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.

FacebooktwittermailFacebooktwittermail

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FacebooktwittermailFacebooktwittermail

“I Like Your Hat! Can I Touch It?”

It’s early. Really early. I stumble my way out of bed like a toddler learning how to walk, put on my scrubs, and get myself ready for a 12 hour shift at the hospital.  I get there, find my nurse preceptor, and off we go to receive report on our patients. So here I am, a student (strike one) who’s skin is much more brown than you would expect from someone living in a state with little sunshine (strike two) with a scarf on her head (strike three) walking into a stranger’s room, while the news channel they are watching is debating if Muslims should be allowed into this country, expecting them to trust me enough to care for them for the next 12 hours.

“Hi, my name is Sara, I’m a student nurse at Linfield, and I will be helping take care of you today!” I introduce myself, charming them with a big, warm smile, hoping that will be enough for them to get over at least one of the three strikes. I stand there anxiously, trying to read their body language, awaiting their response, and hoping I wore enough deodorant that day to overcome my current state of perspiration. And surprisingly, it works: both the deodorant and my patient’s positive reception towards me.  But why does it work? Could it be my smile? Friendly personality? Maybe they just received a dose of morphine? Perhaps it’s simpler than that. Perhaps my patients don’t see those strikes. Perhaps they merely see someone whose job is to care for them, for which they are grateful. Yet, I go in there overthinking and doing the one thing I don’t want people to do to me…stereotype. I (wrongly) think that because my patient is from a certain demographic that they are going to think of me in a negative light. With all that’s going on in the world these days, how could I not have my guard up? Instead, they are very kind and very curious to learn more about me and my background. And que the questions:

Q: Why do you wear that on your head?

A: Why do you wear pants?

 

Q: Where are you from? Like, before Portland…where did you come from?

A: My mother’s uterus.

 

Q: I like your hat! Can I touch it?

A: No.

 

Q: Does the color of your scarf mean anything?

A: It means it’s what’s clean.

 

Q: Wow, how is your English so good?

A: Wow, how are your manners so bad?

 

Q: What color is your hair?

A: Actually I’m a red head. I’ve got a Blake Griffin thing going on.

 

Q: Is it only married women that have to wear a towel on their head?

A: Gosh, I think I hear my instructor calling me…

Ok, fine, those were not my true responses to those questions. But all those questions have been questions I have been asked, no exaggerations. It’s hard to answer these kinds of questions, especially in a professional manner. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), I am used to it and have become fairly good at answering respectfully and professionally. I have also become pretty good at reading someone’s intentions when they ask me these questions and typically, most people have good intentions and really are just wanting to learn more. For all I know, I am most likely the first Egyptian and/or Muslim they have ever met.  Because of the way I dress, it can make it easy for people to stereotype me. For example, people sometimes assume I don’t know how to speak English, that I am very conservative, or that I am repressed because I cover my hair. In reality, the opposite of those stereotypes is true and as soon as someone starts talking to me, they have that realization.

On the flip side, I had the opportunity to use my Arabic language skills to make a new dad more comfortable after his daughter was born. Once I found out where he was from (a question that I did not ask him, for the record), I began to converse with him in Arabic. I immediately saw his face light up, shoulders relax, and attitude change. Because we were able to connect on a level that he had not been accustomed to in his short time here in the States, he felt more comfortable asking me questions and took more initiative in providing care for his newborn daughter.

While we all have different life experiences which have helped us shape how we view the world, I am able to bring a perspective from a culture that is not only a minority in America, but one that has been misunderstood and misrepresented, especially in the last decade or so. I carry that with me all the time; not as a burden, but as an opportunity. Every interaction I have with someone new, I hope to make a lasting, positive impression on them, slowly changing the misconceptions of my culture, one conversation at a time, one patient at a time.

As I turn the corner into my last semester of nursing school, I have learned that confidence makes all the difference in the world. Walk into your patients’ rooms like you belong there, because you do. But have enough humility to know what you don’t know and stop to ask questions.  You are there to care for people potentially during the toughest days of their lives. They may or may not care about your ethnic or religious background, but they will always care about your compassion, confidence in your skills, and ability to provide quality patient care. Oh, and have a good sense of humor. Because whoever said “laughter is the best medicine” was so right.

Sara Hussein is a fourth semester student at Linfield Good Samaritan School of Nursing.

FacebooktwittermailFacebooktwittermail