Friday, October 30, 2009

I Am My Hair And More

I am a big fan of India Arie. I decided to pull up the lyrics to I Am Not My Hair, which I have avoided in the past because that title just didn't settle well with me. It hit me like the commercial where the brother holds one of his locks and says "I want people to look past this," or when people say "I just want to be seen as a person." It somehow seems defensive to me in a way I don't want to own. If I were to paraphrase, it would be something like well I have this kind of hair, or skin, but can't you overlook it, or I'll distance from it so you can see me as a person. I mean when have you seen a white person say I just want to be seen as a person, or I am not my eyes.

Of course India is right. All of us are spirits at our essence, and I do hold the vision of a day when we can all consistently relate at that level of existence. Surely then, most of the world's resources won't be in the hands of very few spirits while so many others eat dirt and drink worms. Surely then, we won't need domestic violence shelters, and black mothers won't be so anxious about our sons going out in the world. And in my vision, no one has to look past whatever form of gender, race, age, hair texture anyone has because it will all be welcomed in.

And that's my idea of personal well-being as an African-American and collective well-being as a society, a welcoming in of differences that have been shamed powerfully around the world. And so, even as I continue to love India Arie's spirit, manifestation and creativity, I want to say, I Am My Hair. My hair is a part of who I am and I'm seeking to embrace all of me.

But of course India is right on another count. She had Robin Roberts, the Good Morning America reporter, in mind with her song. Robin underwent treatment for breast cancer and with courage and poise, shared this health challenge on the air. I remember the day she took the wig off her head playing around with Rosie, a guest that day, and then another day, photos shown of Robin dressed in a long gown and bald. Her beauty was mesmerizing and I welled up that she allowed herself to be seen this way. I even wrote in to the show to say Go Girl, in so many words. And so I understand too that India is saying that the essence of who we are is not diminished if we have no hair, and I agree. My hair is not my essence, and so if I lost it or chose to lose it I'd still want to say I Am My Hairless Head.

Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals come to mind, her determination to not get a breast prosthesis, to stand firm in the belief that she was not her breast. If Audre or any woman of African descent wrote a poem 'I Am Not My Breasts,' it would settle nicely on me, like soft rain on dry skin. I would hear it as an expression of liberation from being objectified, as women in general have been. Black breasts have not been devalued and so the meaning comes across differently. Shame changes everything.

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