Tag Archives: Asia

Why BHM Is Still Relevant

My daughter is four. Just yesterday, we were calculating the number of states she’s visited and how it pales in comparison to the number of countries she’s traveled.  Being an expat kid afforded her opportunities and exposure most kids her age never experience, especially most black American kids.  She is, or at least she was when practiced daily, fluent in Mandarin and the colloquial language of Singlish.  Singlish-SamanthaHanna-722x500She can count in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and French. She can recognize the difference between Asian cultural nuances and people; a characteristic most adult Americans lack. (They do NOT all look alike.)  She is well versed in globalization, and is accepting, loving, and inclusive of everyone. Never has she met a stranger when it comes to other children. This is not, however, because of her exposure to multi-cultures. Her ability to engage cross-culturally is due to the foundation of her education being rooted in a love for her own culture.

A few weeks ago, we were asking questions about Ida B. Wells and President Obama in a casual conversation. She rattled off answers and was able to compare their contributions without hesitation. She ended the dialogue with the statement, “I know all about my heroes because you teach me everyday.” It was a proud moment as her mother and first educator.

She began learning of our “Heroes” as a part of her daily curriculum once she turned 14-months-old.  We would introduce her to a new hero through flash cards and teach her facts about each one.  If I was feeling ambitious, I’d couple the introduction with an activity that cemented who the hero was and what they contributed to society, not just black society, but their impact on the world. She understood the importance of offering reverence to our ancestors and the difference between our ancestors and the ancestors of our counterparts. She learned to appreciate our history, culture, beauty, and contributions at the very beginning of her educational cultivation.  This was intentional and imperative because “culture is elemental, not supplemental.”  Now, each hero serves as a reminder of her own ability and greatness. 

Whenever she feels timid about performing, we remind her of Lena Horne or Paul Robeson or Janell Monae.  When she’s frustrated by math or science, she hears encouragement from the strides of Mae Jemison, Benjamin Banneker, the creator of Mathematics, our ancestor Imhotep, or her uncle who holds a Masters in Applied Mathematics. http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/wohist.html When she’s in need of inspiration, we echo the poignant words of our legends Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Countee Cullen. nat_maya-angelou_52814_539_332_c1We do this so often, she understands that it’s a part of our regular exchange. During Black History Month this year, we’ll be highlighting even more living heroes like Eunique Jones and our recent contributions, so that she understands that our greatness is still relevant and being displayed. Not only does this teach her the importance of loving ourselves, it gives her the confidence to walk in any setting anywhere in the world and know that she can hold her own, while appreciating the other cultures represented; appreciation without assimilation. In every great obstacle she’ll face in her life, she’ll know that someone, someone that shares her history, lineage, and culture, has already conquered something similar, and therefore,victory is simply hers to obtain.  This is why…..image008.jpg

 

The Long Roads, Flights, & Tracks Home

Michael BrownA year ago, my husband and I watched the streets of Ferguson erupt in horror. We watched pictures and videos of the lifeless body of one of our young brothers fester in the street for hours and heard about the culprit’s, an officer of the law, flee from the scene.  We learned that Mike Brown, a recent high school graduate,  was struck six times with bullets, at least once with his hands raised in surrender, and later heard the trigger-puller’s legally justifiable defense was that he looked like a “demon.” (How can one be executed for looking like a mythical creature?) Our eyes widened and spirits were awakened and angered as we witnessed the unfolding of a war zone in Ferguson. Gas masks, full artillery, violent and silent protests, arson, police antagonists, and antagonizing police officers, all painted a vivid and horrific picture that resembled that of which we’d seen in visuals after the King riots, both Rodney and Rev. Dr.

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We waited like the rest of Black America for some semblance of justice in the name of the fallen. We waited, though we had still not recovered from the verdict in the trial of Trayvon Martin, who was posthumously convicted of his own death. We waited, though we’d be told of the imbalance of Ferguson’s demographics in terms of police vs. residents, and its sordid history because of it. We waited though the media had already begun assassinating the character of the victim before his body had even been removed from the scene of the crime. We waited like viewers wait for the moment in a scary movie for the running, screaming, female character to get caught. We hoped for the best, but we all knew she would fall and fail. And, so did justice in this instance. I watched Mike Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden wail and weep and scream out of agony. Then, I watched her transform and become swathed with a supernatural strength. She reminded me of Sybrina Fulton. She reminded me of Wanda Johnson. She reminded me of Mamie Till Mobley. She reminded me of too many black mothers that have buried their children due to senseless violence that’s sanctioned by the government that should protect them.

