Now Hair This

Happy Martin Luther King Day, and even though white people continue to try to sanitize him, his writings and life stand on their own to teach us and open our minds if we go to the source. One of my resolutions for 2020 is to write more posts about racial injustice than I did in 2019, so today seems like a good day to start. Sadly, the bar is fairly low. I only wrote 8 out of 52 posts on the topic, sooooo, yeah. Partly it’s that these are not topics I can whip out, and I often find myself on Sunday afternoon frantically writing a post for Monday. Which works if I’m making fun of myself, describing some random thing that happened on the subway, or posting cute hamster pictures. Substantial writing that is informative, avoids imperiousness, and could possibly entertain? Two-hour sprint blogging is not so conducive for that. So I guess the corollary resolution is: get more organized about my writing, or just get organized. That’s been on my self-improvement list for many years, so I’m trying, but I wouldn’t put your money down on that one quite yet.

However, another approach is to let others talk for me. Such as people who actually know what the hell they are talking about, unlike me who is slowly and painfully figuring out the nuances, the unconscious bias, the deeply set, mostly-invisible-to-white-people patterns of systemic racism.

I present to you Ayanna Soyini Pressley, a U.S. Representative for my home state of Massachusetts (7th congressional district). Previously, an at-large member and first Black woman elected to the Boston City Council, she defeated 10-term incumbent Mike Capuano for the house seat. She is the also the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. In 2018. She is a rock star, and Massachusetts can be a disappointing bastion of white privilege, even as we also have wicked smaht people who work diligently to solve really difficult social and medical problems, and also we will kick your ass in sports. We’re complicated.

Anyway, I get to give you a two-fer. She made a personal/political announcement on The Root, an online news outlet that focuses on news that’s important to Black people, which also happens to be pertinent to white people. Believe me you’ll learn a lot by just going to the website — on topics that range from politics to pop culture, to parody, to just open your damn eyes.

I will admit that when she won the seat from long-time Mike Capuano, I was annoyed. He was already an effective liberal voice for Massachusetts. We need to get the far right tea party tweeters out of the picture, not mess around with what is already working.

But guess what? I was wrong, as in this-is-white-privilege-being-blind wrong. We have always needed all voices, but now our democracy depends on us actually doing it, not just saying we will be more inclusive. There are already decent Democratic white men working hard for what is right, so let’s get some other voices to join in, shall we?

Ayanna Pressley is one of those effective voices, and I’m grateful the 7th district voters had more sense than I did when they elected her.

So why does this video about her hair loss matter? Black women’s hair is a perfect example of how insidious racism is. You may have been aware of recent news reports around discrimination of Black women’s hair, and that the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act was passed in California last year. It prohibits discrimination based on hair style and hair texture. You only have to Google Black women’s hair discrimination to know why this is needed. There are all kinds of stereotypes and judgments passed on Black women and their hair that go back to the time of slavery. There is also a whole thing about white people randomly touching Black women’s hair. Forbes just did a story on it, but there are tons of others. I swear it never occurred to me till I read it was a thing. Seriously, what is wrong with white people?

As if it isn’t bad enough that Black women are judged and face discrimination because of their hair, many of the techniques and products used to create all the amazing hairstyles and wigs can cause hair loss, called alopecia. And we haven’t even gotten to the societal pressure for Black women to adopt Eurocentric standards of beauty. And we’re not talking about wanting to have hair like the white-celebrity-of-the-moment. We’re talking, didn’t get the job because her natural Black hairstyle made the white interviewers uncomfortable, and they masked their discomfort by calling it unprofessional.

And so, with all that in mind, I encourage you to spend less than 8 minutes in Ayanna’s and many other Black women’s shoes. Her hair, which became her political calling card and connected her to so many woman and girls, was also the source of her current pain. It’s moving, inspiring, and a must-see.

And if you would like a more entertaining take on learning about what Black women go through for their hair, check out the “Hair Day” episode (season 6, ep. 11) from the show Black-ish.

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