On Assimilation: A Short Story

The inevitable, of course, has happened. I now speak my native language ‘with an accent.’”

-Julia Alvarez (61)

During our first summer break in America, my little sister Kathleen and I spent most of our days at Kidzone, a daycare owned by a young couple named Devin and Heather. Every morning, they would have all fifty of us “kidz” line up with our backs against the peeling gym wall. Mr. Devin would walk back and forth, glaring at us as he held a red dodgeball in his hand, tossing it up in the air and catching it theatrically every four paces or so. If he heard so much as a peep from one of us, he would bellow, “EVERYONE! OUTSIDE! NOW!” Knowing what followed, we would trudge towards the door, forlorn, casting vicious glances at whoever had brought this punishment upon us (it was usually this wiry mixed kid named Lloyd.) Once outside, we would wait for Mr. Devin’s whistle to blow, signaling the commencement of our first sprinted lap around the vast parking lot. Every day, this strange exodus.

         When we weren’t running laps, we were free to color. On one of our first days at Kidzone, I was sitting at a table with my little sister and two new acquaintances who were potential candidates for best friend-ship during our summer stint at daycare. Kathleen asked me to pass the blue crayon.

“Pass me the blue color,” she said. She pronounced color the way Kenyans pronounce color: “Ka-la. Pass me the bloo ka-la.”

I passed the blue crayon without incident, before noticing that our table mates had collapsed into fits of hysteria.

“Why does she talk weird?” one of them whispered, her pigtails waggling as she giggled with her little hand over her mouth.

“Yeah, Kath-uh-leen!” the other girl said. “It’s not ka-la, silly. It’s cuh-LERRR.” More hysterical laughter. Rolling on the floor.

Three-year-old Kathleen froze with the crayon in her hand, a half smile on her face – ashamed, but not sure why.

Song of the Day: Fe Sum Immigrins by Shad

On Language

I liked New Jersey. I liked the way the ladies in the Newark airport bathrooms yelled at one another from inside the stalls, answering to names like Velma, twisting their vowels as they discussed lunch plans. I liked the sulky boys in black hooded sweatshirts with gaudy letters shouting things like THE BRONX or NEW YORK or OBEY PROPAGANDA. I liked the stylish young women with the chic, asymmetrical bobs, Hermes bags perched on their shoulders – mode du jour black, tight, and tailored. I liked how unsophisticated they made my feel. I liked the mothers. I liked the wide-eyed babies. I liked the rich, lonely old men, carrying leather briefcases. I liked the airport feeling of isolated togetherness, all of us on our way to something, all of us purposeful, strident.

I was lost in this meditative airport worship –my eyes hazy, a vague, sedated smile on my face – when I finally reached the front of the United Airlines checked bags line. I handed my driver’s license and boarding pass to the uniformed man in front of me. I read his name tag: Shadrach Ogega. An African –likely Kenyan based on the last name. If I had to guess, a Kikuyu tribesman. As I began the self check-in process on the touch screen kiosk in front of the information desk, I could feel him looking at me. I snuck a glance in his direction and found him grinning at me, his teeth glowing white against a backdrop of cacao skin. He vaguely reminded me of my father.

“Do you need assistance with the self check-in?” he ventured.

“No thanks!”

“Oh, how old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“Do you come here often?”

“Not really, I came to see a friend for the weekend.”

“When are you coming back?”

“Soon, hopefully.”

I pushed the FINISH AND PRINT RECEIPT button on the touch screen and stepped closer to the counter, raising my eyes and my hands to retrieve my drivers license and boarding pass and be off on my merry way. I found Shadrach eying my license with interest.

“Muloma, eh?”

“Yeah!”