We sat in silent reverence, imbued with fury, and watched images of our home country burning from the comforts of our _79245004_024867989-1foreign home in Singapore. We watched, just as we had watched the marches, protests, and riots after Trayvon Martin’s injustice unfold while being surrounded by the opulence and newfound freedom of self-expatriation.  We felt, for the first time in our lives, disconnected from our people as though we’d absconded from the plight and constant terror that it means to be black in America. We decided, with much reluctance on my part, that we needed to move back to the states; that despite the intoxicating and unfamiliar feelings of privilege, entitlement, and freedom, true uninhibited freedom to live and be who we culturally are without judgment or persecution, we needed to commit to our life’s work of helping to restore and rebuild black communities for the sake of our children and our people.  We needed to sacrifice the contentment of our bubble in Asia where we had helped to establish a vibrant black community to begin the Back to Black List that my husband authored where it was needed most. We had to do more than use words to empower. We had to be examples and SPEAK with our actions. The decision was less noble than necessary.

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A year later, our feet are on the ground. We’re back now. We’ve used this entire summer to live as nomads in different states as we researched our selection of cities to live. We gave ourselves the freedom to choose exactly where we wanted to live instead of being mandated by a professional position. (See another post that I’ll find the time to write one day.) Our original list of five plus one had been narrowed to two and a possible by the time we landed on U.S. soil for the first time in two years, but we kept all options open for discussion and consideration.  New Orleans and Oakland were both individual choices vetoed by the other for various reasons. [Insert sigh.] The wonderful city of Chicago which offers all of the culture, food, arts, and opportunities to build and restore is just too cold for too many months out of the year for this Southern girl and this adapted N. Minneapolis snowbird. My flashbacks from living in upstate NY for one year kept haunting me.  That left Dallas, Atlanta, & S. Florida as possible contenders.

map1_dallasOur first choice of Dallas was a practical one. The primary reason for moving back more urgently was because of my mother-in-law’s crippling illness and my sister-in-law’s need for assistance in her care. Living in Singapore made any necessary trips to visit very difficult and even scheduling phone calls could be a nuisance with the time difference. We needed to be in the same country to be able to reach them when needed. They both reside in Dallas. Dallas also boasted of thriving predominantly black suburbs [read communities], a once thriving black community in South Dallas that could be restored, and many fellow FAMU graduates that we knew would be willing counterparts in the process of rebuilding.  Though I’d never been, I encouraged the decision to have all of our items from Singapore shipped to Dallas as a gesture of my commitment to both the Back to Black List and to my mother-in-law and husband.

Atlanta is Atlanta. Those who get that just do. I love just about everything about my native city and I’ve converted a man who once denounced the very thought of visiting to possibly considering it as a place to settle.  We knew it’d be easy to a certain degree to just plug into the well established black network we have there. There are many like-minded people of all races that live in the city and many upper middle-class and affluent black families that haven’t forgotten that they are and the responsibility that comes with that. But, it’s still in Georgia; red state, redneck, red clay, historically black lynching Georgia. So, there’s that.

South Florida is all things tropical and beautiful. Who wouldn’t want year-round summers, mango and avocado trees in your backyard, free daily lessons in a foreign language, and access to the beach whenever? The king’s company, logowww.madalihair.com, also has its main large clients and distributors in Miami. But aside from the aesthetics and his professional benefit, it proved not to offer much for black families in general and didn’t feel as though our vision would be well-received.

Surprisingly, Tampa, my maternal families’ home base made an addition to the list after we arrived. We used it as our home for the summer, renting an airbnb home from a wonderful couple who lived just two doors down from us in the newly gentrified West Tampa. We caught wind of some exciting and new opportunities in the area and were reminded of how wonderful it is to be near family and a familial support system, especially when raising children. There were definitely pros and cons as with each location. We had all the offerings of tropical life and there are many avenues for rebuilding, but the black community is built around elite organizations, historic churches, or childhood allegiances that are all difficult to penetrate for transplants. I went to high school in Tampa and I’m a member of one of the elite organizations and a former member of one of the historic churches, and I still feel like an outsider at times. We needed a city that would welcome newcomers as people migrated to help implement the Back to Black List and one that offered varying commercial industries for those who’d seek employment rather than create it. Tampa became possible, but not likely.

224We spent time in each of the cities searching for homes to either rent or buy, looking for black schools, black banks, and black neighborhoods that could be the foundation for black communities.  We were repeatedly disappointed in them all, but especially Dallas initially because that’s where we put the most effort. Our first visit there in June proved to be surprisingly underwhelming. The article we’d read about one of Dallas’s suburbs becoming the new Black Wall Street was a bit misleading, or perhaps we misinterpreted. Black Wall Street was replete with black businesses that were supported and employed by black people in a community built around strong black schools. I think we are collectively and mistakenly interchanging community and neighborhood. Black Wall Street was a community. The black suburbs of Dallas appear to be black neighborhoods. Communities have their own economies and a sense of collectivism. Neighborhoods are just people who share the same zip code or grocery store. We didn’t find the former there.  [Please let us know if we overlooked something Dallastons.] More importantly to me, the school that we fell in love with proved not to be the best fit for our daughter.

