Big Hair Chronicles

Once upon a time, a young black girl was standing in line along with her friends waiting to be approved by athletic trainers to play a sport for Linfield. She was laughing and all of sudden another one of her acquaintances enters the line. She greets her with a hug and, because she was so short, her hair was in direct sight and therefore at its utmost vulnerability. Her acquaintance then ruffled her voluminous puff ball of hair. She was taken aback by this, but she did not think much of it. A few moments later, a young man who was standing in the back of the line proceeded near the front to join his friends. On his way there he decided to stop next to the Black girl and ruffled her hair. He had a history of touching her hair and she reacted accordingly by telling him to stop what he was doing. Some may think that he stopped after he was asked to; however, it did not resolve that way. He decided to ruffle her once more for satisfaction. The young Black girl then told him to stop in a more irritated manner. He then laughed and walked away. Later that day, feeling her frustration building, she decided to post on social media that no one is allowed to touch her hair anymore. Putting her foot down, her Black friend commented, “I can still touch it!” with great pride. Although the young black girl had lots of love for her black friend she responded by saying, “Only when you are doing my hair, but other than that I cannot allow anymore exceptions.”

You may be shocked to read that situations like this actually happen here on the Linfield campus, but the truth is that it happens to me almost every day. In fact, someone ruffled my hair today — the same day that I am writing this blog entry. This is only an issue surrounded by race and culture not only because we make it so, but because Black hair is so distinct, transformative, versatile, and different from “the norm.” It creates an impression that it is somehow exotic, peculiar, and mysterious, when in actuality it is simply harassment, dehumanization, and violation of personal space.

Do you know that saying, “The sword is an extension of your arm?” As this saying is most relevant to the sword fighting scenes of Lord of the Rings, it is incredibly related to my hair being an extension of my body and culture. Being African American or Black on this campus includes playing the role of “educator.” I actually love when students ask me questions about my hair because I do know that it is special and unique; however, its uniqueness is also quite burdensome. Sometimes students like to ask with their hands and not their mouth. Some like to explore the mysteries of my shapeable hair. Although it is quite flattering that some are curious, it is also very intrusive to touch my hair, regardless of whether or not you ask.

Now the previous statement may be read as an opening to touch my hair when asking for permission. The effects of this permission to touch will actually cause more harm than good. As you would ask to touch a luxury car at an auto show, which is an object to be observed, some would ask to touch my hair. In result, my hair would be objectified and observed without ever thinking about how I feel. This experience is also the result of historical white oppressive attempts to objectify Black slaves and establish superiority by fetishizing and “othering” black hair.

Some may say, “No that’s not the case! I really do like your hair.” If your goal is to not objectify my hair, if I may be a bit blunt, then JUST compliment my hair. It can also be said that I may be getting too emotional about this matter but those who are unfamiliar with this experience would understand if their friends continued to touch their hair without consent even after they have told them not to. Therefore, in order to ease the curiosity of those who wonder how exactly I sculpt my hair, I will create a list of questions/comments that are commonly asked or said to Black women about their hair:

“How do you get your hair to stay down?”

There is a hair product specifically for laying African American hair flat, and it is called “edge control.” Once I apply that, I wrap my hair into a silk scarf and sleep with it overnight.

“How do you get your hair so curly?”

Water.

“Do you wash your hair?”

I am sure most human beings wash their hair, yes I wash my hair.

“Why do you wear a scarf?”

I wear it to be stylish for when I go to bed… No, I actually wear it to prevent my hair from getting frizzy before I go to bed.

“Is that a wig, or is that afro really yours?”

In reality: No, it is not a wig, this is my natural hair.

In my mind: Let’s see. If I am Black, and I wanted to wear my hair out naturally, I don’t think I would buy a wig to hide my natural hair. Well, at least they asked instead of finding out for themselves.

“OMG It’s so fluffy!”

Yes, thank you so much!

“Can I touch it?”

No thank you.

I have only mentioned a few of the many questions or comments that I am sure other African American women can add to. There is also another issue to resolve with this matter. It may be assumed that only non-black students touch my hair; in actually there are plenty of black students who have also touched my hair. There is a belief that only black people are allowed to touch my hair for the very reason that they are Black. That is not a fact. Other Black women may touch each other’s hair when they are styling it, washing it, blow drying it, and straightening it; however, it is not being done for pure amusement. In fact, Black women in salons or on the door steps of their neighborhoods that get together and do each other’s hair is the creation of a community and a unity of Black women through social interaction of kinship relations within the neighborhood; it is not an anatomy lab examining the wonders of Black hair and its deviance from the norm. Unfortunately, there are some Black students who may partake in this forbidden act because they feel entitled to do so. As I have mentioned that my duty is to play the role of “educator,” I will clarify this dilemma. NO ONE, no matter the color of their skin, is entitled to touch, squeeze, or ruffle my hair.

