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.

What are we remembering?

So this is the deal…I can’t not comment about what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend. I’ve held off on saying much because my reaction to what I witnessed on TV, the commentary from Trump, and the barrage of comments on both sides would have resulted in a screed, and much of that screed would not have been very Christlike. I don’t want to contribute to that. But I do have a lot to say.

The other day my cousin posted an awesome response on his Facebook page. His particular focus was on Trump’s equivocation of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Here is what he said:

“If we’re talking about a founding father, i.e., George Washington, yes he was a slave owner, as were most of his contemporaries. He probably didn’t believe slaves should be free or equal. However, he fought another nation for the freedom to create this nation. Because of the government he established our society was able to mature to the point that people of good [will] of all races will have come to where we are today… The distinction I make is that Lee fought to break the union Washington helped fight for and found. Lee fought to further domestic oppression based on race. I get that he was a central figure in the civil war. [He fought on] the side that wanted to preserve a way of life that existed, in part, based on subjugation of non-white people based on race.

The thing [Trump] misses is that despite what he may want to believe, we have evolved as a society. What was acceptable in Washington’s time was divisive in Lee’s time. Today, the idea that we could do that to each other or subscribe to those beliefs is un-American.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself…but I will add to it.

I cannot, in good conscience, be anything but supportive of removing monuments that were erected in public spaces to memorialize or venerate leaders of the Confederacy. The Confederacy came into existence because of one issue: slavery. Yes, there were other issues, but they all coalesced around the issue of slavery and states’ rights to continue that practice (to view the original documents related to the formation of the Confederation, visit this link; this link is also a good resource for source documentation on the Civil War).

So what are we really memorializing? How are leaders who fought to break apart the union considered patriots? I do not doubt the sincerity of their beliefs that what they were doing was right; but as my cousin rightly pointed out, we have evolved as a society. We should be able to look back on this era of our history and see the error of these beliefs, not to celebrate them, but to learn from them.

What I find so interesting is that the monuments we speak of were not erected immediately after the Civil War. They were erected in the climate of the post-Reconstruction South, when Jim Crow laws were being formed and rights that had been won during Reconstruction were being taken away from Black people. Their existence was twofold: On the one hand, they were built at a time when Civil War veterans were beginning to age and die. They acted as a memorial to them, many of them erected by family members of fallen soldiers.

But, unfortunately, there was also another purpose. In particular, statues of Confederate leaders acted as a symbol, a message, of the true desire of the Jim Crow South to keep Blacks “in our place”. Their presence, especially in places like county and state courthouses, communicated a message of White supremacy and control. This second purpose is not divorced from their presence, and is the main reason they are a flashpoint of division along racial lines.

A  side note: The Confederate flag returned to prominence during the Civil Rights era, and again was a symbol of racism and oppression against the advance of the Civil Rights cause.

This is my primary point: Removing these monuments is not an erasure of history. In fact, I prefer that these statues not be destroyed so much as relocated. They belong in a museum, as a testament to history. Those monuments that were erected to memorialize to fallen soldiers by their families should also pose no real problem or threat, and perhaps a distinction should be made as we discuss the various monuments and statues in question.

As I think through this issue in my mind I have to ask the question: What history are we remembering here? More importantly, I think the question we must all ask ourselves as we consider this is: Are we remembering history aright? As it pertains specifically to monuments that honor the leaders of the Confederacy: If theses monuments obscure the painful reality of what the Civil War was about, they do not properly represent that history. If they serve to idealize an era that was brutal and painful, and that celebrated a belief that is completely and utterly antithetical to not only what our country is supposed to be about, but most importantly to the truth of Scripture and the message of Christ, then they need to be removed. If they venerate someone who led a fight to dismantle our country for the purpose of maintaining an institution that subjugated and dehumanized a race of people – of whom I am descended – then I cannot support their continued existence in public spaces.