Very long story short, or written in another post, that’s not going to happen. While in Dallas on our last visit, a sister friend reminded me that we have the power to manifest the desires of our heart when in the will of God. She challenged me to write

540x293_20140102_8b7da98709a1ab48d447479d93832c18_jpg down exactly what I wanted, not my husband or children, and to be as specific as possible. All summer, we were leaning on the kindness of others or spending far more than we should to ensure that we, our children especially, were comfortable as we scoured the internet, traveled the highways, and rested in airports in search of our next home. I knew I wanted an African-focused accelerated educational venue for my daughter where I too could contribute my educational experience and knowledge. I knew I wanted a community that spawned from that school, neighboring schools like it, and like-minded people and families. I knew I wanted to finally find a church that espoused the beliefs and understanding that Africans throughout the Diaspora are disenfranchised and that we can be liberated through our faith and collective actions. But, those things weren’t specific enough. So, I made it plain.

I want:

-to live in my native city this year.

-to have my daughter enrolled at the African-focused school of my choice there in Kindergarten or based on her aptitude and social development instead of age.

-to have a support system of like-minded people.

-to live in a house in the actual city limits, within 20 minutes of the school.

-to have at least three bedrooms in said house.

-to have a church home within the community.

-to begin working together with others to implement the Back to Black List as soon as possible.

-peace.

In one day, after many days of tirelessly searching and being disappointed repeatedly in multiple cities, we have finally found a place to call home and truly begin to work towards the liberation and advancement of the disenfranchised. That’s putting a lot on it as my husband would say, but we’ve already put a lot on the whole decision to move back to the U.S. As soon as I decided to envision and ask for exactly what I wanted, the path became clear and easy. I found a house in the exact area we wanted to live. It was available, move-in ready, and we were able to negotiate all of the terms we wanted in less than a week. I’m able to enroll my daughter in her proper placement in the African-focused school of my choice, and I’ll be surrounded by people of all backgrounds and ethnicities who understand the importance of elevating those who’ve been oppressed. And, we both have family there, so that’s built-in babysitters!!

All is not final. We will still be living out of suitcases and boxes for a while, but we’ll be in our own space soon enough ready to do more than watch the plight of those we love. After much indecision, insight, trials, and prayer, we are moving to……….A-T-L-A-N-T-A!!!

Our New Home

Ticking Clock

calendar-numbers-dateThe end is near, and I’m not ready. April 30th marks my husband’s last day working for the company. We have one month afterwards to leave before the police come knocking. Singapore does not allow foreigners to just live here without a commercial purpose that benefits the country in some way. Basically, it’s count down time, but I’m far from prepared.

This should be the time of deciding and finalizing, planning and organizing. Months before our move to Singapore, we had checklists by the week to complete. We were excited about our transition and became mission oriented and strategic as soon as the move was confirmed. Now, we’re <<I’m>> ambivalent and procrastinating the inevitable. Without a mandated location, the plethora of options has become a weight rather than a relief.

imageIf it were just my husband and I….if all of our family members were well and secure….if “ifs” were worth entertaining, we’d probably move to Ghana, or SouthAfrican-schoolroom Africa, or hop from country to country or state to state three months at a time to avoid frigid winters. We’d buy rental properties in each place and use the passive income to build a network of African-centered schools to eradicate the educational inequities that plague the disenfranchised across the globe, especially in the pockets of urban America.

We’d be frivolous and hire a personal nutritionist, chef, and trainer that traveled with us to ensure our longevity and make love in every country code. You know, just to stay in shape. I’d write novels, short stories, and plays while sunning in the sand and stick WritingBeside-theBeach-960x565my toes in the waters of every beach, while he’d find every hut, shack, or family-owned restaurant that served the cultural delectables of the city that hosted whichever jazz, hip hop or soul concert he was attending at the time. We’d perform in backwoods churches and overflowing theaters three or four times a week just to spread the message of hope, resilience, and Coming-to-Americarevolution. We’d truly take our freedom papers, multiply them, and spread the spirit of freedom all over the world. We would get it in!!! IF…..

But alas, it is not just he and I. It’s he, she, he, and me.  We both have aging parents and in the books of failing health, we have one and a possible. We’re already at the stage of caring for our children and our elders simultaneously. Truth is, we only had two years when we didn’t have both. Heeding to the twin bellows of obligation and responsibility, we’ve decided it’s time to go back to the U.S.; a decision I’m torn about daily…..

 

Freedom Papers

The Beginning of the End 

js-watch-co-reykjavik-via-hodinkeeJanuary marked nine years that my husband has worked for the same company.  I think he got a watch or something. Nine is his favorite number; his number of completion. He called it a sign, a confirmation.

