Archive for the ‘nappy hair’ Category

“If You Knew” says Nina

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I could write about Nina Simone all day long and never get tired. I could write about Nina, and other women like her, Dinah, Billie, Sarah, Carmen, Betty, Abbey and risk losing most of my sanctified readers. Yes, I love Mahalia. But when I was looking around for role models in those early years as a woman in ministry I looked to women like Nina and Dinah as my role models. I preferred stories about women who were not saints. As I said in a previous post about women singers:

Reading stories of women living out of their suitcases night after night, singing under sometimes impossible circumstances, expected by their audiences to bring down the house every time they sang despite whatever was going on in their personal lives, the sexism they faced in the music industry, the betrayal of managers and record companies who cheated them, living with the label of being “difficult” women when they spoke up and spoke out, the multiple marriages they had but never really finding true love, the solace many of them found in the after-hour meals with their band, all of this sounds familiar to me.

After living out of my suitcase for the last couple of weeks speaking here and there, trying to remember my lines and hoping, with God’s help, to live up to my part of the bargain and give audiences what they came looking for and needed desperately to hear, I stumbled on this video this morning of Nina sitting at the piano in a dark supper club under a lone light singing, sweating, and giving her audience what they came for without giving them more of herself than she could afford to spare. What I admire most about Nina is that she learned how to use her aura to her advantage. Her striking black African looks, her unconventional physicality, which were supposed to be her undoing, became  her greatest assets. She made her audiences look at her, really look at a woman who looked like her, something they weren’t accustomed to doing without turning away, and notice the beauty. I like when women performers who don’t look like what women performers are supposed to look come out and make liars and bigots and idiots of their audiences– with talent that leaves audiences crying for more.  Isn’t that what made the Susan Boyle video a Youtube hit?

I’m a sweat-er too. Always have been. Even before “the change”. LOL. So when Nina pauses in the middle of singing “If You Knew” to wipe her forehead with her hands–and looks around the set with an expression that says “why the freak doesn’t someone bring me a towel?” and continues on with the song as though the gesture and expression were part of the song — I smile knowingly. “Pay attention,” Nina says in the video.  There’s something to be learned for you who aspire to be public speakers, orators, poets, preachers, teachers who stand everyday before a class full of students. A lesson in confidence, experience, and self-possession. Sweat and keep singing. Make the sweat work for you. Sing so that they remember the song and appreciate all the passion you put into delivering it.

Nappy and Happy

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Pull up a chair around the kitchen table and let’s talk. About. Black Women. And hair.

Oh well, I guess there’s no place in the White House for little black girls with nappy hair, huh?

obamas waving

I know many of you can’t tolerate any criticism of the Obamas. And I’m not criticizing the Obamas. Not really. I’m raising a question about a black girl’s hair. And public perception. We’ve talked about this topic before when it was Michelle Obama. You can be sure that when this month’s issue of Essence Magazine arrived in the mail with Malia (10) and Sasha Obama (7) with hair straightened and curled around their shoulders, some black mother lost a battle with her ten year old about not straightening her (just yet).

Why do we perm or straighten our daughters’ hair at such a young age?

 What other ethnic group does this to their children?

What can we do to help African American girls (or girls of African descent) grow up feeling beautiful about rocking the hair God gave them?

It Does Not Suck To Be A Black Woman!

Friday, November 30th, 2007

I know as a black Christian woman that I should be grateful that NBC News even bothered to devote a weeklong series to African American women. But I’m not. I have not been impressed. If I were a sister from another planet and depended upon a satellite of NBC’s “African American Women: Where They Stand” to give me my first introduction to the lives of black women I would probably conclude, “I’m glad I’m a sister from another planet. It must suck to be a black woman.”

In case you didn’t know, because you live on another planet that doesn’t have satellite, a special series has been airing all week over at “NBC News with Brian William” focusing on a wide-range of issues affecting black women entitled “African American Women: Where They Stand.” Night One of the series aired on Monday night with a discussion of black women’s educational achievements. Did you know that nearly two-thirds of black graduates are women, and at black colleges the ratio of women to men is a staggering 7 to 1?

On Tuesday, Night Two, the series focused on the increased risks for breast cancer among black women. Black women with breast cancer are nearly 30% more likely to die from it than white women. Lord have mercy.

A roundtable talk about relationships was the format on Wednesday, Night Three, with NBC correspondent Rehema Ellis facilitating the intimate chat with three members of a Chicago book club. Here we learned, as if we didn’t know already, that the percentage of African-American women between 25-54 who have never been married has doubled from 20% to 40% in the past fifty years. (Compared to just 16% of white women who have never been married today). Many feel that the achievement gap in education and business among African-Americans is having an effect on relationships, changing “Black America’s family and social structure.”