As long as we allow these symbols of our past to remain and be celebrated, without being fully truthful about all facets of that past, we will not heal. The wound of race was inflicted on us upon our founding. We removed a race of people who were already here, and then took yet another from their homes and countries on another continent to build up this land and this country. This is the foundation upon which America was built. We cannot escape that; we must face it and realize that we are simply reaping what we have sown. God has indeed blessed America; but that does not mean He will not call us to account for our wrongdoing.

We cannot point the finger at the indigenous people who were here – and still are here, even if we don’t acknowledge their existence – and blame them. We can’t even blame the African people who helped sell off their own. The slave trade was lucrative for them because we participated in it. Our guilt is as great as theirs. We cannot project it all onto them, for it does not negate the reality of we did.

And I say “we” because I am an American citizen. I may have some general idea of where my family came from in Africa, but I have no tangible connection to it, no names, no understanding of custom. And my ethnic makeup is “mixed” in purely technical terms. I have European blood in my family history too, so where then shall I be placed? What would I “return” to? This is my country. And I care about its future. We must let go of an idealized version of our past in order to see that future.

This is not a theoretical issue for me. The people who marched in Charlottesville have a particular goal in mind: To advance and enact their belief of White superiority over every other nation and race of people. They are not “nice people”; they do not wish anything but harm to people like me. They were chanting “White Power” and “Jews will not replace us” as they marched. Any well-meaning person who sincerely wanted to protest the removal of the Lee statue would have left as soon as they heard these things and saw Nazi salutes flying all around them. There is nothing good or well-meaning about what this movement is about.

You may wish that I “get over” slavery, or “get over race”. But the clinging to and celebration of symbols of an era that was defined by it betrays the fact that we as a country have not yet gotten over it. For all the things the Confederacy may or may not have stood for, one thing it most certainly stood for was the continuation of a brutal, dehumanizing institution. I cannot celebrate it or its leaders. We should remember them, but I firmly believe America should not celebrate them either.

For more information, please check out the following:

Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy

National Geographic: Why the U.S. Capitol Still Hosts Confederate Monuments

How Charlottesville Looks From Germany

Vice News – Charlottesville: Race and Terror – WARNING: This video contains adult language and disturbing imagery. Please mentally and spiritually prepare yourself before watching.

 

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…

Sometimes silence is golden…

Another day, another tragedy. Last night I watched a horrific scene unfold in Dallas. This morning I am equal parts hopeful and appalled at the varied response to that scene.

A peaceful, lawful protest took place in Dallas last night, similar to others across the country. As the crowd was dispersing, someone suddenly began opening fire, raining down bullets from above, directed at police officers. Utter chaos ensued.

This morning we know that 12 officers were shot, 5 are dead, and 2 civilians were caught in the crossfire. A large section of downtown Dallas is considered a crime scene and is closed off. One shooting suspect was killed after an hours long negotiation broke down. His statements to police were that he was upset with Black Lives Matter, he wanted to kill White people, specifically White police officers, that he was not affiliated with any group and that he acted alone. This remains to be seen, as the investigation is far from over.

Today, my heart is heavy. Yesterday was tough enough as I sought to absorb the loss of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul. But the utter terror I watched unfold in Dallas last night was just too much. My heart is undone today. I am grieving.

I have so many thoughts running through my head right now; I don’t even know where to start. Words seem trite and useless, but words are all I have. I am a writer. I have fought the urge to use my writing to speak on social issues, wanting to live in the relative safety of motivational stuff, encouraging stuff. But part of this journey to wholeness is facing the brokenness head-on and calling it what it is. So I will use this platform to do what I can to contribute meaningful, thoughtful dialogue in the face of pain and suffering.

I am still processing all that has happened and how I feel about all that is happening in our world and in our country right now. My only thought right now is this: Social media can be a double edged sword when these things happen.

On the one hand, social media may have actually kept Castile’s girlfriend alive in the aftermath of his shooting. There have been instances where social media has helped law enforcement as they pursue criminals or deal with an emergency situation. Social media is invaluable during disasters and emergencies of any kind, providing a readily accessible outlet for people to let loved ones know they are okay, or to reach out for help if they are not.

