Just Saying …

One Light in a Dark Place
Let’s start by saying, there is a lot is going on in the world, in society, and everywhere.  I have come to realize that regardless of whether you want to admit it, race is a factor of systematic discrimination. Period. I am sure you have stories, I have stories, and there are plenty of stories in the news to be outraged about.  There comes a time when talking just isn’t enough. Talking is an outstanding motivatng factor for initiating strategic change. But, real change comes with direct actions.  Action is the true synchronized mobility for change.

Too often as a black woman, I’ve been asked by people that don’t look like me how it is that I’m able to stay motivated, positive, and successful. Truth be told, it’s hard. It’s hard waking up and remembering that my natural hair has to be tailored to a customized fashion in order to appease people that don’t understand my hair texture. It’s hard to ensure that I find the right cosmetic foundation that matches my skin tone. It’s hard to ensure not to slip up and accidentally use an urban phrase or term in a meeting for fear of being labeled “ghetto.” It’s even harder to go to the grocery store and pick up a vegan or gluten-free item without receiving unsolicited and passive aggressive opinions about how “good it is” that eat well. Overall, it’s hard being black.

Although, I would not change my culture and my background for anything. What I would change is how people see it as a great divider. Statistically, I should not have college degree, be married, own a business, own home, speak “well” or be a vegan – just to name a few of my attibutes.  I often speak in motivational settings about success and staying focused.  As a segway several speaking topics, I talk about academic disparities I faced.  In tha same thought I speak about how I “blew it out of the water” and earned a Doctorate in my early 30’s.  I realized early on, that I had to mindfuly use approachablity tactics when speaking to predominantly non-black audiances to reduce my intimidation factor.  Yes, black women have to think about things like this – along with everything else.

Way too often, when I’m approached by peers and executive leadership to engage in “small talk” about myself.  I find myself having to explain my cultural background, academic career and how I was able to do it.  The conversation is almost always passive-aggressive. During a diversity meeting at one of the organizations I previously worked for, we had an open forum about “Race in the Classroom.” I knew how it was gonna go, I knew what was gonna be said, and I knew that there was gonna be no change put in place after the dawnting three-hour conversation was over.

At the end of the meeting, nothing was resolved, and nothing was written down toward strategic actions for ensuring the organization had more cultural sensitivity in the classroom. What did happen was myself and a co-worker we’re casually discussing the overall conversation.  I was asked specifically what it was like to be black? I gathered all of the strength from my black ancestors and started to regurgitate a default answer from memory, but instead stopped myself.  I decided to anwer honestly, instead of using my rehearshed template.  I specifically said “it’s hard being black, especially a black woman knowing that each and every day I have to prepare myself for the world mentally. The world does not see me as an educated woman. The world sees me as a black woman. The world does not see any of my accomplishments, accolades, dreams, or fears. The world does not see what I’ve done for my community, what I do for my students, or my motivational drive to ensure to be a good role model to little black girls and boys everywhere I go.”   I remember realizing that it was more than my co-worker could handle.  And decided to stop speaking.  She finally removed her hand from her mouth. I will never forget the look on her face. She simply replied with “That must be exhausting, I don’t see how you do it.” I replied, “I have no choice, it’s just the way it is – for now.”

Unfortunatly, the primitive factor of the color of your skin matters – it shouldn’t, but it does. But I’ve decided that the color of my skin is not a hindrance or a burden, it’s a gift.  I love being black, and I am a strong, educated, outspoken, sponky, lesbian, black woman.  Regardless of what the world throws at black folks, we always regroup, dust ourselves off and try again. It is literally in our DNA. We have a right to be happy, to be upset, to be angry, to be successful, to voice my opinion, to choose who to love, to do anything that brings happiness, positivity, and light to this world. That is where we stand, that is where we are coming from, and that is what we deserve.


Thoughtful Thursday

My natural hair care journey started like many hair journeys’ start off, a self-epiphany. I woke up one morning and I wondered: “If I died today, would the mortician have to put a relaxer in my hair before they could prep my body for my funeral?” Then I busted into uncontrollable laugher at the very idea. Sounds morbid, but it is true. I actually had this very thought, and really had to think about my relationship with my hair. Relaxer had become my version of Heroin or Crack Cocaine, “Creamy Crack” to be exact! Like both of these drugs, relaxers were introduced to me by those that I loved and who claimed to love me the most. Would love ones do something to you that they knew would affect your very being and health? My answer was, of course not – but, they had.

