Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Here I Am...OR...Hair I Am

The line between a woman either defying or succumbing to peer (or non peer) pressure and her simply making decisions based on personal preference can be mighty thin. How can you tell at a glance which is the case? Or do you simply assume based on your biases?

Black women catch a lot of heat for some of the personal appearance decisions they make. Like it or not, plan to or not, their grooming choices immediately become political statements. At least they are interpreted as statements by certain black women and perhaps by a number of black men as well.

If a black woman relaxes her hair (or adds extensions, or wears a wig sometimes, or whatever other trick has been concocted to create an illusion in place of reality) it’s because she has been bombarded with imagery from white owned fashion magazines. She has succumbed to the Eurocentric definition of beauty and opted to become as white looking as possible. So goes one take on the matter.

Asian women have straight hair. Why can’t black women be emulating them or Native Americans or some other non-white so therefore non-oppressor culture?

There are innumerable versions of beauty and no shortage of ways for a woman to mask perceived imperfections and emphasize her favorite features as she sees best. The sun tans some faces and reddens others. Thin lipped women may desire a fuller pout. Jeans pull off various tricks in showcasing a posterior. A woman looks in the mirror and ponders how to make it a better friend. She works with what she’s got and what she can purchase at a reasonable price. The calculations made are quite fascinating. It’s amazing in some cases how different the After can look from the Before when skill combines with will. But is all powerful vanity not sufficient motivation for these alterations? Must we seek deeper meaning when God given shallowness adequately summarizes?

Why can’t a black woman simply not feel like fighting with the comb, decide to go at least temporarily with a more easily manageable option? Many men shave their head low or bald because it is low maintenance, allows them to spend minimal time fussing with their ‘do. Can’t a black woman desire a style she can quickly run a comb through or twist in a braid or pigtail or whatever without renouncing Harriet Tubman in the process? Can’t a woman desire a little more length? Hey, I’m still talking about hair here, keep your thoughts clean. Black women aren’t the only people who alter the dynamic of their hair. Is a white woman without naturally straight, flowing strands who decides to relax it making the statement that she wants to be perceived as Whiter? If someone with straight hair decides to grow dredlocks (sightings of a White or Asian person with dreds always makes me slightly double take) this is typically seen as paying homage, no? Not a sign of disgust with the race they were born into. Why is it only acceptable for respectful mimicry of another culture to go in one direction? Eminem continues to be a superstar but when is the last time you heard from that Hootie and the Blowfish guy? Okay, maybe I’m stretching a bit too far. Let me stick with hair.

I personally would not make a follicular decision that didn’t allow me to jump into a pool or that equaled the expense of my monthly mortgage payments. But that’s my choice made strictly for practical and economic reasons, not a declaration of either racial solidarity or defection. If I was a woman perhaps I’d reconsider what I was willing to pay monetarily and in convenience. But I’m not, so I proudly pee standing up while my hair does whatever it is it feels like doing.

If a black woman chooses to wear her hair naturally, it’s considered a political statement by many even if not to the woman herself. By doing nothing special she’s supposedly making the commentary that she’s proud of who and what she is. Maybe, maybe not. Since when is doing nothing issuing a statement other than: “Nothing”? Perhaps she is proud of herself and ever so grateful for the ethnicity she was born into, perhaps she barely gives it a thought, but how the hell can we reach a verdict based strictly on her hairstyle? Non-black women wear their hair the way it grows out their head all the time. This isn’t seen as a sign of White pride, Asian pride, Latina pride. It just is. Being natural isn’t supposed to be a complicated negotiation, it’s meant to be no more or less than…natural. Correct?

Life is hard, probably a little harder if you’re a woman rather than penis possessor, probably a little harder the more melanin is in your skin. Why make things even more difficult for yourself by constantly defending when you’re not necessarily under attack, constantly attacking an enemy who has no idea they are supposed to be at war with you?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe every morning when every black woman walks into her bathroom and decides how she wishes to look as she greets the world that day, she’s composing a political manifesto.

Then again, perhaps she wants to feel reasonably attractive to whoever she finds herself attracted to, but otherwise she mostly just wants to go about her business and could care less what conclusions have been reached about her by you, me, or anyone else she isn’t beholden to.

Plenty of people are out looking for meaning, and purpose, and causes to fight for and against. The result is that they will translate whatever they see as something to either hail or deride. This seems like an exhausting way to live, but it is your right and I’ll do nothing to take it away from you.

But surely there are others: women and men, black and white, kinky, curly, straight, or frizzy headed - who simply wish to be. We should all have the right to just be.