But there is another side to social media. The side that polarizes people and reduces complicated realities into memes. And even if the meme is spreading a false narrative, it spreads like wildfire among those who agree with it. Judgement is passed, motives are questioned, slander abounds, and misinformation is treated as gospel truth. Reading the comment section of some of the posts has led me to the decision that it’s time to take a nice, long break from this madness.

Sometimes silence is golden. As with the Orlando shooting and its aftermath, time should be taken to grieve, to process, to let ourselves be human. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the police officers in Dallas were human beings, made in the image of God. Slandering the character of any of these victims while their families and communities mourn is deplorable. Turning this into a political talking point is ridiculous. Using one event to justify the other is just plain wrong. To grieve one is to grieve all. It is all senseless.

I have a right to remain silent. And so I shall. Only speaking when necessary, when I’ve had the chance to think and process and grieve. I think we all need time…

At a loss…

Please give me grace to express my lament. I am beyond frustrated, sad, confused, angry…sitting here at work in tears. For families in Orlando…Turkey….Bangladesh….Iraq….Saudi Arabia…Baton Rouge….St. Paul. How long, O Lord? How long? My heart breaks anew each day. Our leaders sit on their hands and do nothing; our media focus on the insanity of presidential candidates and their self-indulgence. And people die; children lose their mothers or fathers; spouses lose their life partners; families and friends grieve the empty space that person can no longer fill in their lives.

The lack of compassion and complete disregard for human life is amazing, even among we who call on Your name. Perhaps we have become calloused and desensitized. It seems everyday something new happens. Lord, give Your people hearts of compassion, hearts that break with the brokenhearted, hearts that cry out for justice, hearts that are moved to act on behalf of our neighbors. Begin with me, Father, begin with me…

I just don’t get it…

I always seem to be inspired to write when something alarming happens in the news…and lately it seems those “alarming” things have all centered around race and the police.

This week there is the case of a resource officer in a Columbia, SC high school arresting a student for disturbing class. The fact that he arrested her is not the issue; the issue is how he did it. You can watch the video here. At least three videos of the incident are circulating on the Internet; one of the videos appears to show the student hitting the officer after he grabbed her arm. What happened after that is what is the most disturbing aspect of the incident.

The officer pulls the student out of the desk, flipping her and the desk over in the process. After he frees her from the desk, he throws her across the room.

He throws her. Across the room.

There are a number of things that could be – and have been – said about this incident. I have read comments from both sides of the issue, either defending or condemning the officer’s behavior. The officer’s superior stated that the actions of the officer were not proper procedure, which is why this officer lost his job. I have a few observations – and a lot of opinions. I will outline a few:

The student was insubordinate to her teacher and the officer and should have been disciplined. This is an important aspect to the story. The student did disobey her teacher. Based on the rules in place, the teacher was within his/her rights to call in the resource officer to arrest the student. The student was wrong to disrupt the class, and equally wrong in disobeying the officer.

The officer was doing his job. Hear me out on this one. The officer was doing his job. This is a fact. The fact that a student can be arrested for disrupting a class is disconcerting to me (unless the student is being violent, which in this case she was not); but that is acceptable in this district, and therefore, the officer was doing what his job required of him.

This is where it gets tricky…

There was no reason to throw the child across the room. If a parent does this while “disciplining” their child, we call it child abuse. Why is it okay for an officer to do this to a child? Extracting her from the desk is tricky; but throwing her? Where is the justification in that? Is it enough to say “she should have done what she was told”? If this officer was her father, and she was sitting at the dinner table at home, would we defend the father for manhandling his child and throwing her across the dining room?

Police officers are human beings that make mistakes in judgment. This officer did that. He should not have been that physical with the student. Additionally, pointing out that fact does not negate her responsibility for her actions.

I don’t expect this will change anyone’s opinion on the matter; but I have a concern here that whenever something like this happens, there is the kneejerk reaction to defend the officer, no matter how egregious their actions. In the face of that I have to ask myself why.

I admit…I just don’t get it…

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…