps he will be disgusted with Peter Tatchell’s view that Malcolm X was gay or that Martin Luther King had extra-marital affairs.
I watched the BBC programme Newsnight where the Nobel Prize laureate, Toni Morrison, was being interviewed about her new book ‘A Mercy’. The presenter asked Morrison if African Americans could be accused of being racist towards Barack Obama because of his alleged ‘white’ experience. Morrison responded tactfully by saying ‘that African Americans were worried that Obama had no slaves in his family and senior members of the Civil Rights Movement begrudged the fact that he had not participated in the struggle.’ Morrison ended by saying that this was no longer a problem for her community and that they were proud of the fact that it was highly possible for Barack, an African American, to be the next President of the United States.
But as I listened, I wondered why on earth should this be seen as racist?? The community can be accused of being resentful or bearing ill will or being wrongfully suspicious but not racist. The Black community should be forgiven for wanting Barack to be pulled over as many times as they have by racist cops, just so that they can say he ‘qualifies’ but I don’t think that makes the community racist. The Black community has the right to comment even if that comment(s) is misplaced or taken out of context. Redefining and misinterpreting what the community thinks, is racist and if we don’t watch it, racism will lose its true meaning.