Monthly Archives: July 2011
I got tired of seeing the seemingly endless pictures of Barack Obama edited into a picture with Malcom X and Martin Luther King, so I asked some graphic designer friends to create a picture of Barack Obama and Shirley Chisholm. It can be incredibly difficult for people to recognize the accomplished of pioneering black women in Black History. I want to add gender to the idea of black leadership, and the way we remember it. It’s not just about Martin Luther King and Malcom X, it’s also about Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Barbra Jordan, and many others.
Shirley Chisholm is the forerunner of Barack Obama. I get that Obama, King, and X are all males, but Chisholm is his political ancestor. On January 25, 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
So, from her historic run in 1972 to his historic run in 2008, I salute the political accomplishments of thse two people.
As I was driving my niece to softball practice today I decided to give her some advice on her hair care. She is obsessed with her hair (as most little girls are because of sexism), and she asked me earlier this morning if the house had a flat iron to which I told her we did not.
As I began to talk to my niece about black care management, I told her that the best thing she could do to grow her hair is to keep it braided and keep it moisturized. While giving my niece this advice something stuck out in my head. I instantly thought of the way that sexism often takes little black boys and little black girls on separate journey’s when growing their hair out.
Let me ask you a question.
How many times have you seen a little black boy with braids down his back, but a little black girl whose hair can barely fit in a ponytail?
What is the difference? Sexism. Parents almost always let little boys hair grow naturally. They don’t saddle little black boys hair with perms, gels, or other products, but when it comes to little black girls they do products galore, and this effects hair growth and health. I think this double standard in black hair growth plays a role in why little black girls hair receive so much damage, and often doesn’t grow as well or isn’t as healthy.
I know many parents who have a little boy with braids, with hair that is healthy, and down to his back, but his sisters hair is breaking off and short. The reason for this is almost always that the parents took a natural approach to the boys hair, but took a chemical, processed approach to the girls hair. The boy gets his hair braided and moisturized at the most, but the little girl gets perms, weaves, gels, and whatever else the parents can think of to make her look “girly.”
Why is it that we allow our sons to grow their hair naturally, but force out daughters down a path of chemicals and processors?
While Chris Rock is to be noted for his documentary “Good Hair,” he didn’t examine the origins of problematic views on black hair which begin in childhood. Far too many little girls are told that their hair is only desirable when chemicals have processed it. We let little boys off the hook by often giving them permission to have nappy hair, and by allowing them to grow their hair naturally when, or if, they decide to rock braids or twists.
Black men almost never resort to thousands upon thousands of products to grow their hair out. That expectation isn’t there. Black women can take a cue from black men when growing their hair. Less is more. (sexism will make this difficult, but its worth it)
I’m not sure what my thoughts add to the overall natural hair debate, but the role sexism plays is one that I think should be examined more. Sometimes the best way to let your hair be all that it can be is to simply let it be. Step away from the million products.
Ideas often come to me at the most peculiar times. The idea of this essay came to me while I was sweeping in the den of my house. I’m not sure what that says about the overall idea, but I am very fortunate that it did.
As I went about sweeping my den the nature invisibility, or rather visibility, as it pertains to those in the gay community appeared in my mind. I, and I am sure countless others, have heard the homophobic argument that homophobia isn’t an issue, or a serious issue, because unlike race or gender, it’s something that you can hide. These homophobes believe that because one cannot hide the color of their skin or the fact that they have breasts, homophobia isn’t the same as racism or sexism. The idea being that that gays choose to display their sexuality, and as such those who are victims of homophobia are often asking for it.
On the surface this seems like a somewhat logical belief. There is something to be said about the way skin color or sexual anatomy presents itself in an overt form making it easily identifiable for racism and sexism. But, I would like to suggest that homosexuality, or at least the characteristics that we associate with it, also presents itself in overt ways which make it easy for homophobes to marginalize and oppress homosexuals.
We are trained in this white supremacist patriarchal society to see race and gender. We are taught to associate certain characteristics with race and gender, and to pinpoint those characteristics when they are expressed. The way one walks, or talks, or who the person hangs out with, are all ways that racist and sexist people identify and discriminate against people based on their race or gender. However, this phenomenon is not unique to race or gender oppression.
Homosexuals, whether they choose to or not, are daily assaulted by the expectations and assumptions that we as a society place around sexual orientation. From an early age children have their gender expression policed in this society, and this often results in them being the victims of homophobia. If a little boy walks to feminine or if a little girls voice is too deep these are things used to police their gender, and are also used by homophobes.
As we get older the way homophobia pinpoints us does not change. I can think of countless occasions where I have been the victim of homophobia based on things outside of my control. I do not choose to hold my hands the way that I do, I do not choose to walk the way that I do, I do not choose to talk the way that I do. i also did not choose for these otherwise empty characteristics to be associated with my sexual orientation. In a homophobic society these characteristics of myself render me visible, and thus prevents me from being invisible. Of course, I could possibly do things to render myself invisible, I could try and walk and talk in a different manner as many do. As a gay person my sexuality is just as overt as my race and my gender.
The belief that sexuality isn’t visible the way race or gender is, is a myth homophobes use to diminish the realities that gays face. It is about denying our struggle and the oppression that we face. We live in a homophobic society where gender expression is linked with sexual orientation and that underlies much of the oppression that homosexuals face. As a child I longed to be invisible, and sometimes I still wish to be rendered invisible. I did not choose for my sexual orientation to be linked to my gender expression, but that is the way that homophobia works, and as such the myth that sexual orientation is invisible, unlike race or gender, is one that continues to harm those in the gay community.
The construction of heterosexuality has had many effects on the construction of homosexuality. This construction has meant that homosexuality has been associated with certain characteristics and many stereotypes. Homophobia makes it almost impossible for gays, or anyone for that matter, to be have an invisible sexual orientation. The time has come for us to realize that sexual orientation, like race and gender, is visible. The myth of invisibility must end.