America’s Not Here for Us

“Mom-are we still slaves? Do people still hate us, African-Americans?”

Brennan asked me this last week while driving home. A few days before while shopping in HEB, he asked me questions about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, the Civil War, why “brown” people were slaves…the same questions he’s been asking me since he learned about all of this and Martin Luther King Jr in kindergarten this year. In the store, I answered them as best I could, bearing in mind to keep it age appropriate, yet honest. I don’t believe in glossing over or hiding history from my kids or relying on the public education system to tell one version of it.

However when he asked me in the car if we were still slaves, if people still hated us, I faltered. The only immediate response I had for him was “let’s talk about this later with Bertski, ok? I think we should talk about it together, alright?” He agreed and went back to watching Fantastic Four, going back to being the innocent 6-year-old boy I wish he could always be but know he’ll grow out of.

I faltered at answering his questions because they caught me between two parts of myself that both bear a particular responsibility. As his mother, I carry the responsibility of trying to keep him as innocent, carefree, and sheltered as possible while encouraging him to grow into who he is, be inclusive with others, and have some responsibility for how he carries himself and interacts with the world around him. I want him to enjoy the freedom that comes with being a child…yet teach him what he needs to know about the world around him in stages of understanding that aren’t marred by the ugliness that can come with increased knowledge about the world he lives in and life in general.

But as a woman of color raising an African-American son who has a Puerto-Rican stepfather and half-Puerto-Rican brother, I (and my husband) also bear the responsibility of teaching him about things like racism, white privilege, equality, how black and other brown men have been and still are perceived in American society, and really just about being a person of color PERIOD in the United States of America. I have to explain to him why “peach” people think he looks suspicious even though he might be doing the same exact thing they are-walking through a neighborhood, shopping in a store, hanging out with a group of his friends, wearing his favorite hoodie.

As a mother I have to worry about my child’s quality of life, his education, his growth as an individual, how he treats others, help him shape a worldview that is hopefully inclusive, healthy, well-rounded, educated, rooted in morality…I have to help him navigate the nuances of engaging with the world around him and the people in it, the ups and downs of life, and everything that comes with being a man. But as the mother of a brown boy in the United States of America in 2013, I also have to worry about how to keep him out of prison, where a disproportionate amount of black and brown males are sent to and reside these days, more so than their white counterparts. I have to worry about him walking down the street or driving in his car and being profiled simply because he is a black male. I have to teach him how to carry himself, talk and express who he is in a certain way so that he’s not viewed as “threatening,” “a thug” “a criminal”….”an animal” even.

I have to teach him how to work that much harder than his peers just so he can *maybe* stand a chance at having the same benefits they do. I have to teach him that he can be more than an athlete, a rapper, or some other occupation white people have deemed “ok” for brown people to succeed in. I have to teach him that even if he became the President of our United States, he’d still have to prove himself worthy, articulate, capable, and not some terrorist hell-bent on destroying the country. I have to basically teach him that when he’s done his very best, to dig deeper and push harder to do even better because our society (unfairly) demands he be more than just a human being like his white friends. I have to make him aware of how our society views him, but still encourage him to not let this societal perspective define him and who he wants to be as a man and a citizen of this country.

I have to teach him that because he is not “peach” others will deem him unworthy and dismiss him just by looking upon his face; that they will still feel they have the right to call him a nigger because “that’s how they were raised,” they “don’t mean any harm by it,” their black friend says “nigga” and Jay Z & Kanye have a song called “Niggas in Paris.”