For the past few years, he’s contemplated walking away from Corporate America to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. He’s started companies, (www.madalihair.com), invested, researched franchising. He even quit his job months after our first child was born citing his discontent with the monotony and lack of growth; a faithful <<insert terrifying>> move that proved to be rewarding.  The company brought him back in a global role thirty days later, which eventually led us to our wonderful life here in Singapore.

Luck of the Irish 

clifden-castle-irelandLike clockwork, when our son was born last October, he once again expressed the same discontent and desire to leave. Something about having another mouth to feed and  greater expenses ironically makes him want to quit his job. This time, the company offered him a new, but vague position in Europe.  Once our stint in Singapore is over in early summer, we could pack up and move to Ireland so that he could start an undefined role.

Let’s just say that doesn’t sit well with either of us. It isn’t the prospect of moving from the never-ending tropical weather of SE Asia to the bleak and wintry days of Dublin. (Well, it’s partly that for this Southern girl.) It isn’t just that we’d be leaving the firstDublin Marked on Map community we’ve felt a part of since we’ve been married, or the idea of not having anyone to help us with our daily tasks. Though, those are huge factors. But, it’s more the idea of being asked to blindly trust the company to create a position that will be equally challenging and fulfilling for a man whose ambition has always been greater than any fear or even logic at times.

P.S., I’m Out! 

It’s hard to work for someone else when you have your own dreams and you’re not afraid to pursue them.  Both of us have felt this way, but his desire to learn alfunny_worlds_greatest_wife_gifts_sticker-rc7f4cc7d02fc4f599597947f9aa38a0c_v9waf_8byvr_324l he could from his corporate experience and to be in a stable position to provide for his family has kept the man I love punching the proverbial clock for nearly a decade. Through every transition, from Rochester, to Clearwater, to Tampa, to Singapore, I’ve encouraged his commitment and made some sacrifices. Yet, I couldn’t hold my “World’s Greatest Wife” Award and watch him agree to take on a role they couldn’t even define for him in a country we’ve only seen in movies.

Though the lush green rolling hills of Ireland made me weep for romance in P.S., I Love You, they aren’t enough to uproot our family knowing that he’ll be discontent with the company as soon as we land. The plan to work towards a way out was implemented last quarter. He tried to be mediocre, a feat he couldn’t master. Dean Mobley just didn’t train us that way. He tried to hint at the idea of saving the company money by leaving and they dismissed everyone else on his team.  The lone ranger was offered new projects and positions instead of means to leave. The company was just not speaking exit strategy… at first.

“The bird has left the nest!” The text was as cryptic as it was unexpected. He sent the message while at dinner with his regional president. With a baby nursing on one side and a toddler pulling on the other, I had no idea what he meant…at first.

As of the end of Spring, my husband will no longer work for the company!  For the first time since he graduated, he is free to completely chart his own course and decide whether he’ll answer to anyone other than himself (and me). We have had the desire to just go anywhere we want in this world and see what happens. And, now we have the freedom to do it. spin-the-globe-wherever-it-lands-thats-where-well-go 

Have a Seat at My Table

There are two older women cooking in my kitchen, and neither is my mother, grandmothwomanandchildcookinger, or close aunt. Considering the fact that for many southern American women such as myself, the kitchen is a sacred place where traditions are continued, future generations are pruned, and recipes are kept in furtive volts of the heart, to offer your haven to another without close supervision is both an honor and sort of a ritualistic trust exercise.  Though reluctant to pass the baton initially, I welcome this reprieve now with raised feet, a much more swollen baby belly, and a newfound confidence in the current keepers of the holy grail that is my book of recipes.

It’s been one week since our new home assistant, (“helper,” Foreign Domestic Worker) started, and I’m already living a completely different life. We’re on week two of training. (Of course my OCD forced me to develop a training and work schedule complete with tentative meal plans, emergency task lists, and duties outlined by the hour, day, week, and month. A bit much?) She spent this last week helping me reorganize my kitchen after we found a termite infestation (insert gag reflex) in one of the cabinets, (one of the many oversights of our previous assistant), and learning the tasks outlined in the training manual.

Today, she is enhancing her Western culinary skills by studying under the tutelage of another FDW who’s employed by friends of ours. I did not even waste the time, energy, and money to “invest” in my previous assistant in this way because the capacity just wasn’t there. To fully understand the contrast between the two, you’ll have to revisit the past eight months.

The Process of Getting Help

We hired *Joylyn after a debacle with *Mae (see “The Help(er) Part III” from Sept. 2013).  After a stream of crazy interviews that usually ended in tears and sob stories that bordered on deplorable and outlandish, we finally decided to hire Mae. Before we could even begin the process of completing the paperwork, she sent us a barely coherent text message stating, to the best of our understanding, that her employer wouldn’t release her from her contract.