“What’s the big deal? It’s just hair!”

It is not just hair, it is me. It is an extension of my body and my culture and it should not be touched, ruffled, or squeezed for anyone’s amusement or curiosity. Stop and stare, but PLEASE DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR.

 

Jade Everage is a member of the President’s Diversity Advisory Committee and Co-President of the Black Student Union.

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Reflections of a Tragic Week From Minnesota and Baton Rouge to Dallas

After I agreed to share my thoughts regarding the tragedies of last week in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, it seems I’ve been dragging my feet putting my thoughts into shareable words. Truthfully, I’m still gathering my thoughts and examining my feelings over everything. You see, I am a biracial woman who identifies more and more with the Black community. I was one of the “highlighted” students at Linfield; I was one of twenty-four African and African-American students on a campus of 1600. I know what it’s like to be watched because the color of my skin. I’ve been stopped for not being the right shade in a neighborhood. I’ve been followed inside stores. I worry about my friends, family, and potential children becoming a hashtag.

I am also a 911 dispatcher. I know the majority of the women and men that serve as police officers do so with integrity and pride. Most officers entered their profession wanting to make a difference. They are the ones that run towards danger when the average person runs the other way. Luckily I have not had an officer injured while I worked the radio, but I was working the night a neighboring agency lost an officer. I remember the silence on their radio frequency, the empty and helpless feeling while we waited for updates on the situation. My heart aches for the Dallas officers, their families, and their colleagues. I worry for the safety of my friends and coworkers.

The videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are heartbreaking. However, I can’t judge or comment on those videos. I don’t work for those departments. We’re only seeing a portion of complex situations. It’s easy to second guess the actions of the officers and/or the victims in situations you have never experienced. It’s also easy to dismiss protesters with overly simplified statements such as “If she/he followed the police instructions, they’d still be alive.” Life is not that simple. People have followed rules and they’re still dead.

I am a supporter of Black Lives Matter. I am also a supporter of law enforcement. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Our system needs to be reviewed. It needs to be updated. We need to acknowledge our history and discuss how it affects our current society. We need open dialogue to move forward. We need unbiased news reporting.

Honestly, I’m tired. I’m tired of reading similar headlines year after year. I’m tired of holding my head up, hoping for change.

 

Dena Morales graduated from Linfield in 1999 with a degree in Anthropology.  She lives in Seatac, WA and has served the Port of Seattle for 12 years.

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White Mom, Brown Kid: Worry for My Boy of Color

Nine years ago, when I joined the Linfield English department, I remember introducing myself at the new-faculty orientation by saying, “If I look like I haven’t brushed my hair for three weeks—I haven’t.”

This was not because I felt casual in the face of the Linfield adventure then beginning for me.  It was because, three weeks earlier, I’d begun another adventure: binding my life with that of a baby boy whose birth mother in Guatemala had placed him for adoption.  That baby, Joaquin, rode with me around Linfield on my hip in a blue and white gingham sling, sporting two gleaming teeth and displaying a great zest for drama (he once tried to eat a microphone as I spoke into it).

He was—and is—a merry and magnetic person, lodged so deep in my heart that I sometimes forget that his experience of the world is significantly different from mine.  It’s not just that adoption has separated him from his birth family, country and language, and he must grieve that loss—his dad and I can help him, but we can’t do it for him—it’s also that he’s a brown kid in a white family.  He’s a brown kid in a browning-but-still-white-dominated country.  He’s a brown kid who, as recent events have shown, will always be more vulnerable than a white kid to prejudice and discrimination, and at worst, physical harm.

During Joaquin’s lifetime, a black man has been elected president and a Latina woman has ascended to the Supreme Court (give’em hell, Sonia).  In the same period of time, thousands of black and brown men and boys and women and girls have been unfairly profiled, targeted, injured or killed by police officers.  They have been attacked and murdered by vigilantes. They’ve been tried, sentenced and incarcerated in unfair ways and at unfair rates.  And their school experiences have prepared them for this trail of tears: statistically, black and brown kids are much more likely to be suspended and expelled from school than white children are for identical offenses.

Some white Americans have ways of deflecting our attention from these problems, usually by blaming the victims: “Well, they must have done something wrong.  They didn’t show proper respect to police.  They shouldn’t have had outstanding warrants, they should have paid their child support, they shouldn’t be trying to hustle a little income selling cigarettes or CDs, they shouldn’t have fought back, they shouldn’t have mouthed off, they shouldn’t have run, they shouldn’t, they shouldn’t, they shouldn’t…”

What about what white America should and shouldn’t do?