I have to teach him that people will often not see him at first-they will see a preconceived, stereotyped version of him that has been engraved upon their consciousness by their culture, the media, and sadly, even those who “look like” him. I will have to encourage him to remember that although white folks have always been taught on some level that black & brown people are inherently, at their core, evil, bad, incapable of being good, lack value, and lack intelligence that he is NONE of those things. I will have to constantly remind him that no matter what is said, what laws are enacted, no matter how many jobs or promotions he’s denied, he DOES indeed have rights, he IS more than a stereotype and is not less than his boss, his friend, his classmate…

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I thought about all of this as I sat in the shower this morning, hot water mixing in with the tears streaming down my face, my heart heavy. I thought about his questions to me last week, and whispered, “Yes-yes we ARE still slaves and yes, people do still hate us, my son…even our own people are still oppressed with the self-hate fostered in us when we were just property.” In 2013, 40+ years after desegregation and Martin Luther King Jr’s speech on Washington’s monument, we. are. still. slaves. We are free, yes, and slavery is illegal…an amendment in the Constitution says so. But systematically? In people’s minds? In our OWN minds as people of color? No….we are far from free. No we are not free, and since Obama started his run for office back in 2007, the hate for the color of our skin and our culture has been getting louder, bolder, and more vile than I can remember hearing and experiencing growing up. Yes. We ARE still hated, still thought of as less than human.

As my heart weighed heavy with this answer, the thought that came next was “I’m brown. I am a woman. America’s not here for me. I have brown sons, a brown husband. America’s not here for them either.”

Somehow, in 2013, America is still not here for people of color. For men of color. And for women of color? Well…“For some folks being black and being a woman makes us less of both.” –A Letter to Rachel Jeanteal (Note: You WANT to read this….and this.)

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America isn’t here for me and my family because our skin is brown and we are a mixed multi-cultural family. Response to Cheerios latest commercial is just ONE of the recent events to reinforce this belief for me. Add SCOTUS’ gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the defense of Paula Deen’s use of racist language, her blind eye to discrimination and harassment in her own establishments, and the reaction to the George Zimmerman trial to the equation and that’s what it all adds up to, doesn’t it?

So my question is this: Who IS America here for?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not you, citizen. Not unless you are white, straight, rich, Christian, AND male, the 2013 America is not for you and is barely better than what it was in the past.

If you are poor….

If you are gay….

If you have a mental illness…

If you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or any faith other than “The Bible is the innerant and literal Word of God” Christian…

AMERICA. IS. NOT. FOR. YOU.

White, male dominated America doesn’t care about you as a human being if you’re brown or gay, and doesn’t care about your rights and freedoms to make your own choices about your body and reproductive health if you’re a woman-even a white woman.

America only stands for life…ONE kind of life. One that is privileged, entitled, elitist, and democratic only in theory.

FUCK THAT.

You want to stand for life, America? You want to stand for life American Church?

Stand and fight for the millions of children living outside of the womb who are hungry, homeless, abused, in foster care, neglected, and living below the poverty line.

You want to stand for life? Stand for the kids in Chicago, Philly, D.C. and even in rural areas where our public schools are failing and having funding ripped from them.

You want to stand for life? Then fund schools. Fund innovation and technology. Fund the arts. Supply food deserts. Fund your local food bank. Stop taking money from schools in the inner cities to build $400 million prisons. (I’m looking at you Philadelphia)

You want to stand for life? Get real about who can purchase a gun, what kind, how many, and how much ammunition they can have. Get real about gun safety and gun control. Care about violence in urban areas just as much as you do in the suburbs where you live comfortably encased in your “hard-earned” privilege.

You want to stand for life? Volunteer at a Veteran’s home, clinic, hospital or service organization. Spend some time giving back to those who sacrificed their time and lives so you can make your “stand” for life.

Want to stand for life? Man a suicide hotline.

Want to stand for life? Stop enforcing your way of life on others and allow them the same benefits and rights you enjoy. Church? We aren’t a theocratic nation-people can marry, love, and believe who and what they want.

Want to stand for life? Support SNAP benefits and your local food bank. Feed and clothe the homeless, whether you think they deserve it or not.

So you stand for life? Do you stand & vote for deep cuts to food and other welfare programs?

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Stop demanding hungry people sit through your tired ass, patronizing sermons to get the bags of food you offer every week. (I’m looking at you Black Church)

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be just as mission-minded here in our country as you are in others.