I dreaded what would inevitably follow:

~~~~~

“Where are you from?” he says.

“I was born in Kenya, but my family moved here twelve years ago.” Stretch out the “twelve years” bit. It’s been a long, long time since you’ve been home. Home has become fuzzy, abstract. Airports are home. Begin to notice just how Midwestern your accent is, how suburbanized your vowels, how soft your r’s.

“Oh, a fellow Kenyan!” his face beams with so much light. Think back to two years ago, visiting family in Nairobi, how they laughingly called you “the American.” Prepare yourself to disappoint him when he attempts to speak to you in Swahili.

“Habarigani!” You know this one. This means “How are you?”

How are you?

Who are you?

Hesitate before responding. “Mu… Muzuri sana!” Very well thanks.

You have cleared the first hurdle, but don’t celebrate too quickly.

Encouraged, he launches into a full blown Kiswahili sentence. You look on, clueless.

His eyes dim and harden. His smile wilts.

You say sheepishly, “I lost most of my Swahili when we moved here.” Lost. Like an errant bobby pin or some lonely dog in the night. You would like to set up a search party, put an add in the local paper. Lost.

“Oh.” He says, smiling faintly. He feels sorry for you.

~~~~~~

“Nakupenda,” he said. “Come back and tell me when you find out what that means. Go and ask your parents.”

And so I smiled and took my license and my boarding pass and began to walk away, melting into the mass of moving people in Newark Liberty International Airport. I looked up “Nakupenda” on Google Translate and found out that it means, “I love you.” And this made me happy and sad as I sat down in the waiting area for terminal A28 and looked around at all of the people, carrying their things, always moving towards something, never belonging here and never not belonging here.

On Boys (Pt 1)

My first weekend at Vanderbilt was a weekend of exploration. Here we were, in this new sphere, bursting with all of this potential. I had the chance to recreate myself, if I so pleased. I had made some new friends, friends who were vastly different from my mellow, bonfire, card-game, late-night-conversation friends back home. These new friends were the sort that constantly asked one another things like “are you going out tonight?” These friends found no monotony in the weekly ritual posting of Facebook pictures with people, outfits, and red solo cups that were a variation on some universal adolescent weekend theme. They genuinely enjoyed a majority of the songs on the iTunes top 20 list. Their eyes would glaze over when I mentioned books I’d been reading. I liked these people. I still like these people. They were fun. They were easy to get along with. They were unpretentious, and thus, they kept me from thinking too much, from engaging with the existential bleakness involved with being alone, hundreds of mile from home, at this thing called a university.

So for a few weeks, I became one of those people who “went out” a bunch, in packed taxis, with tall white boys who smelled of expensive cologne, and girls with shiny hair and toned thighs. We would talk about nothing, and laugh about nothing, and go to houses packed with people just like us, and it was all very simple. It took me a little while to realize that I was not fully accepted as a citizen of this kingdom.

Inevitably, it always ended up being the case that I was the only black girl in the group on any given night. This did not intimidate me, as I was used to this turn of events, having gone to an almost all-white, small, private high school. Initially, I was outgoing and jokey with these newfound acquaintances, making conversation with everyone who came my way in full conformity with how-to-make-new-friends-in-college protocol. Gradually, I came to realize that guys I had met multiple times would continually ask me again and again what my name was, even as they remembered my (white) girlfriends’ names. And when I repeated my name, their eyes were glazed over, their hands already poised to high five a pastel-clad bro behind me. I would turn to my newfound best friend – a pretty brunette with whom I had instantly clicked because of our identical sense of humor – and find that she was engaged in spicy banter with a group of fellows as shiny haired girls looked on, peeved. Seeing her success, I would rally, and make conversation with other nearby boys, who would listen politely, their eyes scanning the room as I trailed off. Rinse and repeat. I began to feel invisible around boys in a way that I hadn’t ever before. On the other hand, girls were very friendly to me, recognizing that I wasn’t a threat in this arena, where female beauty was so clearly, narrowly defined.

