natural prejudice

whether we know it or not, whether we want to admit it or not, each of us has prejudices. preconceived notions about others based on one facet of their complex existence. for example, some white folks would see me walking with my niece and nephew and assume that i’m a single mother, probably on welfare. while some black folks would see one of my white brothers-in-law, and assume that he thought ill of them because they are black. many people would see the name juan luis jorge garcia ramirez, and immediately think “illegal immigrant,” while some would see the name xiou chang and think, “i bet she did well in school.” and round and round we go.

we cant really help our prejudices, we can at best recognize them and check them at the door (and of course, pray for God to change our hearts). and while prejudice can exist across races, and within a single race, it’s not always about race. sometimes, it’s about class; sometimes, it’s about sex/gender; sometimes, it’s about hair. i cannot tell you how many times, i’ve been typified by someone because of my natural hair, and USUALLY it’s been from other blacks. i guess i shouldn’t be surprised–as a people, we don’t really know much about caring for our natural hair. we aren’t really familiar with the feel of it, and just what it’s like. to be frank, we often simply don’t like our natural tightly-coiled hair. as i wrote in a research paper a few years back:

“This internalized disdain for natural black hair is driven by a historical socialization of the concept of blacks’ natural hair being inferior to that of non-blacks’; by media messages that assert European American women and their features and not African American women and their features; and by fear and ignorance of black women concerning their own natural hair.”

without getting all deep into that now, my point is, our hair texture in its natural state is something very foreign and unnatural to us (like my own was to me before i went natural).

*does not remind you of india.aire * wears wigs * does not look like she’s from kenya * does not avoid “unnatural” products * apparently needs lotion on her elbow *

still, some of the comments i’ve received (almost always from black folks) over the years have been disturbing, and just plain silly:

  • “have you tried that [chemical] product? oh no, you don’t do chemicals, you’re into all that natural stuff.”
  • from a mexican vendor in tijuana, mexico: “heey! my soul sistah.”
  • “are you going to loc up [make my hair go into dread locs]? you should loc up, then you’d really be natural.”
  • “so…what are you going to do with your hair for the wedding?” [in the most sincere, concerned voice]
  • “natural hair is un-stylish.” [from my 5-year-old nephew…um…where did you even learn that word??]
  • “i can tell you’re into that all-natural lifestyle.”
  • “you remind me of india.aire.” [really?]
  • “you have a real natural vibe…and not just because of your hair.” [oh really? what else gives that off then? hmmm?]
  • 15-year-old girl: “you look like you could be from kenya.” me: “oh, have you ever seen anyone from kenya?” girl: “no. but it’s just your look. and not just your hair, your overall look.”
  • and of course there’ve been the “fight-the-power” references to the black power movements, as if my ceasing to chemically straightening in my hair automatically placed me in some social movement.
natural black hair in mainstream ads

over the years, i’ve really had to develop thick skin to protect my heart from ridiculous comments such as these. fortunately, i think america’s going in a direction that seems to be more accepting of natural black hair. just look at advertising. MOST commercials and print ads with black women nowadays feature women with natural hair. and i’ve also had a LOT of people voice their admiration of my hair in its natural state (men, women, black, white, etc.). and i don’t think it’s really a fad, or a movement, as in a few decades back. mainstream corporate america seems to be more accepting of it (which was a major factor in those who “fought the power” going back to relaxers…they needed jobs!), so i think it’s here to stay.

at any rate, my charge is to love and appreciate how God formed me from head to toe, and also to appreciate how he formed others who may or may not look like me (or be like me), and to share his love with my neighbor, regardless of my own prejudices against them. lord, help us to fulfill this.

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