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be inclusive. Extend your outreach and support to those with mental illness. Stop the sexual and emotional abuse happening in your congregations and institutions.

Hear me: if you stand for the unborn who you claim are more worthy than the women impregnated with them and than those who are already living? If you’re an apologist for racist behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and ideals? If you aren’t here for my rights as a woman and mother of color? If you aren’t here for my mixed family who works just as hard as your privileged ass despite the systematic racism we encounter in various ways every fucking day?

Well then, I’m not here for you. Or your God, or your so-called God-blessed America.

I’m here for a much different country. Maybe I believe in a different God and perhaps I AM living in the wrong “democratic” nation. Guess I should take my black ass back to where I came from, huh?

No Shame Day: My Thoughts on Stigma, My Story

When I jumped on the Twitter this morning, I saw a tweet with a link to a blog  on Huffington Post titled, “No Shame Day: Working to Eradicate Mental Illness Stigma in the Black Community.”

After reading it, I clicked on the #NoShame hashtag and saw tweet after tweet from African-Americans detailing their struggles with mental illness and sharing how the stigma within the Black community regarding mental illness has had an impact on them.

I went to The Siwe Project website and cried reading story after story of other Black men & women who have had to suffer in silence because of how crippling and degrading the stigma is. Suffering from and living with a mental illness is difficult enough-having to battle and fight against stigma in addition to it makes it excruciating. It chokes out hope, leaving a person feeling alone, isolated, and unable to use their voice to advocate for themselves or their mental & emotional well-being.

I cried. A lot. I’m still crying as I type this. I wish I could put into words how encouraging and empowering it is to see other minorities living with depression, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. Seeing a photo of an African-American woman in a t-shirt that says “Bipolar II” makes me cry with relief because I recognize that I’m not a freak. I’m not weird. I don’t have a “that’s for white people” disease.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again:

Black People Don’t Talk About Their Mental Health

 We don’t believe in the science that says our minds are malfunctioning due to imbalances in brain chemistry. We don’t believe in the science that shows that stress, trauma and other environmental factors can alter a person’s brain chemistry and thus lay the foundation for a mental illness or mood disorder to build itself upon.

We don’t believe in anxiety because the Black Church tells us that we are “too blessed to be stressed.”

We don’t believe in depression because really, we survived slavery, what in the world could we have to be depressed about? If our ancestors could survive oppression and if our grandparents could endure the cruelties of racism and Jim Crow, then we can get through anything. Without complaining about it.

To be diagnosed with something other than a physical illness just means that you have “issues” , and are “crazy.” And if you are “crazy” you and your family don’t talk about it. You don’t get help for it. You are shamed into silence, an embarrassment to your family.

That’s why seeing photos and reading tweets & stories of others boldly declaring their diagnosis’ has me in tears. I’m both humbled and emboldened by their courage to speak out loud because I know how difficult it is culturally for them to do so.

Finally. Black people are finally starting to talk about their mental health. Their struggles, their diagnosis’, the treatment they are getting.

Finally. I’m meeting other African-Americans who are “like” me. I’m not alone.

So I’m writing this post today to lend my voice to the movement that is saying enough is enough, let’s silence the voice of stigma by raising our own.

Many of you already know my story because you’ve been reading it here, for the past year and a half. But for those who don’t here it is:

My name is A’Driane. I have been struggling with mental illness since I was 16. In my early 20’s I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety (GAD) & Depression. After the birth of my second son I suffered from GAD and Postpartum Depression. Although I was in treatment for both, my shifts in mood and symptoms became much worse.

I was diagnosed a year ago this month (OMG it’s been a year already?!) with rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder II in addition to my GAD. I take 3 medications daily to manage my symptoms and have an excellent psychiatrist. Being in treatment for the past year and becoming educated on what Bipolar Disorder is has helped me recognize that I first started having manic and depressive episodes in my early 20’s.