Mae worked for a traditional Chinese family that employed very rigid restraints and practices; some of which included rationing her food portions, forcing her to sleep on the kitchen floor, and only allowing her to have one day off a month. This was just one of many sorrowful tales we were told as we interviewed dozens of women looking for an escape from their despots. Some spoke of abuse and compelled me to cry myself; others made me think they were vying for an Emmy for their role on “As the Teardrop Falls.”   Mae appeared more honest and less of a whimpering damsel who could cry on cue. We thought we were freeing her in a sense by offering her a much more amiable position that would bring her closer to her sister who lives just a few floors up as an employee of friends of ours.

So, when we got the text and realized she was unwilling to fight for her right to be transferred, we became a bit desperate. *Joylyn was one of two final interviewees, and was only selected because the one we preferred was in a similar predicament as Mae. We didn’t want a repeat repeal.

Please, Have a Seat

Her first night, she came to us one late stormy evening, hauling her life’s belongings in a single, bulging, weathered suitcase up the concrete flight of stairs leading to our condo building, instead of taking the elevator that would place her at our door step. I opened the door to her bright smile, as damp, limp, wiry hair clung itself to her forehead and cheeks like a fitted veil.

IMG3147-LJoylyn was twice the height of my two-year-old by a wayward hair, and probably no wider.  After first offering to sit on our floor, she timidly agreed to sit at our dining room table to discuss the employment contract and duties. My husband was out of the country, so it was just she and I, equally nervous, trying to grasp and make an ample first impression.   I made mine and broke the ice by pouring us both a glass of white wine; an unusual gesture that had a lasting effect.

Day 1

She was awake before we were, waiting for instruction. That was a good sign. I gave her a brief tour of our home and explained the morning tasks again. She mentioned in the interview that she was familiar with cooking and could follow recipes, so I was eager to see what she could do in that area. I needed someone to at least serve as an assistant chef when I didn’t have time to make dinner or when I needed help with preparation. Having worked for a Chinese family for four years, and a British family for only six weeks, she claimed to be well-versed in Asian cooking and somewhat comfortable with Western dishes as well. To our dismay, we soon found this to be one of the greatest misleading fabrications since hearing, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…” As kind as she is, Joylyn could hardly pour water, let alone boil it to make anything when she first arrived.

Whole_No.15_Chicken__96994_zoomThe first and last meal she prepared for us without guidance was steamed chicken and rice. The chicken was dry, chewy, and unseasoned, and it still looked raw in color. The rice, well the white rice (we eat brown or black rice), was perfect in texture, though bland. We soon learned that making rice in a rice cooker was her only specialty, and really, the only thing she liked to eat aside from chicken feet and fish heads.

She also claimed to be experienced with young children, but we found that this experience actually hindered her.  The original family she worked for used her in the capacity of a full-time nanny for their infant daughter until she was four-years-old. By nanny, I mean full-time servant. According to Joylyn, the child was not encouraged to do anything for herself and the parents were not involved in her care. Joylyn shared a room with her, fed, bathed, clothed, and obeyed (yes, obeyed) her every request. She was constantly appeasing her and acquiescing to every command from the pampered toddler. This type of servile behavior did not bode well with any of us, especially the kibibi, whom we’ve taught to be more independent and respectful.

Joylyn was constantly trying to appeal to our daughter. Sometimes against my instruction, she’d offer her certain sweet treats or allow her to speak to her in a manner that I did not tolerate or excuse. I’ve seen this type of behavior with other children and their assistants, and I’ve always winced at it. I actually had to intervene once when a young boy of about seven years, screamed at and struck his assistant repeatedly because she said it was time to leave the playground. This type of occurrence is not uncommon. It’s just something we cannot allow in our home.

I remember once, when the three of us took one of our first trips to the library, I left Joylyn and Lil’ Bit to charportrait_ivyread in a corner while I sifted through bookshelves to find at least one or two books with characters that reflected our family. After weeks of explaining to Joylyn that she must be firm with Lil’ Bit and uphold the boundaries we’ve set, she finally tried flirting with the word “no” to a request for pretzels.  By this time, my little one knew how to play the fiddle, and the request turned into a command. I didn’t witness it, but I was told by both, that when another “no” was uttered, my sweet, angelic, cherub morphed into a tiny torturous tyrant and snatched the pretzels before smacking Joylyn with them and stating through gritted teeth, “You don’t tell me no!”

Well, let’s just say, my child lost every bit of her precious mind in that moment and I, in turn, had to match crazy with berserk right there in the children’s corner of the public library in front of an audience of docile Asian women and children, grasping their books and dropping their jaws in awe. Nothing like that ever happened again, but I was constantly intervening to assert some discipline when Joylyn failed to assert herself. It confused my child, as it would any child. She hasn’t mastered giving respect even when it’s not expected or worse yet, when it’s rejected.