As time passed, I grew bored of this routine, this groundhog’s day (night?) of an existence that left me wanting for real connection. I stopped expecting that college would be a place teeming with potential boyfriends. The rom coms had lied. I stopped spending so much time “out,” since if we’re being honest, half of the reason a girl gets all dressed up to go out is so that a fellow or two will validate her, authenticating her beauty. This is sad but true. Well, I wasn’t getting that, so there was simply no point in going out. In my mind, I built a solid wall between myself and all of those pastel clad, heavily cologned boys. I nodded acknowledgement if I saw them marching around campus between classes. I remembered their names if they remembered mine. I listened and clucked and offered advice as my friends told me about their complex entanglements with these boys – entanglements I didn’t necessarily want, but would have liked the opportunity to decline.

And for a while, it was hard. I lived with an elevated state of double consciousness sometimes, seeing myself as I thought they saw me (whether or not they really saw me this way is not really the point, I don’t think). In my mind I would morph into an anonymous, uninteresting blackness – something that needed to prove its worth before it deserved to be heard.

~~~~~~~~~

Song of the Day: Hey Mami by Sylvan Esso

~~~~~~~~~

I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face.”

-Langston Hughes

 

On Clothes

In my junior year of high school, we all had to memorize that one Shakespeare monologue that begins, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players…”

Well, we didn’t really have to memorize it, I don’t think. It was an extra credit opportunity. I shakily said my bit in front of the class, making everybody feel duly sorry for me, and having garnered my extra points, I promptly forgot all of it excepting the first line.

This kid named Joseph proceeded to present the passage with gusto (think: wild gestures, British accent, jaunty cap, tights).

All this to say that if Shakespeare was right and all the world’s a stage, it follows that we are always walking around dressed in costumes. Fashion is our chance to subtly say to the world around us “Hello hello, this is the sort of person that I am today! Receive me as such!” As we dress for each day, we craft and project specific identities, whether we intend to do so or not. With our clothing we communicate socio-economic status, musical taste, occasion, gender, affiliation, mood, and race. I’ve only recently begun to piece together the assumptions that have quietly governed my personal style evolution over the years.

I was in sixth grade and it was winter time, and I was taller and longer-limbed than I had been the winter before. These factors converged to bring about circumstances that found my mom and I standing side by side in the Juniors section at JC Penny’s department store, a wall of trendy winter coats before us. Just the year before, my mother had reluctantly granted me style autonomy, which meant that I was free to forge my own way beyond the dark ages of gaudily matching sets of skorts, t-shirts, and cowboy hats courtesy of The Children’s Place. I was free to scavenge the clearance sections of the cool kid stores. I was growing up.

Meanwhile at JC Penny, I had settled on the perfect winter jacket. It was a black, South Pole brand jacket with elastic around the waist and faux fur in the oversized hood. The brand was proudly emblazoned across the left breast pocket in gold. It fit me like a glove. The price was right. I walked out of JC Penny’s that day feeling as though I had won.

The second I scampered onto the dandelion-yellow school bus, swaggering in my newly acquired South Pole jacket (chest puffed up so that the emblazoned brand would be evident) I noticed that there were approximately seven other little black girls wearing jackets almost identical to mine. Upon arriving at school, I would realize with dismay that there were hundreds of us, legions of little black girls in little black South Pole puffer coats. Snug waistbands, emblazoned logos, and faux fur in the oversized hoods. We were monolithic. I felt stifled. I felt invisible. I immediately set about trying to accidentally misplace my jacket.

Two winters later, I would leave my majority-black middle school to find myself the new kid at an exclusive k-12 prep school in Indianapolis, where I was one of only a few little black girls roaming the sprawling limestone campus. Had I chosen to sport a South Pole puffer jacket that winter, I would certainly have been alone in this. No South Pole legion in sight. Individuality ftw. As winter jacket shopping season came near, I began to scope the seasonal trends among my peers, sitting attentive in the cavernous lunch room next to the stoic portraits of our school founders, counting hundreds of North Face logos, dozens of fuzzy brown Ugg boots. I soon realized that I wanted more than anything to join these happy North Face clad sheeple. And so I did.