My psychiatrist believes that there are several things that have contributed my developing this illness. Family history (my grandfather is schizophrenic), environment & trauma (I was abused in my childhood & teen years) and the changes in hormones after the birth of my children all created what she calls my “bipolar biology.”

My treatment plan involves medication, therapy, yoga, dancing, writing, and painting. I’ve also found a few fantastic online support groups on Facebook, and read books, blog posts, and articles to help me understand everything I can about my disorder.

Compliance and the road to stability has not been easy and there are days when the weight of it all overwhelms me and I want to give up. There are days when no matter what I do, my illness still gets the better of me and I want to give in and give up hope.

But I don’t because I want to make it. I want to live. For myself, for my boys, and so others can know that it’s possible to live a healthy life.

My hope is that days like today, and having a month like July deemed, “National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month“, will help de-stigmatize mental illness in our community and culture.

African-Americans don’t seek treatment for mental illness because they don’t understand what it is and what it is not, so I’m hoping No Shame Day and increased awareness educates our community and encourages those who are suffering to seek treatment.

We CAN eradicate stigma in our various communities, regardless of race. But it’s going to take more open dialogue, more people choosing to own & tell their stories, and most importantly, being educated.

Dedicating days to doing all of these things are crucial to helping change the conversation around mental illness. I’m proud to be doing my part.

For more No Shame Day stories, you can click here, and you can also read a piece from Ebony Magazine by writer Mychal Denzel Smith here

Postpartum Depression: It Doesn’t Just “Happen” to White Women

Today I sat down here at the computer, pulled up Google and typed the following into the search box:

how many African American women suffer from postpartum depression?

do Black women suffer from postpartum depression?

how do Black women deal with postpartum depression?

Guess what came up? NOTHING.  Not one specific thing that answered the questions I queried. The closest I got was an article that discussed a study done in Iowa back in 2008, and an article that discussed the link between domestic violence and postpartum depression in African-American women. 

What’s wrong with this picture? Why is it that among the thousands upon thousands of search results returned, nothing specific, direct, and “here’s what you’re looking for, click here!” was featured on the first page of results? Or the second page? Why is so much of the information not recent or particularly relevant?

This not only frustrates me but it saddens me. Angers me even. If a simple Google search doesn’t yield solid results, how are black women supposed to find the help they may need?

That’s if women of color even think they need help in the mental health department, cause let’s face it: Black people don’t do therapy, medication, and definitely don’t “believe” in mental illness.

I could spend all day talking about why African Americans don’t seek help for any kind of mental struggle but it pretty much boils down to the fact that we don’t think we need help. Ask a person of color about this and you’re likely to hear the following:

  • Due to slavery, 400 years of oppression and trauma, black people feel that if we survived all of that, we can survive anything-WITHOUT help from a doctor
  • Your family is your therapist-why waste money talking to some expensive doctor about your problems when you can just talk to your mama or grandma for free? It’s their advice that matters because after all, look at what they went through, at what they have survived-they made it, and so will you!
  • Bootstraps. Black people have the strongest, longest, toughest bootstraps in the world-and when faced with adversity, we pull ourselves up by them and “keep it movin.”
  • Church. You can pray away any of your troubles. Seriously. If you pray and you’re still having mental issues, then you’re faith just isn’t strong enough and maybe you did something to deserve what you’re going through.
  • To admit you have a problem is to admit weakness. Weakness doesn’t happen to us. We are strong. We survived slavery, remember?
  • Therapy & meds are too expensive

And the list can go on forever.  You’re probably thinking that some of what I just mentioned sounds outrageous and I’d have to agree with you that it does. But these are the things that perpetuate stigmas about mental illness in the black community.

I can also tell you that for women of color the stigmas run even deeper and the expectations for us are even higher. Black women in our community are viewed as strong, capable, able to handle anything and conquer adversity  like Michael Jordan conquered dunks back in his hey day-with incredible, effortless, ease. We make do with what we have, we sacrifice what we need to, and we NEVER (I mean NEVER) complain about any of it.  We endure hardships like single parenthood with our mouths shut…our mothers and their mothers before them handled life that way, and without outside help, why would we do any different?