Joylyn’s deficiencies began to outweigh her usefulness over time, and my patience an2954269188_Bad_Cook_answer_4_xlarged tolerance began waning increasingly once I became pregnant. Simple blunders like going to the market to get “Cheerios” and instead retrieving “Oh’s,” or “Corn Flakes” instead of “Corn Pops,” began to gnaw at my nerves; especially considering I’d write down the exact name, brand, and its location in the store, and I’d text her an exact picture of the item I needed. I also noticed Lil’ Bit became less enthused to do things when Joylyn was involved and would ask for “Mommy and me moments” more often when Joylyn was near.  My husband was growing more annoyed by her adaptations to my recipes or alterations to meals I’d already prepared that she simply needed to heat and serve.

As much as we enjoyed her colorful stories about her Filipino upbringing, or her current events about what was happening in the Philippines or in the park on Sundays, we were not entertained at all by the fact that we were paying for services that just weren’t being provided. I was still handling a great deal of the domestic work and missing time with my daughter because of it. I found myself more frustrated with her presence than relieved by it. Because, as employers, we are completely responsible for the salary, food, shelter, medical care, insurance, dental care, and overall well-being of our employee, Joylyn became more of a burden than a blessing.  It was time to make some moves.

To Be Continued….

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Blue Ivy & the Hairistocracy

Blue Ivy and the Hairistocracy

Everyone, hide your eyes! Blue Ivy has once again had the nerve to leave the house and not care about what we think about her hair!! And, her weave-wearing, designer handbag toting, “FlapicCouncilBrownPaper-BagTeswless” mama is to blame and should be forever condemned to the seventh layer of Hair Hell! Gather your banners of judgment and arrows of shame and aim them directly at those “matted,” “nappy,” “linty,” “unkept,” baby locs to remind her that she, regardless of her (parents’) fame and fortune, is not permitted the freedom of wearing her hair unless it is coiffed to societal liking and passes the road to assimilation paper bag test. I mean standard of beauty.

I didn’t think it was worthy of discussion initially, but after seeing my own daughter shine most brilliantly when she is free to make choices regarding her apparel and appearance, I thought more about baby Blue and why her “disheveled” appearance was causing such uproar.  I really had to wonder and research why we, mostly middle-class black Americans, care so much about a toddler’s hair. And, the reasons given were quite telling. 

“It’s not about the texture. It just appears uncombed.”- The Appearance Patrol

I think the real issue here is that we, regular everyday people, care more about perception than the affluent ever have to or the impoverished ever care to do. This has been generational, out of survival and as a strategy to try and impress others for our own praise or advancement, (Massalittle-girl-with-natural-hair, Boss, other people in positions of power in our lives regardless of color, our community, etc.). We, collectively, clutched our pearls out of embarrassment, judgment, & disgust with the audacity of even a child to have the freedom to have IDGAF hair. Doesn’t she know the world is watching? How dare she embarrass (black) mothers everywhere and let her daughter wear her gravity-defying hair without any attempt to straddle and tame it? Blue can’t do what other children can. I’ve heard some say, to my disgust, with a matter-of-factness sharp as cheddar,”It’s a shame she got that nappy hair. It’s a waste of light skin.” Can we agree, we still have issues?

1511681_10203963778644606_5173442313471575513_nWhat’s the difference in the children pictured? They all have wild, IDGAF hairstyles going on here. Yet, they aren’t all critiqued in the same manner. Why aren’t they all {insert every epithet hurled at little girls with coarse kinky hair}? If it’s not about texture, then why didn’t anyone address Halle’s child’s hair, which also looks like she “woke up like this?”

Regardless of who the parent is, who are any of us to judge a child’s appearance strictly based on appearance? I’m not defending the celebrities on trial as much as I’m defending every little (especially black) girl’s right to be unrestricted by her hair. We see non-black celebrity children ALL the time with frizzy, unkempt hair, and we say it’s adorable and whimsical. The only reason ANY of us style (not take care of) our hair however we choose is because of the pressure of society to care about image. It shapes many of our choices.

The celebrity mother in question here has chosen to invest in her image to appeal to the masses and it has reaped her millions. (She would not be on the level she is had she not, & that’s a sad fact. Just compare her status to the natural, and darker-hued entertainers.) That is her personal choice. I, for one, am glad she has not imposed this choice on her child.

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“I don’t have a problem as long as the child’s hair grooming matches the mother’s because she doesn’t have a choice at this age.”   – The High Court of Parental Judgment 

I do have concern with parents who do consistently and selfishly put their superficial wants before the care of their child, which I’ve seen across classes, but I don’t think that’s the issue here. If Blue had what the hairistocracy has deemed “good hair,” I don’t think there would be a word uttered.

I actually felt this sentiment before I had a daughter, especially one that came here expressive and free-thinking. I also cared so much about the perception of others at one point that it paralyzed me to a degree. I wouldn’t go out unless my hair was laid! That was crippling and definitely added to my insecurity.