But why did I shun one monolith and embrace the other?

I wonder whether even as an angsty, self-absorbed middle schooler, I had become astutely aware of the socio-economic and racial significance of something as simple as a winter jacket. It seems that I instinctively wanted to dissociate from the disenfranchised (little black girls) and put on the costumery of the elite (white upper-class boys and girls) so that I could craft and project an identity that would place me as close to the top as I could get. If “all’s the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” I wanted to play the guy who wins in the end.

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Song of the Day: My Girls by Animal Collective

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“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

-William Shakespeare

On Race (Pt 2)

“One ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

– W E B Dubois

~~~~~

“Two-ness.” As a black woman in American society, I am constantly aware of the color of my skin. I operate simultaneously as myself, (Lisa the Vanderbilt student, the creative writing major, the older sister, the indecisive, starry-eyed individual) and as the anonymous entity that I am to any person who does not necessarily know me. To her, I am indistinguishable from the carefully crafted trope that is blackness in America. My skin is the shade of poverty, low intelligence, violence, and worst of all – anger. Upon meeting a new person, it will become imperative that I begin to subtly prove that I am none of these things. “Two souls, two thoughts…”

As this summer began, I started doing that thing we all do. The thing where we begin to say to ourselves yes, this is the summer when you will begin to become one of those people who enjoys running at ungodly hours of the morning. Every inch of your body will be firm as hell. You will be recruited by Nike and Gatorade and you will be one of those girls who looks most beautiful drenched in sweat as you wag your sleek ponytail and say with a blindingly white smile, “Just do it.” Then you will run off into the sunset, your shoulder muscles subtly rippling as you arrive at a glorious waterfall of purple Gatorade where you will bathe with the angels for all eternity while constantly looking fly.

With this in mind, I woke up at around 7:30am, groggily donned the nearest t-shirt and shorts and plopped into the front seat of my 2004 Ford Taurus. I like to think that my car has character, that the oblong patch of rust just above the left rear wheel and the slight bend in the dusty hood both tell a story of something long and earned. My car is a seasoned soldier in the battleground better known as the streets of Indianapolis[1].

I turned on the radio. NPR was playing, and the topic on the talk show “All Things Considered” was the state of the United States’ economy in light of the economic crash of 2008. As I listened and began the short drive to my local park, I could feel myself getting smarter. I was carefully taking note of hifalutin economic jargon and random neat-sounding phrases so that they would be at my beck and call just in case I happened to run into someone who really wanted to discuss the housing bubble. I arrived at the park, pulled into the wooded parking lot, and pushed my seat back so that I could relax and take in the smooth candor of Robert Siegel’s voice before beginning my grueling fifteen minute jog.

I reclined there for a just a few minutes before I heard the crunch of gravel that signaled that another car was pulling up alongside mine. I lazily turned my head towards the sound, and my eyes met the green unsmiling eyes of a local policeman. I made a small smile offering and shrugged. His expression didn’t change.

It dawned on me that I was sitting in a junky car in the middle of a semi-abandoned parking lot during the wee hours of the morning in the most affluent city in Indiana*. And to top it off (I checked to make sure), I was still pretty black as far as I could tell.

I suppose I looked a little out of place.

I looked up again, to find him still scrutinizing me, eyes hard as he seemingly memorized my face in preparation for the police report that would inevitably follow. Black female. Long ethnic[2] braids.

I knew that if I got out of the car immediately and got on with my innocent fitness goals, offering a reassuring smile to top it off, there was a good chance that the policeman would no longer speculate that I was possibly running a small-scale crack cocaine ring from the front seat of my car.

But I wanted to listen to “All Things Considered,” and I was determined that nothing would stop me. I turned my body so that my back was leaning against the drivers’ side window, so that I could stare openly at this officer as he scrutinized me from the inside of his patrol vehicle. Our eyes locked as I turned the volume knob on my radio to the right as far as it could go. Here we sat at a stalemate of sorts for fifteen minutes, as Audie Cornish and Robert Siegel blared through my speakers and shouted their hifalutin economic jargon through my windows, loudly enough for anyone nearby to hear.

Soon enough, the program was over, and the coolness of the early morning was beginning to give way to the warm chokehold that is Indiana during the summer. I got out of my car, gave a salute to the police officer, and began to walk towards the running trail.

Just then, a black Range Rover rolled into the parking lot. A skinny redhead hopped out and began to stretch, pressing her palms into the side of her vehicle as the extended her legs. The green-eyed police officer rolled down his car window and shouted cheerfully in her direction, “Good morning!”

She smiled vaguely as she continued stretching and as he slowly pulled out of the parking lot, giving me one last, long stare.

I admit that I have no clue what that police officer was really thinking about me that morning. Maybe I reminded him of a girl he knew years ago. Maybe he had just wanted to discuss the housing bubble. Maybe not.

To be black and a woman and me in America is to always wonder about these things.

“…whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