After I had Alex, my postpartum depression manifested as uncontrollable rage, severe swings in moods and severe anxiety. Alex would cry and I would literally want to crawl out of my skin.  Brennan would spill something and I would either explode in anger or burst into tears. Think I could talk to anyone about it? I tried talking to my mom…..I got the bootstrap, “God will work it out, ” and “just give it time” speech. I talked to some women at my church….”I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. I mean, look at all you have to deal with, especially being a single parent. If you’re circumstances were different, you’d be fine. You’re alright. Trust me,” was the consensus. I even had a friend tell me that they were “giving up” on me, and that my “problems” were too much to deal with.

I wasn’t fine. Not by a long shot. So I called my state funded health insurance and found a therapist. Only he wasn’t a real therapist-he was a state social worker. His reaction? “Any woman in your position would feel the way you do. That doesn’t mean you have PPD. Lots of women like you, who are black & single mothers with more than one child feel this way.”  Lots of women “like” me? Really?

What’s my point by saying all of this? It’s simple, really:

BLACK WOMEN SUFFER FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION TOO. 

I know they do. They have to. Because I did. I’m recovered now and I have a new diagnosis, but the fact still remains that I spent a year after Alex’s birth fighting my way through PPD.  But you wouldn’t know that if I didn’t talk about it. And we don’t know how many other black mothers are out there, suffering in silence, thinking that they “don’t have time” or are “too blessed to be stressed” to properly deal with the hell they are experiencing, thinking it’s a natural part of motherhood and even single parenthood.

We only hear about postpartum depression from white female celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Brooke Shields. The closest I’ve found to anyone in the black “celebrity” community discussing PPD is Mocha Manual author & speaker Kimberly Seals Ayers, whose PPD story you can read here.  Even she admits that PPD is more common among women of color but no one will admit to or talk about it. Essence, Ebony, and other magazines geared toward “black” audiences have yet to publish any significant articles on the subject in their health features. I can’t recall reading even ONE.

I asked a friend of mine today why she thinks women of color, particularly younger women,  don’t seek treatment for issues like PPD. She’s a new mother whose son was born premature and has been struggling with PPD pretty badly. Her response?

I think it’s real problem that more women my age (she’s 24) suffer from than would admit…Black people have this mindset that going to therapy and taking meds means you’re crazy instead of meaning that you’re informed about your mental health & getting healthy. Until I actually went to  therapy and got meds I was one of those uneducated people who thought & was afraid that people would think I was “crazy” and would need meds to function, you know?

Postpartum depression just doesn’t happen to white women. It happens to black women and other women of color too. What is it going to take to change the perception and stigma? How can it even BE changed if no one will talk about it?

I don’t know what the answer is y’all but I’m determined more than ever to be a voice and to keep sharing my story and my experience because mamas of color & their babies deserve strong, healthy starts too. Here’s to hoping that one day my voice encourages others to speak up and reach out too. I’ll leave you with this quote from Monica Coleman, Ph.D. (click her name to visit her website! it’s incredible!)

In many ways, I do think that there is a greater stigma among African-American culture than among white cultures. I live in southern California, and many white people will freely reference “seeing a therapist” in normal conversation. Black people don’t do that. Seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. There is still an active mythos of “the strong black woman,” who is supposed to be strong and present and capable for everyone in her family – and neglects her own needs. In the midst of a depressive episode, I had a friend say to me, “We are the descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Whatever you’re going through cannot be that bad.” I was so hurt and angry by that statement. No, depression isn’t human trafficking, genocide or slavery, but it is real death-threatening pain to me. And of course, there are those who did not survive those travesties. But that comment just made me feel small and selfish and far worse than before. It made me wish I had never said anything at all.