A comb is a tool to enhance her beauty however a woman sees fit. A comb should not be viewed as a sword and will fail miserably if deployed in such a manner. It wasn’t invented for use as a political weapon, and neither should be the hair it goes through. It’s all good.

Naturally Hairy Situation

White Women, Black Hairstyles

p.s. - Apparently it's not all good. Since I wrote the above I learned via Twitter that this advertisement is supposed to offend me as a black man.

Huh? Now I will concede that I don't see anything particularly clever going on. The point that I'd be better off purchasing Nivea face/body shave lotion is weakly made at best. But what is it exactly that's racist about the picture? I saw it said someplace that since the decapitated head has an afro the ad indicates afros are an uncivililzed hairdo. So by this theory black men aren't left out of the wear it natural or else have a sell out hairstyle either, even though I don't see too many brothas walking around with weaves and thank God the conk is mostly a thing of the past. The hair on the thrower's head is just as natural as that on the dude about to be tossed, just cut considerably shorter. Is a close cut dome copying white culture? Nah, that can't be it. I have officially lost count of how many things I'm supposed to be offended by. Plenty of other people though always seem able to find the next thing...and the next...and the next...

p.p.s. - Latest twist of absurdity in hair issue.  Can white women join the natural hair movement too?

p.p.p.s - Some more hair based slander thrown in for good measure

17 Reasons Why Natural Hair Is Not A Good Look

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ode to the Library

Today I saw my novel on the shelf of a public library for the first time. It was a special milestone on my ongoing adventure in guerilla publishing, not the first and it won’t be the last, but surely one to be treasured. Leading up to it were wonderful occasions such as seeing my novel bound for the first time with its fantastic cover designed by Erin Rogers Pickering. I had seen my prose bound before, but only in anthologies where I was one of many contributors. My novella Feeding the Squirrels was a solo project that made its way to publication, but strictly in electronic format so I had nothing to appreciatively hold in hand. Therefore, seeing Patches of Grey as a paper bound book for the first time was a real treat, as was the first reprint where I was able to work some glowing reviewer quotes into the back cover copy. Speaking of which, receiving the first blurb about my novel which happened to arrive on St. Patrick’s Day was another memorable day in my journey, as was the posting of its first full fledged review. Participating in my first author event at Sparta Books was an amazing experience, and spotting a copy of Patches of Grey on the fiction shelf of Words Bookstore briefly took my breath away. There it sat in a real deal brick and mortar bookstore. My sense of awe on that day is certainly meant as no disrespect to Amazon and the online independent booksellers who gave me my start and account for the vast majority of my sales to date. With a full time job and a family putting demands on my calendar, I simply do not have time to pound the pavement getting my novel into stores in the physical rather than cyber world one pitch at a time. So all hail the online retailers from whom you can purchase my book without needing to leave the comfort of your couch. The next milestone was making my novel available as an ebook, initially for the Kindle and shortly after for the Nook. People with reading devices can now obtain Patches of Grey for a steal. Why I have yet to hit the million sales club on Kindle is beyond me (it only costs a buck!), but patience is a virtue I continue to cultivate.

All of this leads to the sighting of my book in the Maplewood Library. This incredible literary voyage began for me in the library, the branch on Edenwald Avenue in the Bronx to be precise. It was there that my love of the written word was formed and cemented. I’ll never forget those initial trips into fictional worlds inhabited by Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus, Encyclopedia Brown, and as I matured and was able to go on more sophisticated literary adventures, my fascination grew exponentially. I can’t say that I recall my first visit to a bookstore, but my earliest trips to the library on a weekly basis are lasting memories. I fell hard for reading and made an oath to some day craft stories of my own. It was rewarding to take out as many books as I wanted with a card belonging exclusively to me, no sign off by Mom and Dad necessary. That was my first credit/debit card. I suppose this made my library visits an early glimpse at adulthood. The books may have been free to borrow, but if lost or damaged or returned late there would be a price to pay. I was (and still am) a very responsible library patron.

Who knows? Perhaps one day a young reader (not too young though, parental supervision is advised on account of adult language and content) will take Patches of Grey out from the library (or win a free copy at giveaway such as this one) and be permanently marked, bitten by the reading bug and perhaps also infected by the venom of the writing bug. It can happen as I well know.

Writing has so far not made me rich or famous. I have no idea what lies ahead, which of course is part of the fun. But I do know that people now have the opportunity to enter a world of my making just as I envisioned as a kid in that Bronx library, which is a pretty cool milestone to hit.

p.s. – If you ever find yourself in Maplewood, NJ and have the opportunity to check out a book from the library written by a local author, there are several to choose from in addition to my own. This town is filled with creative folks. Among them is Terin Miller and my review of his debut novel can be found HERE.

Review of Patches of Grey by A Book Vacation