In preparation for a group discussion about critical research methodologies in gender studies, I went back and looked at hours of footage from Rebecca Skloots, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, as well as other research about race, Black women, and medicine/science. I had been particularly inspired by Karla Holloway’s ability to relentlessly give Skloots DA BIZ’NESS for constructing a research study for mainstream audiences that, in fact, re-enacts violence against the Lacks family, a Black family who for the most part still live in abject poverty. Henrietta Lacks, known by the medical/science industry as HeLa, was a poor Black tobacco farmer whose cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 for developing what we now know to be the vaccine for polio and the central tools for cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. Her cells have made billions of dollars but her family, then and now, do not even have health insurance. Meanwhile Skloots enjoys the big dollars from Olympic-styled endorsements, media showings, and a New York Times bestseller. Despite her economic wealth, I wouldn’t ever want to be Skloots given the criticism, rightly deserved, that she has endured by formidable critics who link the central fetishization, exoticism, violence, and exploitation of her research/methodology to the kind of minstrel show we get on Bravo television when Black women’s bodies are the subject. Whew, so glad I ain’t Skloots! I wouldn’t even be able to wake up in the morning with a morsel of self-respect.
When I first started teaching college writing, I did so as a former high school teacher. I was told, both explicitly and implicitly, that I should not identify myself as a secondary teacher. College teaching was more intellectual and exacting; in fact, high school teaching wasn’t even respected enough to be called teaching, especially in university English departments. It was 1998; I was 27 years old and quite perplexed. I just couldn’t get my head around what people were telling me in comparison with what I was seeing at the college: the MOST horrible teaching and curriculum design I had ever encountered.
At the time, Amazon was still relatively new as well as online bookstores. We were, after all, still using dial-up internet and AOL! This means that college bookstores actually ordered all of the books for students and created what were then called “course packets”— the binder that the bookstore created with the photocopied readings that you would use in the semester. That’s probably why I knew my readings and weekly course plans before a semester started… you HAD to back then. There was no possibility of finding a photocopy machine, emailing students in advance of class (not all had email), or using smartboard/electronic lecterns to share a new departure from the syllabus. At that college where I was told to never mention the fact of my high school teaching, I did what I had done as a college student: I went into the bookstore and looked at what every professor at the college assigned for the semester. That’s how I chose my college courses as an undergraduate student— who seemed to actually offer real learning based on what we would read? I remember that day at my new college teaching post very well. There was one professor on the whole campus who assigned a Toni Morrison book. I was THAT professor, the adjunct and former high school teacher supposedly so intellectually challenged by the curricular requirements of college learning and teaching that she was the only one who included Toni Morrison. If the classroom teaching and curriculum was bad, then the “official” faculty professional development was even WORSE!
Thank you also to the Africana Studies Department’s willingness to embrace what Abdul Alkalimat, in his definition of eBlack Studies, has called “a new conception of mapping our existence in cyberspace.” We are proud of you, Andrene!
This is that time of year when I spend a great deal of time online watching videos and reading articles on how to moisturize my hair. Between the on-and-off again single-digit cold weather, my hair is dryyyyy. It’s the typical saga of natural hair for black women in cold winters. Because my hair has changed its length and texture since my no-heat commitment, it seems that what worked last year doesn’t work this year. This isn’t a lament about black hair though, because I actually like looking at these blogs, articles, and videos. The images are stunningly beautiful, the sistas are often funny as all get-out, and the advice is ON. POINT.
It’s the language of it all that fascinates me. It’s always in the language, like these phrasings and positioning:
Protective styling (and headwrapping)
Avoiding over-worked hair
Understanding and mixing shea butter
Letting the scalp heal (especially if newly non-relaxed)
Working and nurturing the roots
I’ll just go for broke and say it straight out: only black women could and would talk about HAIR— their bodies— this way… and digitally so AT THAT! It’s a discourse wrapped in notions of freedom from work and destruction.
It should not come as a surprise that my conversations with black women, from the compliments to the sharing of styles and product purchases, are qualitatively and quantitively different. Those conversations are so foreign to most white women around me that this may as well be a language other than English. In many ways, this IS another language. We are talking Afrikan experience. What other women would make the healing of roots, self-protection, and rejuvenation with shea butter the road to survival?
You can see then why I was so stunned by a recent blog article circling the internet about a young white woman expressing her turmoil when she realized, during yoga, that the “young, fairly heavy black woman” behind her must resent her thin, white body. Yeah. You can’t make this up! On top of living a racist delusion, she has co-opted a spiritual, non-western practice, YOGA (we seem to forget that yoga was not invented by middle class white women), to experience a false racial superiority.
Now, can sumbody please tell me why women who invent and design practices and languages just to maintain non-white alternatives to their HAIR—with digital tools to educate and sustain one another about it— would be pining away at white women’s bodies? If that weren’t enough, this white woman also configures herself as an advanced yoga practitioner, but if this is where her mind is during the process, what the hell kinda yogi is this? I enjoyed Kristin Iversen’s discussion who critiques the commercial white feminism of the journal alongside white colonization of yoga. I also value Tressiemc.com’s review of research on black girls who also have a critique of white standards of beauty at a young age. That’s why I am confused by the black women who perceive this moment as a possibility for good dialogue. Good for whom? Black women? This moment replicates nothing more than Sylvia Wynter’s now longstanding critique of white femininity in her analysis of the Tempest in its depiction of Miranda: the only woman in the New World/Island, the “mode of physiognomic being” that gets canonized as the only “rational object of desire” and “genitrix of a superior mode of human life.”
I won’t mention this woman’s name, because she is not worthy of that. Just trust that her own physical appearance in no way matches the admiration and awe that she thinks her body engenders. I ain’t sayin she ugly, but she sho ain’t cute. For black women out there who do aspire to whiteness, this ain’t the white woman they would be aesthetically mimicking (especially when she is sweaty and funky.) How does someone of such absolute visual mediocrity become convinced she is the center of physical attraction? As is so strikingly evident here, it is a pathologized, corporeal white-thinness alone that is supposed to mark aesthetic power and desire. Truth is, this little dumb blog post isn’t worth the attention it has received (and brought the writer into focus in ways she was perhaps too young to understand, though the journal surely did, with the intimacies of her personal life now publicly on display, i.e., drug abuse). For my part, I will keep moisturizing my natural hair and using a black woman’s language with black women to navigate the world. I won’t be standing behind any white woman any time soon with the desire of being that. I have my own self and black women’s language to sustain me. [/ezcol_1half_end]