I am (not) my hair…

In 2006, Soul artist India.Arie released a song called “I Am Not My Hair”. I. LOVE. THIS. SONG. Check out some of the lyrics:

“I am not my hair,
I am not this skin.
I am not your expectations, no…
I am not my hair,
I am not this skin.
I am the soul that lives within.”

There were times when I felt the need to sing this song at the top of my lungs, to remind myself that I am more than what you see when you see me. My hair, my skin…they mean something, many things that I have never asked for them to mean. But beyond and beneath the exterior package is a real person who defies the simple definitions and stereotypes given to me. And so, this refrain is my soul song, proclaiming that “God don’t make no junk”. I am not an accident, and who and what I am is absolutely okay.

Hair – oh yes. The Black woman and her hair. That relationship is special. I had what was termed “good hair” – which basically means my hair was relatively easy to straighten. Or code for, “your hair is almost as good as White hair”. This, combined with my fair complexion was the bane of my existence. “A shy, nerdy Black chick with fair skin and “good hair” must be stuck up, must think she’s better than everyone else. And she ‘talks White’ too? Uh-huh, she think she White…”.

No, I think I’m just who God created me to be. No better, no worse. Just – me. But back then, I didn’t see it that way, couldn’t see it that way. Shame dwelled where contentment should have lived. And so, when this song hit the airwaves, it struck a chord in me (pardon the pun) that still rings in my heart. It gave voice to something I could feel but not articulate. And it made it okay for me to be confident in everything about who I am.

‘Fro Chronicles
Fast forward 10 years to the summer of 2016. That was the point at which I had reached the end of my patience with my hair. For most of my life, I had straightened my hair. Some of my earliest memories are of me sitting in front of a stove on a little wooden stool, while my mom worked through my hair with a pressing comb. As I got older, she transitioned to chemicals to straighten my hair. The natural coils were forced into submission by these chemicals. This was just the thing to do. Most of the Black girls and women I knew were either pressing or “relaxing” their hair.

But years of such abuse left my hair a hot mess. My hair was thinning, breaking off, and looking dry and lifeless. Something had to give. After years of debating back and forth, I decided to take the plunge. I went to my friend Valena’s home and let her do the “big chop”. All the processed hair fell to the floor and I was left with a little baby fro (picture on the left above) to start my journey. A journey into loving my hair just the way it was meant to be.

Loving My ‘Fro
I love my ‘fro! It is fantastic! My hair loves it too – I have not put heat or chemicals on my hair in two years, and my hair is thanking me for it. Breakage and thinning are no longer a problem, and it is growing like crazy! It has taken me most of these two years to really get to know my hair and how to treat it properly. I’ve learned that I have at least two different hair textures, which makes the curl pattern tighter in the back than in the front. I’ve spent crazy amounts of money trying to find the right mix of products that keep my hair and scalp healthy and keep my curls poppin’.

I have also developed a renewed and deepened respect for my mom and the drama and travail she went through taking care of this stuff when I was young. She should be sainted.

I’ve been asked a number of times if my decision to rock the natural is a political statement. It’s kind of sad to me that my hairstyle preferences must carry so much weight and meaning. It’s just hair! But it is a big deal. Back in the day, natural hair was looked down upon. Even with my so-called “good” hair, the idea of keeping my hair natural bothered my grandma so much she went behind my mother’s back and straightened my hair when I was two. Proper young ladies didn’t wear their hair like that, she said. She was the product of her generation, and many generations before her being told that what was intrinsic to our African heritage was ugly or wrong. Practically uncivilized.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the fro was a sign of Black pride. The image burned in my brain of Angela Davis with her beautiful coily crown and raised fist makes me stand a little taller. Yes, I do believe that ‘fro made a statement – I will not bow down to European standards of beauty or femininity. No doubt a political statement. No doubt a statement of identity, in a kind of pride in identity that makes no apologies for it.

My initial desires were not political in the least. They were practical – I didn’t want to be bald-headed! But as I have journeyed through this process, it has morphed into something more for me. Not a political statement so much as a spiritual one. Yes, a spiritual one.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God knit me in my mother’s womb. He gave me my physical features, my skin, my hair. Yes, even my hair. He knows how many hairs are on my head. And He knows how He created my hair. It’s no mistake. It’s not a defect. It is what it is. In all its glory. For His glory.