~~~~~~

Song of the day: Wooden Heart by Listener

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Quote of the day: see beginning of this post

[1] My car is ratchet.

[2] Lol. Ethnic.

* http://www.wthr.com/story/19599230/carmel-named-5th-richest-community-in-usa

On Race (Pt 1)

I remember the first day it ever occurred to me that the color of my skin could be a bad thing. It was the year 2002, about a year after my family had moved to Indianapolis from Eldoret, Kenya. A few months before, I had been making beauty outside with sidewalk chalk when my father raced outside, scooped me up in his arms, and carried my kicking, protesting body indoors. He plopped me on the couch and gravely turned his eyes to the television, his elbows resting on his jiggling knees. We watched as the Twin Towers went up in smoke, mayhem ensuing in the city streets below.

I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. At the ripe old age of seven, I had already seen hundreds of burning buildings on the news. I understood that this was the way the world worked. I peeked longingly out of the window at my scattered pieces of blue and pink chalk, at my half-finished sidewalk masterpiece.

We lived in an apartment complex called the Woods of Eagle Creek. There were trees everywhere, and the buildings were garnished with a faux wood that was a pleasing shade of pea green (sounds beautiful, I know) interspersed with exposed brick. If you walked into our home, there was a remarkably comfortable couch directly to the left of the door, and in front of it was our large, vintage (old) television.

Those were the days when I was still young and alive enough to consistently wake up early for Saturday morning cartoons[1]. Those were the days when Saturday morning cartoons meant Tom & Jerry and The Roadrunner and Fantasia and all other things simple and good. As the morning hours passed on those Saturdays, I’d change the channel to PBS Kids, and I’d endure Caillou and The Big Comfy Couch in order to get to the good stuff: Dragon Tales and Arthur. Then mom and dad would wake up and encourage/force me to do something else with my time. I’d quickly read a couple of Mary-Kate and Ashley chapter books while eating popcorn, then I’d fight with Kathleen (my little sister) about something and briefly consider running away from home after getting punished by my parents. That was when I’d walk down the street to find my Grace.

Grace and I had become fast friends almost from the moment my family had landed in Eagle Creek. She was my age, matched me in height, temperament, and cartoon taste, and also she had cable television and canned pickles. On Saturdays we would watch Disney Channel Original movies, choreograph and perform dances for her indulgent mother, slather glitter on our faces, run over and around the man-made hills in the collective backyard of the Eagle Creek apartment complex with the other neighborhood kids, swim in the clubhouse pool, get our hair done, and fall asleep, exhausted and satisfied. Often I would tag along with her and her mother as they ran errands and visited family and friends [2].

One day, it was Grace’s grandma’s birthday, so we (Grace, her mom, and I) made the journey to the little blue house where Grandma lived to celebrate with the whole clan.

