Like most black women who I know, I was really upset this weekend when I saw the news coverage of beautiful, 7-year old Tiana Parker, a straight A student, as she shed tears when her school officials castigated her hair/locs!! If you ever thought black hair could be politically neutral in our social world, then you may never truly understand these kinds of tears. After being continually harassed, Tiana’s father was forced to enroll her in a new school because her charter school banned all dreadlocks as inappropriate, calling Tiana’s locs a distraction from learning/thinking.
I talk/write/think a lot about the white violence and terror that black girls face in school and this example rocks me to my core. I find myself remembering what E.M. Monroe wrote about her son’s (Miles) first day of kindergarten this fall in the post, “Models Monday: Black Boys, Trayvon Martin, and the Politics of Comfort.” In the post, Monroe talks about the humanity of Ms. Malcolm, a teacher who can see Miles’s humanity:
I tell you, it was a damn good surprise to have someone who sees your black child as having a life worth preserving temporarily responsible for their keeping. She’s a model for how a person might demonstrate their liberal views: You want to prove to me that you aren’t racist, well then how about you showing me that you Always choose to be an Aide and not an Assassin.
Monroe captures brilliantly the kind of teacher and school that I think black children like Tiana so rarely experience. It is clear to me that the adults at Tiana’s school belong to a kind of violent trajectory that Monroe discusses in this post that she relates to the murder of Trayvon Martin. Make no mistake about it: this demonization of Tiana’s hair— a part of black bodies— belongs to the same ideology that demonized Trayvon Martin’s black body.
Like what Ms. Malcolm offered Miles, Dr. Yaba Blay offered Tiana and black women a similar kind of witnessing. Dr. Blay’s response has been the most brilliant with her focus on Tiana’s spirit. She created what she calls “A care package of sorts. A digital book of photos and messages from 111 women and girls from all over the country and all over the world, all of whom wear their hair in locs, all of whom want Tiana to know that she and her hair are PERFECT.” The result is simply stunning (followed by a new facebook community). Click on the digital booklet below that Dr. Blay left open for embedding and sharing across multiple platforms:
It’s an important reminder about the political power of healing and loving black children and the role of always offering them visual images for staking out who we are. This digital care package also offers black communities a way to inhabit digital spaces outside of the white norms of collecting images and videos to showcase family consumption and bourgeois achievements— after all, that is the same kind of whiteness that left Tiana in tears. E.M. Monroe and Dr. Blay offer us real images and processes of what it looks like to show and love black children in a digital age. These are the only kinds of AfroVisual/AfroDigital spaces that can recognize our humanity.