The process of relaxing my hair changed my whole life from the day I received my very first treatment. The first relaxer I received was referred to as the “kiddy perm” but there was nothing “kiddy” about it. I was never properly informed of the dangers of the relaxer chemical nor was I told the physical damage it could do to my body. Just like drugs, I was hooked on relaxer like a crack head on his/her main drug of choice. Relaxer claimed to straighten and strengthen my hair, when in fact it did just the opposite. Relaxer did not only weaken and damaged my hair; but it started the process of balding by causing my hair to franticly breaking off. This gave the illusion of a stunt in growth, which allowed me to think that my hair was not growing at all. It seemed when I managed to gain any kind of length to my hair, it was breaking faster than it could grow. When I was relaxed I can’t count know how many times I was told that “ethnic women don’t grow hair as fast as other races” which is a completely false statement. The truth is, all hair grows at the same pace, normally two inches a month.  The relaxer started balding the edges of my hairline. At the age of 31 years old, I decided to do something about my “Creamy Crack” addiction. Determined to kick the habit for good, and for the good of becoming healthier I decided to “Go Natural.”

On March 13, 2010 I decided to “Go Natural” and do whatever I needed to do to keep and grow my own healthy hair. I set aside time to research and collect lecture about natural hair, I joined hair blog forums and little by little I completed the “Long Transition” toward becoming all natural. I never really thought to much about hair until I realized I was destroying it. I received a third degree chemical burn in the middle of my head and on the side of my face while finishing up a relaxer, that was my last relater I put in my hair. I go into more detail about the whole story throughout the book.

I have been getting relaxers put in my hair since I was a young child. I have been doing them myself since I was 18 years old and not once had I ever read the box to see the warnings for chemical burns, nor did I research what the relaxer chemical actually was. The truth of the manner is I never really thought about the dangers of relaxers and what the chemical was doing to my skin, body and mind. It was just a part of my normal life to go to the beauty shop or beauty supply store, get a relaxer, put in my hair every two to four weeks – repeat every three to four weeks like clockwork.

Working out was difficult, swimming was impossible and I could forget about anyone “running” their hands through any part of my hair first few days after getting a relaxer or relaxer touch up. I had never added all the trips to the beauty stores up or all of the time I spent on doing, managing, or keeping my hair “bone straight,” and I certainly never thought about what the chemicals were doing to my body and my organs, until I started writing this book on my personal hair journey.

The life-changing event was when I decided to see the documentary “Good Hair” by Chris Rock. I expected to laugh, and be entertained. Instead of merely being entertained, I was educated on a subject that I never had a second thought about – my own hair and what I had been led to believe about it. I was told all of my life by my family, friends and the media that I was ugly unless I had straight hair. The worst thing anyone could ever have said to me in my relaxed days was “You look nice, but your new growth is showing.” This means that it was time for another relaxer because my “real hair texture” was exposed. This is where I started to panic, because I was more than what my hair looked like – or so I thought. I was beautiful and it was time to start being what God made me in God’s image – Beautifully natural.

Now that I was all motivated to “Go Natural” it was time to start getting an idea of what I was going to do. More panic came: “I don’t know what my hair is going to look like, I don’t want to look crazy, I don’t want people to think that I am all Afrocentric or hostile, I have no idea what to do with my hair once I do grow it out, I don’t even know what to put in it or how to style it.” I thought for days and days. I started to do some research on products, styles and what was considered bad and good for hair in general. I research what hair was and how often it grows. It turned out that all the rumors were false, ethnic hair grows just as much as any other hair type.

As a child I was constantly told that “Black peoples hair doesn’t grow as fast as other people’s hair does, so never cut your hair. If it breaks off then it will even its self out.” How ridiculous is that?! This was a repetitive hair statement in my young life. This is actually, what other black women would tell me, with the exception of a select few of black women in my life such as my Grand Mother Charlene, my Nana Perkins and others mentioned throughout the book.

My Grandmother Charlene was my grandmother on my father’s side. She had beautiful brownish red hair that flowed right down her back. Her hair was thick and lustrous. I always would play in her hair and hope and pray my hair would one day be like that. “You hair is beautiful child.” She would often say to me before I received my first relaxer. “You don’t need that junk in your hair, you will see” She said. Now, at age 31 years old I realized, she was right.

My Nana Perkins had a whole other thought about hair. “Any chemical you have to put in your hair to make it pretty has got to be bad for you.” Nana would say. Nana Perkins way of getting straight hair was the old fashion way, a good hot comb on a hot stove, along with a huge bucket of hair grease. This worked, until it rained and your beautiful straight hair transformed into a hot mess on your head.

Both of these fantastic women taught me that hair is just that, and to make it more than what it is to demine yourself. Being confident and beautiful are not mutually exclusive character traits, they are a part of each other, just as hair is a part of who you are. These are two of the most important lessons I have kept near to my heart. For that, these women have allowed for myself to grow into the woman I am today.

Excerpt from: A Natural Hair Journey, Stories and Memories of a Curly Girl

By: Jenice Armstead

A Natural Hair Journey, Stories and Memories of a Curly Girl by: Jenice Armstead

A Natural Hair Journey, Stories and Memories of a Curly Girl by: Jenice Armstead