My hair, my skin, my nose, my eyes, my forehead – my being carries the history of my family. There is beauty, toil, pain, joy, sorrow, violence, love, hate, bondage, and freedom written into the coils on my head and the hue of my skin. All that my ancestors lived and died for lives on in me. I am not ashamed of these things. That history combined with my experiences are knit together just as truly as my physical being and form the foundation of my life as “ministry”, my life as a witness and testimony to God’s infinite patience, grace, and love. I will not live out who I am supposed to be in my generation until I claim all that transpired in the generations before me.

So, I am (not) my hair. I am (not) my skin. The soul that lives in me is shaped by the way God made me. And I will not be ashamed of it anymore.

Please see me…

This is my food for thought for today. I’m trying to find the right words to say here, so bear with me…

I have been reading posts on my personal Facebook page from dear friends who wish that all this heavy talk would cease. The negativity is too much. And on one level, I agree wholeheartedly. There are moments when I, too, meet critical mass and have to step away and be silent. Or I post an impassioned treatise about why I will no longer post thus and so…only to post thus and so three days later!

I get it. We want to see pictures of cute babies and funny videos of puppies and kittens doing silly things. I love to share my photos of sunsets, or friends laughing and sharing memories. These things hold deep meaning. But they are not the sum total of life. Of my life.

I lament – loudly – for the state of this country, and more specifically, the state of the American church. The things I post are on my mind, in my heart, coursing through my veins. I cannot help speaking on them because they are part of who I am. Today’s post is about racial reconciliation in the church. It’s not fluffy, warm or fuzzy. But it is a part of my thoughts, my heart, my life. I do not have the luxury of turning it off or tuning it out. I can’t walk away from it; it is my experience in this country, and has been since the day I was born. I can no more “get over it” than I can stop being Black.

To see me is to see that I am a Black woman. I am not ashamed of that. I do not need to apologize for it. This is how God fashioned me. This is who He made me to be. He is not calling me to erase my ethnic heritage. He is calling me to live it out in a way that honors and brings glory to Him. The wholeness that I speak of on this page, the “shalom” that we want in our lives, can only come through openly engaging and fighting those things that work against that peace, and to reconsider our identities here on earth in light of our true identity in Christ.

If the first impulse is to suggest that I blind myself to ethnic reality or to the real concerns that live in my heart, I implore you in love to reconsider. To do so would be to forget myself. To not engage in the real problems that live in the American Church is not something I can do. This is the life I live, the only one I can share. Its good, its bad, its ugly.

And so, with that, I ask that you read and consider what this brother in Christ is sharing in this post. Some of it may be uncomfortable; but none of it is written – or shared – with malice.

The Lonely Path of Reconciliation for Minorities

Grace and peace…

Quick note…Aha!

Here’s a quick thought, which I’m sure I’ve said before, but think is so very important, if for no other reason than to remind myself of what I already know…

If you are a Christian, you have a new identity. The old has gone the new has come. You are a child of God, a co-heir with Christ, a member of Christ’s body, a living stone in the temple He is building, a temple for the Holy Spirit and a citizen of heaven. You are a new creation. 
Your identity is in Christ. You are hidden in Him; the life you live now is through Him. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit, awaiting the appearing of your Blessed Hope, Jesus. And when He appears, you will be like Him, for you will see Him as He really is. 
I might start shouting in a minute. This stuff is just too good…
But…and this is the “but” I have been working through and continue to do so…
In Christ, I do not cease being who I am. I don’t stop being a Black 40something single woman living in the Midwestern United States in the year 2015. These other identities don’t change – my relationship to them do. 
This is an aha moment, where things being to click and make a little bit of sense. I cannot erase my experiences, my identity or those things that make me who I am. I am these things because God determined the time, location and circumstances of my existence. In other words, none of these things are an accident. And God desires that I be them for His glory. 
So, the struggle in navigating how I live faithfully to God in the context of these things is a good thing, a healthy thing – as long as I keep my focus and foundation on the fact that my identity, worth and purpose are found in Christ, and nowhere else. This is where I stumble as I journey through. But I don’t know that I should expect to walk through this perfectly. As long as I keep walking, with my eyes fixed on Jesus, He catches me when I fall. 
Eureka!
I’m going to marinate on that for a bit…I’ll be back…