Skin Color, Nappy Hair, & Other Black Girl Hangups

Stop.

I’m serious. Whatever it is you’re doing, STOP IT RIGHT NOW and watch the video below. DON’T skip it, glance over it, say to yourself, ‘I’ll watch this later,’ or jump past it to read the rest of this post.

Just.

STOP.

WATCH:

Now….take a couple of minutes or however long you need to and just ABSORB what you just watched…

Digest what your eyes just witnessed.

Let the pain, shame, & other emotions you just heard travel from your ears to your heart.

And if you are feeling your eyes sting & burn from the tears threatening to spill down your cheeks-

LET THEM.

I did. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t stop it. The tears are flowing, and my hands are trembling as I force myself to type these words. Tears flowing for the woman who said she asked her mother to put bleach in the water, for the girl who used to scrub her face because she thought it was “dirty”, flowing in anguish for the woman who sat, with tears streaming down HER face, the betrayal & shame she feels burning in her eyes as she recalled the comment her friend made about thanking God her baby “wasn’t dark!”.

My hands are trembling in anger at the man, well, he sounds more like a boy to me, who said he would NEVER date a dark skinned girl because she “doesn’t look right next to him.” Trembling in anger at the young woman who described natural hair as “nappy” & “disgusting”, but feeling empathy for her ignorance, because, I really can’t blame her. No…I don’t blame her…

I DO blame our society & culture for her ignorance though…I blame a media and an advertising industry who has sold us their institutionalized ideals on beauty and our culture for buying them at an ever increasing rate….I place blame on celebrities who give in to the pressures & demands made by these industries and actually allow themselves to have their skin lightened (I’m looking at YOU Beyonce/Sasha Fierce/whatever you’re calling yourself these days), & have their own “nappy” hair glued/sewn down, hidden under hair from women who are paid to give it away.YUP I blame them. Why? Because they would rather give in than stand out. They would rather “play the game” to make some money than use their gifts/talents/art form to encourage young black girls to embrace who they NATURALLY are. Because looking like something you’re not, because “blending in” is trendy-yes, this is why I blame them for her ignorance.

But more importantly, I blame us. And by “us” I mean African Americans, you know, “black folk”. I blame us because celebrities wouldn’t do any of those things if we didn’t tolerate it. Better yet, MAYBE if we weren’t so hateful against ourselves our daughters wouldn’t be spending THOUSANDS of dollars on things like “Remy”, and eyelashes, and lace fronts….Maybe if we didn’t hate ourselves, the people who sell these products wouldn’t be able to capitalize off of our self-hatred & shame. Maybe all the money we spend on trying to NOT be who we are would be used instead on growing businesses in our neighborhoods, putting HEALTHY food options on the table for our kids so OBESITY wouldn’t be an epidemic, and funding the arts & other education initiatives so we could THRIVE…

But who am I to think such things? I’m just a big lipped, big nosed, black girl with “nappy” hair. My heart ACHES for the women in the above video, my face burns with the shame they feel, my eyes sting with tears over their hurt. Watching it brought an unexpected flood of memories & pain from experiences & hang ups I had growing up and sometimes still struggle with as an adult.

I’m not what black folk would consider “dark-skinned”. Despite the deeply hued melanin burned into my arms from spending hours in the sun, I’m what most black folk would consider “high yella (yellow)”. I’ve been told my skin is “so pretty because it has a nice ‘golden’ look to it, not dark like other black girls.” I’ve born witness to men breaking their necks & falling all over themselves to talk to one of my black friends-who’s skin was even lighter than mine and hair was longer than mine too. I’ve heard black men have conversations about “red bone girls” they wanted to “get it in” with and heard jokes about the ones who “look dirty” or “look like roaches” because of their pigment. But even being considered “light skinned” didn’t keep me from wishing I had long, flowing hair like the white girls in my class, or worrying that if I stayed out in the sun too long I’d “get too dark”….and it wasn’t enough to save me from developing hang ups about my complexion, hair, eyes, or anything else when it came to black folk.

