What happens when you become antiracists. I woke up early today and wrote a series of what I call what happens. Derrick Bell was to blame. I wanted to use them to teach my daughter about symbols, about failure, about questions, about life in general, but most of all what happens when she becomes anti-racist. I finally got to the end of Derrick Bells ‘Faces at the Bottom of the Well’ and I couldn’t help but now become a true believer in the permanence of racism.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, this idea that justice for faces at the bottom of the well can’t actually be won in the United States. I bought this book last year at the height of all the racial reckoning and kept keeping it at a distance, not ready to confront the reality I knew was nestled within the pages of this book. Until this weekend. This weekend, I confronted the bitter truth of racism in America with the finest legal scholar that ever lived. I can see why people laughed it off when he once shared his opinion. Few people are prepared to confront this harsh reality about life in this country. ‘If racism is permanent, what is the point of the struggle’ as Michelle Alexander points out in her foreword. Granted accepting the permanence of racism does not mean accepting racism itself. Bell himself suggested this as well. His book has so many truths lurking for today, especially whether the battle can ever be won. And so for those who choose to become antiracists, know these truths about racism stated so eloquently by Derrick Bell:
That the cause is greater for those who choose hope rather than despair.
Those who recognize the futility of action and the conviction that something must still be done.
Those who know racism is permanent, not fleeting.
Those who see it in their real lives, not in sentimental minds.
Those who choose survival, rather than being silent.
Those who choose light rather than darkness.
Those who choose freedom rather than bondage.
Those who know there is no giving up, even as history continues to unfold.
Those who choose to be counted as antiracists for as long as racism exists.
For them, there is still hope, still meaning, even in this struggle to become antiracists.
Pandemic hair. It’s a thing. And for many people, it’s personal. Full of stories. Some that are cringe worthy. Some that are truly part of this moment we find ourselves in, even grounded in the need for an anti-racist lens. My family has it own story too. Early in the pandemic, around this time last year, my daughter had the grand idea that cutting her own hair would be fun. So she did what most kids her age do, grabbed a scissor and trimmed the front of her hair. We have since spent a year trying our best to get the front grow back out and it has. My own story is well messy. I basically gave up on my own hair. Not only did I not regularly shampoo or even condition my hair, if I am being honest, I simply didn’t care for it. I figured if I was going to be home anyways why bother. So I pat my hair into 3 and gave myself 3 braids, a stocking cap and a wig. I spent the year falling in love with all sorts of wigs and pretended I didn’t have actual hair. Fast forward to yesterday. A moment of reckoning. I faced my hair for the first time in a year.
My hair must have been disappointed in me as I was disappointed in me as well. I booked an appointment at the Paul Mitchell school for my daughter and myself. We both needed a proper iron work and a hair cut. Something about going to this school brings a smile to my face always. Maybe it’s because of the many young women of color that I come across as students. Many just starting their journey through figuring life on their own terms. Others, in need of something else, something different, for themselves, their families, and on their time. I met one such brilliant young woman yesterday. Not only does she work as a mail-carrier, gets up 4am in the morning everyday by the way for her regular job, she also manages to find the time to come to school all while not being home to her seven year old son, her crown, her reason for being. Her support system is excellent though, especially with one of her aunt who promised to give her shop to her once she gets her license. I asked why not something else, why hair. She emphatically restated why not hair. She loves doing hair, has always loved to do hair, just needs the license now to set herself up for the future on her own time. I was proud. It’s for women like her that I gladly patronize the school.
So we set out to do magic to my hair. I apologized profusely as I knew she would be so disappointed in me. I was disappointed in myself too. She used the best Paul Mitchell products on my hair, and spent close to 30 minutes removing so many tangles. It’s like I was receiving a new birth. Untangling myself from the tensions and stress caused by the pandemic all from a hair therapy. She intuitively knew what my hair needed and my soul was full. By the time she was through with my hair, what I felt was dead to me, came alive for the first time in over a year. If my hair could speak, it would say a vote of thanks to her for a job well done. I wish this is where the story ended. But it isn’t.
My daughter’s experience was something else. This was the first time at the school and well, it didn’t go as planned. For starters it began with some that, well never handled black hair before. It went downhill from there. I didn’t mind at first because the teacher in me felt the need to give her a chance to learn. She didn’t seize the opportunity. It’s been said that black people are forever willing to give others a chance but others never really try. So I’m learning now to trust people to be and see them for who they are. Those willing to try will show themselves for who they are too. My daughter’s learner didn’t. It took close to 4 people to try to get my daughter the treatment she deserved and when all else failed, my own learner came to the rescue once she finished my hair.
Being anti-racist has signs that imitate actions. These signs are a representation of who we are and they society we want to live in. These signs are also the basis and the process of how we choose to evolve as a group. They are inseparable from ourselves and if we choose to live in an anti-racist world, trying is not an option. I learnt that yesterday at a hair school of all places. It’s my keep for today. We don’t need those willing to try. We need people ready to stand in the gaps to demand an end to racism in all forms and manner and especially from the hair follicles down to the soles of our feet. I made the mistake of trying yesterday to be open. It cost my daughter unnecessary stress that we black people endure only to find strength in ourselves. I’m done doing that. I will still return to the school but I know who I’m booking with next time. No use pretending we are all in this together. Some of us have life goals worth celebrating at the school and for them I’ll be back. Keep an anti-racist lens even with black hair.