When I began to write this piece, two black men had been killed by police officers in the span of a couple of days.  By the time I got to the second paragraph, five officers were dead in Dallas, Texas, killed by a deranged mass murderer who (this time) happened to be an African-American.  Ferocious verbal combat has broken out, without any effect except to further a useless sclerosis of rhetoric, pitting police against people of color.  Please. The fact that a group of cherished, honorable men are killed in the line of duty by a maniac should not distract us from the long, slow bleeding of liberty, potential, and life itself from people and communities of color.

In a few years, my Guatemalan-American boy will be driving a car, hanging out with his buddies, beginning to establish his independence from the umbrella of care I placed over him when I became his mother. When I read the news, I flinch inside.  It feels like anything could happen out there to my beloved, irreplaceable child.  It already has happened to the beloved, irreplaceable Trayvons and Tamirs and Erics and Sandras and Philandos of many other mothers.  It just takes one hinky situation, one bad night, for all of our lives to go forever sideways.

Admittedly, my son will experience a thick layer of the protections that come with being part of an educated, healthy and financially stable family.  He won’t be driving a beater car he can’t afford to keep registered.  If he has the misfortune to become physically sick or addicted or mentally ill, he’ll have heath care and people to nurse him and to intervene on his behalf. If he’s ever arrested, he’ll have a decent lawyer.  If he’s treated unfairly, he’ll have people to advocate for him—white people– who have the time and the skills to show up in court, write an op-ed, or contact a congressman.  He’ll know the ropes of white culture; he’ll speak English, understand his rights, and expect to be treated with respect and fairness.

Still.  This kid’s mild layer of ADHD, his slight speech impediment, combined perhaps with adolescent impulsivity, a sneaked beer or two, and a break-up that’s left him surly or spaced out?  He’s already got attitude, and like everybody, he makes some lame choices.  It would be easy for him to piss somebody off, to look like some smart-mouthed Latino kid who had it coming.  Would I hear then that he shouldn’t have talked back?  Shouldn’t have run away?  That he “charged” somebody with a knife?  Whatever I’d hear, it wouldn’t matter, because life for me would be over.

And when I imagine that feeling, when I get close enough just to begin to imagine it, I am full of rage at the forces that have made those feelings an unholy reality for so many families. People say, “Well, that kid was no angel.”  Nobody is an angel! These forces, of course, are not just the poor judgment or bad training of a few police officers. They include also the toxic masculinity of a handful of creeps with guns as well as weak gun laws—yes, they are weak, despite the paranoid foamings of the National Rifle Association–and judges and lawmakers who get “tough on crime” by throwing more and more disadvantaged people in jail without education inside or support when they get out.  Above all, I resent the systemic racism that has kept people of color poor, segregated and powerless.  I began benefiting from the disparity before I was born, and my son began suffering from it when he entered the country with a baby-faced green card.  It is truly painful for me to admit that this is America, but it is.

In his monumental book Far From the Tree, the great writer and interviewer Andrew Solomon explores the ways in which children may have “horizontal identities,” aspects of their selves that they share with no one in their family of origin.  My child’s horizontal identity is to be Latin American—in looks, if not culture.  My inherited racial privilege can protect him somewhat, but not wholly.  I can only tell him, “If a police officer tells you to do something, sweetie, do it.  Keep your hands in plain sight, and don’t ask questions.”

But I can ask questions, and so can Linfield students.  College is a time of questioning, as well as learning.  I see Linfield graduates out there making a difference every day, helping this nation, incrementally, to become the exemplar of justice it was founded to be.

We can do it.  Si, se puede.  Yes, we can.

Anna Keesey teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College. Her work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best American Short Stories. 

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Latinos, Black Lives Matter!

For centuries Black people have been fighting an uphill battle and standing up against a system meant to repress, a system that continues to be unfair, unjust, and dare I say, inhumane. Standing up against injustice, Black people have taken the lead in defense of their communities, which we all benefit from and we have seen a steady growth in the Black Lives Matter movement. At the same time, it is not hard to see that we Latinos have been largely absent from widely standing up with Black people. Why? Are Black people’s struggles so much different than our own that we’ve lost empathy? Are we so engaged in oppression Olympics that we think, “at least it’s not us”? Or are we light-skinned and privileged just enough that we don’t have to think about Black lives? The reality is the Black struggle is our struggle and we need to be present and vocal in support of Black people.