We pulled up to the house, and as we jumped out of the car to approach the house, Grace’s younger cousin ran towards us. He was about a foot shorter than us, and he gleefully ran towards Grace, his cheeks bouncing as he skipped and leaped into her arms. She hugged him and tossed him up and down in the air before turning to enter the house. I was the last one outside.

Grace’s little cousin turned to me and said, pointing, “You black dog.” His tiny brown eyes somehow contained a cool, practiced hatred that looked counterfeited, as though he had learned to hate by watching someone else practice it perfectly. I froze, first confused – then humiliated.

I was confused, because the young boy who stood before me now, hands on his hips, eyes blazing, was also black. Grace was black. Everyone in the little blue house ahead of me was black. It made no sense to me at the time why my black was the feral black, why my black had been singled out to be stared down, shouted down. Nobody corrected him. It was as if this little boy hadn’t just dehumanized me on sight.

For the rest of the evening, I sat unusually silent as we ate dinner, as the large family sat shooting the breeze in the living room, as we drove back to The Woods of Eagle Creek late that night. I was observing, trying to piece together what had caused Grace’s little cousin with the bouncing cheeks to label me black dog.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Webster’s Dictionary defines colorism as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.”

We’ll continue this conversation next week.

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[1] I have this theory that one’s vivacity and purity of soul is directly related to one’s desire to wake up early to watch cartoons. The moment we start sleeping in past 9am, we’re grown, jaded goners.

[2] It was in their car, one hot summer’s day, that I first heard the powerful vocals of Destiny’s Child singing their newest single, “Lose My Breath.” Nine-year-old me was appalled by their blatant references to sex.

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Song of the Day – Wonderful Everyday: Arthur ft The Social Experiment

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Quote of the Day:

Humanity I love you because when you’re hard up you pawn your intelligence to buy a drink.

-E E Cummings

On hair, waterfalls, and birthday parties cont…

As I write this, I pause intermittently to tug lightly at my waist-length havana braids, watching bemusedly as they stretch, then spring back into place, bouncing playfully against my body. I twist a stray end around my finger. I lightly touch my textured roots. I smile faintly. I think I have finally learned how to wear this hair.

This hair stands out. It is thick, rough around the edges, and unevenly coiled. It seems to be participating in some sort of riot against the man. Often, people who unironically use the phrase “riot agains the man” have hair like mine. Dreadlocked men in baja hoodies nod at me, signaling solidarity.

I can’t be shy in this hair. I can’t blend in in this hair.

And I don’t want to.

