A few weeks ago, U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley made headlines, not for conventional politics, but the black female body politic. To be specific, Pressley made headlines for her hair.
Pressley released a video that delineated her hair journey, and the footage ends with a completely hairless Pressley. Pressley undoubtedly exuded a unique courage in completely shirking the western-induced Lust for long hair by any means necessary. Her revelation depicts pride in the purity of being, and I was proud of my sister.
My pride though did not surface uncomplicated. My ambivalence followed what I noticed to be a pattern of black women having to explain their appearance. Nearly all black wonen can attest to the pregnant gazes that inundate their bodies in predominantly white environments. These gazes, too often accompanied my micro-aggressive comments, seek to cast black female beauty as a villain in white supremacist culture. Black hair, whether silk-pressed, weave, colored, or natural, and black female curves, continue to make waves in this pervasive white supremacist climate, to afford normalcy to whiteness and white features. I say this to say, it is hard not to equate explaining black hair or black bodies to acquiescing to an ideology that we, as black women, are outside the bounds of normalcy. Thus, to explain our body politic as black women, appears to me, as embodying the “back door” Carter B. Woodson articulated in the early twentieth century.
I witnessed something similar in a nail salon last month. The black female technician, fresh off New Year’s celebrations, wore faux locs to work. Her “new additions” sparked inquiry among her white female clientele, who were not shy in expressing their “inability to recognize” her with her new look. She began to explain that the hair on her head was not her own, delineating the process to the eager white faces she serviced.
Like Ayanna, and like every black woman, this young lady has a hair story and journey. These stories, of course, compose a larger narrative—a narrative no black person has to share with their white adversaries.
I would be remiss to not mention that there is an eminent danger in sharing pages of the black narrative with anti-black agents. Particularly, sharing these stories bears an epistemological power that poses a direct ontological challenge to the black collective. Here, I mean to state that sharing pages of the black narrative, provides a historically violent and appropriative group access to information that will eventually accompany the epistemological distortion consistent with white supremacy.
Conclusively, while it is second-nature to some and temptation to others to share the why that accompanies their being and behavior, it is more important that we as a culture focus on what we do when we explain. What we do do when we explain is maintain our placement at the societal margins. The only means to extinguish white supremacy or anti-blackness is with pro-blackness. This status not only exists without apology, but without explanation, as to hone one’s blackness is to frame what speaks for itself.