I realized this began in childhood. We were always shoe-shine sharp whenever we left the house. I was warned not to play too hard because I would mess up my hair, and it would “go back.” All of this carried over into young adulthood. I’m so glad I’m free from that now.

I don’t want my kibibi to go through that at all. On days when I don’t care about the impression we make (truth statement here), I let her decide how she wants to wear her hair. Sometimes, she wants three barrettes, sometimes a head full, sometimes it looks like pictured because she did it herself. Her hair isGabby-Douglas-Medal always healthy even when “it looks a mess.” Why isn’t Blue Ivy’s hair given that benefit of the doubt?

I’ll certainly teach my daughter to take pride in herself and take care of her body, which will inevitably display itself in her appearance. But, I don’t want her so focused on what other people think she looks like, rather than how she feels about herself. Our girls have it hard enough without our judgment of their hair. (I remember cringing about the attack on Gabrielle Douglas too.)

It doesn’t matter if MY grooming of MY hair matches MY daughter’s hair on any particular day. She is an individual, not my accessory. She is also not my reflection in the sense that she has to mirror all of my actions and choices. She only reflects the lessons I instill in her. She has no need or desire to impress anyone at this age, (what a freedom), and her ckahlil-gibran-on-childrenare is never in question by her parents (the people who actually care for her.) The only people that should have an expressed negative opinion about a child’s hair are the people caring for the child and the child her/himself. (Interestingly enough, many of the negative opinions I’ve heard and seen are from people who don’t even have children, let alone young daughters.) Every other negative opinion is only self-serving.

How many of us groom ourselves to impress people we either don’t know, don’t like, or who don’t care? We were trained to care about appearances, and many of us are crippled by image. Let our children be free from superficial societal standards as long as possible. Why does Blue, or any other child, need to impress YOU? What can you do for Blue?LACEFRONT-BABY-WIGS

I wonder if we would prefer seeing children adorned in the same hair styles as their mothers.  Would we be satisfied if little girls rocked weaves or short sassy coifs to “match” their mothers?

 

“It’s about the health and care of her hair, not its appearance. It looks dirty.”                                                   – The Genuinely Concerned Black Hair Police

I’m not sure why it’s assumed that this look means no care was put into their hair. We have absolutely no idea what the state of health of this child’s hair is. We have no window into the daily care of any child, regardless of the media’s invasion of this particular family, so her care cannot be assessed. I also don’t know why it’s assumed that the child doesn’t have a choice at this age. I can’t SPEAK for the other parents pictured here, but my daughter is allowed the freedom of choice when it comes to her hair on most days. It’s my way of teaching her that she has control and ownership of her own body, to the extent of her understanding. It’s the same reason I’m waiting until she asks to get her ears pierced.

The truth is when I don’t care about the impression her hair will make regarding my parenting and her appearance, I let her rock out the way she wants. At this age, that really is the only reason people style their children’s hair. Styling and caring for are two completely different things. No one’s really concerned about the health of any of these babies’ hair. We’re concerned about the appearance. If Blue had two barrettes holding her hair into two puffs, the care of her hair would be no different. No one can tell what the care of her hair is based on the few pictures the media decides we see. We are just offended that she doesn’t try to impress others every time she steps in public, as we were taught to do ourselves.

My daughter’s hair is always clean and cared for, & sometimes we still leave the house looking as pictured; just like we did that day. And, I happened to not match her hair grooming. Both of us were happy, still beautiful, & had healthy hair on our heads. She felt empowered by her choice to wear her hair the way she wanted, and we were not at all phased by what strangers may have thought. Freedom.

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Please post all comments and questions on this blog, and visit http://www.blackgirlspeaks.com for more information about the Black Girl Speaks Movement. 

 

 

Trust, SPEAK, Release

2014 has already proven to be extraordinary and divine! Every January, we meet as a family and outline our goals for the year. We prioritize them and plan for them financially. Of course, we know that the unforeseen will happen, but we try to prepare ourselves for those hurdles as well, at least in terms of having a financial cushion if needed.

This year we planned to travel as much as possible for leisure, to establish a firm educational format for our daughter, to continue developing our community here in Singapore and plan for the one we will join when we return to the states, to complete projects that have been on the burner for more than a year already, to step forward on entrepreneurial visions we’ve been given, and to conceive our second child before the end of the year.

It’s March, and we’ve already traveled to Thailand & Sydney as a family, and I’ve traveled to Bali (again) for a Girls’ Trip. Each venture was AMAZING!!  In January, I began home-schooling my daughter formally and she is thriving; already reading site words, using phonics to read basic words, counting and adding in English, Swahili, and Chinese (we’re working on subtraction), exploring the world around us through the lens of science, and learning more and more about our history and geography. She can identify every country we’ve traveled, the continent of origin of mankind, and all of the countries where her friends have families on a map.  And, she’s only 2 1/2.  (I have to say though, this is mainly due to her love of learning than anything I’m doing.  I have other students like this, and I have those who aren’t. Every child is different, and more specifically, learns differently.)