Anymore.

~~~~~~~~~

When I first got my hair relaxed, I was an angst-ridden, nerdy, teacher’s pet of a fourth grader. My family had moved to Indianapolis from Eldoret three years before. I had recently become self aware (read: shy), and had begun to retreat into myself, moving away from the boisterous, IU baseball cap, army print cargo shorts and soccer jersey-wearing bastion of boisterous youth I had been for the past two years. My friends and I had recently formed a rock band (never mind that none of us had any instruments or musical talent to speak of) and I was starting to think that boys were cute.

I don’t think I ever reflected enough on the fact that “permed” is the past tense form of “perm” and “perm” is short for “permanent,” and “permanent” is short for “FOREVER, WENCH.” When a girl decides to get her hair relaxed, there’s absolutely no going back. Her tightly wound curl pattern is forever denatured by the sodium hydroxide that is the active ingredient in that white cream[1] I remembered seeing the older girls apply onto their heads as I sat in the saloon in Eldoret years ago.

What I thought I knew about relaxer:

  1. Your hair will be straight
  2. Your hair will be shiny
  3. Your hair will flow majestically
  4. Men will love you
  5. Women will envy you
  6. You will fit seamlessly into the professional world
  7. You will fit seamlessly into the world
  8. Men will love you

What I now know about relaxer:

  1.  It burns
  2. You may no longer swim because frizz
  3. You may no longer frolic in the rain because frizz
  4. You may no longer stand still in the rain “”
  5.  You may no longer stand still/frolic/be happy in humid places[2] “”
  6. Some men will love you, but that’s mostly entirely unrelated to whether or not your hair is relaxed[3]
  7.  Your hair will probably break at some point
  8.  You will give a large part of your income to your hair stylist
  9. You will become attached to your hair stylist
    1.  Because your hair will flow majestically… for a few days after she hooks you up
      1. But even then, it’s not exactly like your white friends’ hair.
        1. Because you literally had to denature it to make it this way
        2. Therefore your texture will always be a little different,
        3. And your hair will always be a little more delicate
        4. And a little more sensitive to the elements and to constant hair straightening and styling than theirs is
  10.  Which is why you need your hair stylist again
    1. and again
  11. It always burns.

There’s an unmistakable bond between every black girl and her hair stylist. It is a bond borne of mutual dependence, obligatory biweekly visits, emergency appointments, and inevitable heart-to-heart conversations that flow forth out of an abundance of time together as she takes on the all-important task of making a girl feel beautiful. First there was Susan, then Scheri, Fatima, Awa, Laquita and most recently, Uzuri.

Each, different.

Each, perfect.[4]

These ladies consistently crowned me queen of the land of the waterfall of paradise[5] every two weeks, for years.

After the initial “OMG Lisa has straight hair!!” hype wore off, I happy relished in the fact that finally, my hair looked (pretty much) like everyone else’s. It’s just that I had to work several times as hard to make sure my hair continued to be appropriately #basic.

And I worked hard.

No longer confined to tiny French braids, my newly straight strands could basically move around as they pleased up there. This meant that every violent gust of wind (and every violent gust of air conditioning), every gym class, every rain shower, every swimming pool, and every morning required that I remember my hair.

I remember dreading rainy soccer games, skipping track practice when it was too humid, and coolly sitting poolside while all my friends played flirty games of water polo. I remember always making sure to have a hairbrush and a portable umbrella within reach. Always driving with the windows rolled up. Always patting. Always smoothing.

My hair was relaxed, but I sure as h**l wasn’t.

So about a year ago, I stopped. I called Fatima (hair stylist #3) up, and we decided that after eight years of relaxing my hair, I should try braids again. And so we did. (To be sure, my foray into the world of braids was inspired by Beyonce and Solange Knowles’ success therein. By embracing braids, these arbiters of beauty somehow made it okay for the rest of us to fall in line.)

For me, it was a strange, slow lesson in standing alone. I would navigate my whitewashed world in the northside of greater Indianapolis feeling violently different from everyone around me. My turbulent first semester at a majority-white top 20 private university had me considering getting a relaxer again, just to fit in for a little while. And I suppose that if I had, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I do not count myself among those who treat the decision between natural hair and relaxed hair as a decision between right and wrong. It’s more nuanced than that.

But for what it’s worth, I’m glad that I stuck it out freshman year with those box braids.

Added perks: my hair is about as low maintenance as it gets. As a result I’m usually weirdly eager to dance in the rain and jump into pools and stuff.

Right now, I am multiple bracelets and powerful poetry and social movements and late night conversation and blogging and hello and power walking and power and walking and happy rap and identity and I simply do not have time for hair that does not know how to take care of itself.

Tomorrow, I may be different.

Who knows (who cares)?

(the featured photo is courtesy of Vibhu Krishna. thx Veebz)

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Song of the day: Who Knows Who Cares by Local Natives

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Quote of the Day:

 “I’ve never wanted anybody to like me because I had long hair or short hair, or because they liked the way I dressed or they liked the way I smile.” – David Allan Coe

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Recommended watching: Chris Rock’s Documentary, Good Hair

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[1] See previous blog post

[2] See previous blog post. Some things never change.

[3] Unless they’re superficial or #basic

[4] More on these lovely ladies later!

[5] See previous blog