Last night’s segment on black women and heart disease reiterated the well known fact that we’re all just one hamhock away from a heart attack, to quote my friends over at WAOD. Put soberly, heart disease is the leading cause of death among black women.

After four nights of watching NBC’s reports on the sorrowful plight of black womanhood, all I could do to dull the pain afterwards was to grab the tv monitor and turn to the UNC-Purdue women’s basketball game.

The truth will set you free, but first it will hurt your feelings. Not to mention make you look bad in front of others.

Listen up: I am a black woman. Hear me roar — It does not suck to be a black woman! Heartache, loneliness, disease, suffering, and poverty are not the sum total of our existence as black women. We laugh, love, play, sing, work, fight, cry, pray, jump, dance, work, smile, kiss, hug, fight, cry, pray, work, raise our families the best we can and trust God to do the rest, like every other woman who knows that life is what you make it. Life is tough, but there is joy.

If Friday’s segment is as forecast on the black woman vote in South Carolina, perhaps things will look up tonight. Hopefully, black women won’t come off looking like such an unhealthy, downtrodden, lonely race of women. After all, in South Carolina half of Democratic voters in the state are African American, and most of those are female—40%of whom have yet to settle on a presidential candidate. You guessed it. The latest flavor of the month in South Carolina Democratic circles is the black female vote. Battling for dominance in the region, the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in hot pursuit of black women. My suggestion to black women voters in South Carolina this morning after this week long NBC series is to play hard to get. Leverage your power. Make the candidates address the issues that matter to you. Take your time to decide.

On second thought, things could go from bad to worse for black women tonight. Seems like reporters and pollsters covering the South Carolina primary race have the bright idea that the black beauty shop is ground zero for finding out what’s on black women’s minds. Depending upon what you think about the public display of nappy roots, if NBC’s “African American Women: Where They Stand” cameras bust up in black hair salons to interview black women voters, things could get real kinky.

Nappy Hair: Part Two

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

“Don’t waste your moral capital talking about black women and hair,” I chide myself.

Hair is such a deeply complex and combustible topic among black women that I decided years ago to steer clear of the topic. Its power to divide black women in ways that it’s not always possible for us to find our way back to each other is mind boggling. Besides, hair is not a prophetic issue like, say, sexual violence, the war in Dafur, a mass shooting on a college campus, the upcoming presidential election, or global warming.

But recently a young woman on a natural hair message board I frequent wrote in saying it’s a shame that the older generation of black women (gulp, meaning women like me) didn’t have India Arie, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, T’keyah Crystal Keymah-types “back in the day” to model for them how beautiful nappy/natural hair can be. That statement made those of us 45 years and over feverish and sent us dashing to post photos of some of our favorite natural hair icons from “back in the day”: Rosalind Cash, Bea Richards, Roberta Flack, Nina Simone, and, of course, Angela Davis (to name a few). (Why do the young always think they are the first to rock a certain style?)

Talking with one of my grad students lately also convinced me that a second hair post was warranted. She mentioned that she got her first perm when she was three years old. “Did it burn?” I asked incredulously recalling the sight of my cousin squirming at the kitchen table where she sat applying the lye cream from the store bought box perm onto her hair. “All I remember is my mom trying to quiet my three year old screams with the words, ‘Don’t you want to be beautiful?’” Twenty years later and now a graduate student who wears her thick, coarse, kinky hair natural, she’s amazed that she continues to wrestle with ambivalent feelings about her hair.

Racism is to blame in part for black women’s love-hate relationship with their hair. Capitalism is also to blame. The hair and beauty-care industry spends millions of dollars a year on ads that see to it that women all over are never satisfied with their bodies and are willing to starve, mutilate, or endure great pain to modify the body God gave them in order to be accepted and to live up to some elusive notions of beauty. Hair, then, is not a personal issue. It’s an issue that has all sorts of political, social, and economic implications.

Some of my best friends relax their hair. LOL. They work in the academy, the corporate world, and in the church. Relaxing their naps is their choice, just like letting my naps remain nappy and free is my preference (and the preference of lots of other black women). My friends and I don’t talk about the differences in our hair. We don’t have to. Our history and friendship go deeper than our hair, much deeper. But I’d be lying if I said I believe that hair is just hair, and that how you choose to wear your hair doesn’t matter. I think how you wear your hair does matter. I am not my hair, but my hair is me. It’s just that hair is not a deal breaker issue for me when choosing friends.

As much as I wish black women wouldn’t succumb to the hype to relax their naps and were proud of their super tight coils, the weight of a woman’s character in the end doesn’t rest with what’s on her head but what’s in her heart.