As an educator, I’ve been developing a curriculum for her since infancy, but this is the first time I’m implementing it on a schedule and with other participants.  She is also enrolled in dance and a drop-off Chinese class, so that I can have a much needed break a few hours a week.  The curriculum I use is African-centered and uses the methods of teaching to a student’s learning style rather than teaching in one uniform way.  The closest resemblance is a Montessori Model, but I implore lessons that are culturally enhancing as well. It is extremely important to us that our daughter knows who she is and what that means in the context of the world we’re living and the the global community-at-large.

One of the ways we ensure that she does see herself is by surrounding ourselves with a community of people that share our culture and desire for expressing and exchanging it with others.  Of course we also immerse ourselves in the truly rich and diverse cultures of which Singapore is replete. However, we understand the value of knowing and loving yourself first in order to fully embrace anyone else without the desire to emulate, imitate, or assimilate.

Before leaving the states, we prayed consistently to have a village, a true community built around the shared love of God and each other.  Who would’ve ever thought we’d find that in Singapore?!  We had to travel to the other side of the world to get it, but we finally do have what we’ve been searching for since we married. The unfortunate part is that we all know this is temporary because everyone is here on an assignment. Once it’s complete, the adventure here is as well and the community changes.  But, at least we have the prototype, and we’re growing. We see each other regularly, support each other in our respective endeavors, engage our children with one another, and empower each other to be great. We see each other for who we are in a world that has tried to make us invisible, criminal, or targets.

The community we’ve helped to build here has been an even greater catalyst to begin planning for establishing and creating what we desire whenever we do return to the states, where we are fully aware that every type of “-ism” exists and the love of guns exceeds that of  humanity. Hence, our development of the “The Back to Black List,”  a list of proposed solutions to help restore a thriving and healthy black community. Again, we know we have to build ourselves first before we can idealize and eventually obtain a world free of racism. (See “Wide Awake Parts I & II,” & “Why We Must Forgive.”)

As we’ve been checking off our goal sheet, I finally buckled down and focused on the many writing projects I have on my plate. I’ve started and almost completed several different works ranging from cultural critiques to marital and relationship insight for adults and teens. Almost doesn’t count when checking off the list, so I have to take the time and discipline to focus on each project. One is a series of children’s books, and though they are all written, the greatest challenge has been finding an illustrator and publisher. You wouldn’t believe some of the experiences I’ve  had in that process.  It’s been challenging and discouraging to say the least, but I think I’ve finally found the right match. Keep your fingers crossed, say a prayer for me, and get ready to purchase your book before the year ends.

We’ve always been entrepreneurial and we share the goal of empowering the disenfranchised throughout the Diaspora, so we’re still steadfastly working on expanding the Black Girl Speaks brand (www.blackgirlspeaks.com), as well as some other enterprises we’re developing. I think, aside from wanting to empower and employ others who have been marginalized, one of our desires is to avoid being in a position where someone else, “The Man,” is in complete control of our financial security. We lose sleep over the thought of it.

As expected, the unexpected has happened. After setting our goals for the year and finally reaching a place where we feel “at home,” we got the news that my husband’s company plans to move us to Hong Kong before our lease is renewed in June! hong-kong-Ed-meisterNow, we are absolutely loving the life we have in Singapore. Despite the restrictions, and there are many, it really is a wonderful place to live with a young family. Of course, this experience has been enhanced by all of the aforementioned, but Singapore itself is full of reasons to want to stay.  Our neighborhood is conveniently located in a cultural enriched area amidst shops, incredible restaurants, the only 24-hour shopping complex, all of the public transportation outlets, parks, and most of our friends are near.  You can understand why my immediate response was, “I’m not going. I’m staying here.”  I have since journeyed from refusal, to denial, and now I’m at a place of peace with whatever happens.  I didn’t want to talk about it at all, but I finally shared the news with friends of ours during my Bali Girls’ Trip.  I just didn’t want a long, drawn-out farewell.  Now, I realize by SPEAKing it, I released the anxiety that coupled it and I can just be tranquil and reassured that God will continue to shock us with blessings wherever we are in the world.

Baby Bwele in Bali

In fact, He already has! Shortly after discovering that Hong Kong was on the horizon, we found out the new addition to our family was as well. I’m elated to share that we are expecting Baby Bwelé aka Baby Blue aka Bean Pie in September!!  Now, any normal person would probably initially panic at the thought of moving internationally with one child in tow and another on the way to an unknown place where language and culture are barriers and without any reference for physicians. And, I did, because I have normal person tendencies.  Yet, I also have super-natural provision and the certainty that all will be well as it has been.  Wherever we go, we’re blessed. (But, I really, really, really want to stay Lord.)