My father put a relaxer in my hair before I was 5 and I vividly remember clumps of my hair washing down the bathtub’s drain…and crying because I didn’t think there’d be any left once we were done. I didn’t even know what my own hair really looked like up until about 3 1/2 years ago when I made my first attempt at going natural. I spent YEARS straightening my hair, applying the creamy crack to it the instant I saw a wave forming. I could never let my hair be “nappy”. No way! Having “beedeebees” in your “kitchen” wasn’t cute and guys (especially) black guys wouldn’t want to be with you. Straight….and LOOOONNNNNGGGG. That’s how a black girl’s hair should be-that’s what I was taught. I remember being made fun of by the boys at recess because my hair was “greasy”, fielding questions from white girls about how I “got my hair to do THAT”, and debating with black kids, especially girls,about who must have Indian in their family or be mixed because they had “good” hair. I was brought face to face and challenged with the hair ideals I had grown up with and everything I believed hair should be when I decided to do THE BIG CHOP and go natural. The first time I lasted 6 months. I started working in Corporate America and caved to the subliminal pressure to conform-hair included. Afterall, natural hair didn’t look “professional”. However in July 2009, I gave up the creamy crack, and ditched those tangled, hairy, beliefs about my hair for good. It hasn’t been easy. Seeing myself, seeing my hair in it’s unruly, wild, tightly coiled, Ima-do-what-I-want splendor took some serious getting used to, but I forced myself to embrace it this time around and the process has taught me alot about myself.

Having natural hair has taught me ALOT about people too. Especially black people. The looks I got when I first cut all my hair off are just as numerous as the ones I get now that it’s an all out ‘fro almost 2 years later. I’ve had several (black) people ask me why I don’t “do” my hair. I’ve had women say to me, “but it’s so much WORK letting your hair go like that…don’t you get tired of it being so nappy?”. I’ve even had the pleasure of numerous black men look at me and my coif disdainfully. I even had a guy in one my classes ask me “Why did you do that {to your hair} ? You used to look so pretty. Now you just look….I dunno.” My favorite reactions and the ones that anger me come from how people treat me when my hair is straight versus when it’s curly or ‘fro’d out. The minute I walk into a class, pass by a neighbor, or walk around a store with my locks straightjacketed with a flatiron, the compliments flow like the tide! I’m virtually ignored however, the minute I let it coil up….It’s amazing that my beauty is tied up in how I wear my hair….REALLY?!

To this day I can’t watch The Little Mermaid without squirming in discomfort once this guy pops up on screen:

When I was in elementary school I had a solo part in our Christmas concert, my first ever. I LOVED to sing as a kid, so I was super excited and couldn’t wait to hear how proud my dad was of me afterward. Instead of receiving praise, I was told I look like that crab pictured above. I was told that I looked like I was singing “Under the Sea” because my lips, especially my bottom lip, was so huge. I was like 17 before he stopped calling me Sebastian….or “soup coolers”. (And for the record, the only black woman my father was ever married to was my mother-he’s remarried 5 times since….so yea…imagine what THAT would do to your perception of black women) Not only did I stop singing, I began to truly hate the way I looked…

I may not be “dark” but I definitely grew up with hang ups about my complexion, my hair, my eyes…about BEING BLACK period, and it just breaks my heart to see that this is still an issue in 2011. And it angers me when I look at black, “light skinned-long haired” celebrities who reinforce the belief in our own culture that lighter & straighter is better, prettier, & more desirable. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is because we believed the “house nigga vs. field nigga” hype White folks sold us back during slavery. We bought into the idea that if you look like ’em you can “pass” and have a better life. In the generations & time that have passed since slavery, we’ve allowed shame to dictate how we feel about each other & what we teach our children about beauty.

My question is: When will it end? What will make it change? Why are we so afraid of who we are?

Watching this video really helped me see that we haven’t come as far as we thought….