There are many parallels in our communities’ struggles, and I struggle to come up with reasons why we Latinos have not been more vocal. Black and Brown men are over-represented in our prison system. Our communities have been affected for decades; Crips, Bloods, Norteños, Sureños, what’s the difference? They’re all detrimental and divisive. From rap to corridos, we both have resistance music. Black women and Latinas are still at the bottom of the earnings ladder, and we all know how hard they work. The Black community is demanding fair treatment by police, an end to racial profiling, and justice where justice is due. Is that not what we expect both from police and in our case, la migra?

Injustice and grief is difficult regardless of whom the perpetrator is, we too have experienced the pain of losing loved ones due to institutionalized repression in our own Latin American countries. Through centuries of conquistas and religious missions that have wiped out millions of indigenous people and all the residual effects of manifest destiny, we know suffering, we know pain. Today our Latino communities continue to have many needs and it’s important to continue to fight for our needs. But we also need to follow the lead of our Black brothers and sisters as the Black community fights against systems keeping our communities in fear. Fairness and justice for Black people is fairness and justice for Brown people, what’s good for Black people is good for Brown people.  In the face of racism, discrimination, and stereotypes, can one really distinguish the difference between Black, Cubano, Dominicano, Puertoriqueño, or Veracruzano? In a world where race continues to matter, the darker the skin, the harder the battle.

As Latinos, we have a long history of fighting political, religious, and social oppression and have great history of fighters who sought justice. Emiliano Zapata, Cesar Chavez, Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo, el Padre Romero, and Rigoberta Menchú to name a few, all stood up against injustice. I believe that if they lived in our community today, they would be standing side by side with the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. To date, according to the Washington Post, 509 people have been killed by police. If these deaths were proportional to the demographics of our country, 61 would be Black. 123 Black people have been killed by police, twice the demographic average. This is a problem that must be addressed and we Latinos have a responsibility to speak up and be part of the solution.

So how do you know it’s your responsibility and it’s time to support the Black Lives Matter movement? Here’s a start.

  • If you’ve experienced racism…it’s time.
  • If your foot trembles when you see red and blue lights in the rear view mirror…it’s time.
  • If you’re afraid someone you love will be incarcerated or killed…it’s time.
  • If you’ve gone to an immigration rally and wondered where the non-Latinos are…it’s time.
  • If you or someone you love fears la migra…it’s time.
  • If you’ve been followed by security at the mall…it’s time.
  • If you’ve dyed your hair blonde because it would make you look more White…it’s time.
  • If you’ve been told you are not college material…it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever played loteria and said buenas con el negrito…it’s time.
  • If people slowed their speech so you could understand their English…it’s time.
  • If your name has ever been changed so it’s easier to pronounce…it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever heard the word “illegal” in reference to brown people…it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever watched novelas and realized all the dark-skinned people are “the help,”… it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever been told to stop speaking Spanish…it’s time.
  • If you’ve ever been told to go back to your own country…it’s time.
  • If you’ve never experienced any of the above, it’s time to ask yourself what unearned privileges you enjoy and how you can use that privilege to make an impact in Black lives…it’s time.

As Latinos, we experience these micro and macro-aggressions and fight through implicit and explicit bias on a daily basis. We are also impacted by institutional isms (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) in education, health care, the criminal justice system, politics, and business. These are the same battles Black people are fighting and in order to make collective progress, we must unite and support the movement. There is no doubt in my mind that our country, communities, and even our own families are divided. There are many divisions between Black and White, Black and Brown, Black and Blue, republican and democrat, rich and poor, men and women, and many others. Division cannot continue between police and our communities, we have a symbiotic relationship; we need each other in order to thrive. Is it too much of a stretch to think that if Black people feel safe in ALL our communities, then police officers will feel safe in their own police duties? Fear on all sides must be eradicated. Trust must be rebuilt, and that requires dialogue, collaboration, healing, empathy, and an end goal of love and peace. I challenge all of us to find ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement and to use whatever level of influence we have to demand respect, justice, and accountability. Como dijo Benito Juárez, “Entre los individuos, como entre las Naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.” Let’s unite and demand respect for Black lives…it’s time.

Gerardo Ochoa is Assistant Dean for Diversity and Community Partnerships at Linfield College.  You can follow him on twitter @gerardoochoa

Here’s further food for thought:

5 Steps Latinos Can Take to Combat Anti-Blackness

Latinos Cannot Be Silent to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

11 Powerful Photos of Latinos Standing ins Solidarity With Black Lives Matter

The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

The next time someone says ‘all lives matter,’ show them these 5 paragraphs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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