Tag Archives: black

“I hate my hair.” She said.

My beautiful niece, you are already the rainbow’s source of light. You are certainly the bloody battle. You don’t like your hair and that worries me. It worries me that already at six years tender, you are so conscious of a standard of beauty that I fear was never meant to favor you. A standard you will find accommodates very few people of our color.

When I was younger, your grandmother had a rule that I could not get my hair chemically relaxed until I was at least twelve/thirteen, so until then it was in its natural state. Coarse, tangled and wildly disobedient. I found comfort in braids, much the same as you do now, but my mother also had a rule that we had to occasionally let our hair breathe. This meant after a month of three-strand braids or twists, I would have at least a week’s cooling-off period in which she would do protective styles at night before I went to sleep, and leave me to decide what I wanted to do with it during the day. I loathed the combing sessions. I remember wincing and squirming in my seat. Letting out the occasional Ouch mommy! followed by my fingers rubbing fiercely against my scalp; a look of frustration coming over me as I began to regret living. It felt like torture, and it was only after many, many years that I realized how tormented my mom must have felt as well. She had no choice but to learn how to braid hair and do cornrows because going to hair salons to your mom, your auntie Nyiha and me, was like marathon running to fish- it just wasn’t meant to be. So I can only imagine what it took for your cucu (grandmother) to psych herself up for the intense and arduous task of doing her children’s hair. A mountain of resistance exhausting every ounce of patience she had on reserve. But you know what, she did. And each Ouch mommy! that escaped my mouth was met with a sorry baby and a little pause, and somehow we got through it.

When I was in the sixth grade I moved to a new school. I did not know anyone yet and during one of my very first break times, I remember dragging my feet and trying to waste what time I could in the classroom so I would not have to sit alone outside. My hair happened to be breathing, so that day I’d decided to go to school with my hair in a ponytail. Naturally, it did not lay flat and smooth like the Caucasian girls’ hair in my class, spilling effortlessly over their shoulders and down their backs. It was spongy and the resisting coils fought for height. The puffy tufts shot through the other side of the hair tie, sticking up in defiance. As I stood in the classroom, fishing through my bag for my snacks, I noticed two white boys standing a few desks down, studying my features.

“Look at her hair. What’s wrong with it?” Boy A spoke with such disgust.

“It looks so ugly.” Boy B opined.

“Mmm, she’s not pretty.” Boy A concurred.

I was devastated. I knew then that lonely would have been better than the alternative I’d unwittingly chosen. In that moment I lamented my ethnicity, my culture and my difference. I took their words to be definition of my appeal as a young girl. I was ugly, my hair- abominable. That was that! I decided from that point forward, never again would I let them see me with my hair out. Braids City, population: Me.

Your mother told me a couple months ago that you cried and begged to stay home from school because your hair was undone. You did not even want to get out of the car at the grocery store because you feared the harsh, anticipated words of strangers offended by your afro. As you know now, I know just what that feels like. Many other black girls and women do too. But, my baby, it is not yours to own that another being should pass judgment on your value in the world, substantiated by archaic dogma. You stem from a line of people who were denigrated and demoralised so severely for our features, it has taken decades if not centuries to learn how to appreciate our own reflections. That is why I say you are the bloody battle. Because wars were fought for you, sweet child. Men and women shed blood so you could celebrate who you are without regard for someone else’s subjective opinion. So you could walk proudly into any grocery store, or sit in your classroom confident that you own the standard of beauty by which you choose to live. That the criteria are set by you and for you to celebrate YOU!

You remark on the growth of my dreadlocks every time you see them: “Auntie Gendo, they’ve grown. They’re growing!”

I laugh because I’m excited that you’re excited to see something different that our texture of hair is capable of. You see, baby, it took me standing in front of the mirror, straightener in hand, watching strands of my relaxed hair fall out with each stroke to realize I was honoring the wrong person. I was trying to emulate someone who would never be a representative of my heritage, my community or my struggle. So I cut my hair. I started over and I blocked out any person who dared tell me I was not in my element. But I still hated the combing and protective styling. So I decided to let my hair do what it had been trying to do since I was a kid- I let it lock. I embraced the coarseness, the coils and the beauty of its rebellion.

Zela, love of my life, perhaps it will help you someday to see your hair the way I see mine. It is multilayered not one-dimensional. Your hair is not just an accessory for your face; it is the story of your people. A living narrative that you should wear with pride because it is written in the blood of those you owe your dreams. Those people who were locked up for believing you deserve civil rights. The ones who chose your life over their own. Those people who I’m certain- if they could be resurrected- would say it was worth it. We cannot afford to hate a part of ourselves that is so indicative of a resilience more powerful than bullets and laws.

Sometimes I genuinely wish I could clone you for a day if only to give you the chance to see how incredible you are. So you could study your features and fall in love with the versatility of your hair. I hope that when you watch this video in your later years and read this post, you save yourself a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Our conversations will change as you get older. But one thing will always be consistent:

That I love you more than you will ever be able to handle,

Auntie Gendo.

 

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My Dark Skin

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My skin is like patch work. Different parts of my body are different shades of dark brown. Contrasting colors indicate where my arms have entertained the dancing sun and where my skin has hidden from the light. The different tones are bold symbols of movement, a defined surface area permanently singed in memory of where my feet have travelled. Yet this skin I wear is reviled by so many though it is the color of bare earth. It boasts a heritage rich as the soil, and a resilience coarse as violence. I am obsessed with it. I will always be obsessed with it.

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“I don’t like you because you’re black.” He said to my niece.

Yesterday was the day I have been dreading since my niece’s birth. The day she became the target of overt racial discrimination for the first time. Our vivacious, sweet and innocent babe- only 5-years-old, attended a birthday party, where the white birthday boy said:

“I don’t like you because you’re black.”

My sister (her mother) pulled her aside and asked her to repeat what the little boy said.

“He wants to be my friend?” My niece responded confused, proceeding to play with her other friends from day care.

My sister and niece were the only two people of colour present at the party. Friends of the parents of the birthday boy laughed the statement off, trying to make light of the situation, while the mother employed damage control devices like trying to divert my sister’s attention to the food and drinks. The father of the boy did not say anything, choosing to avoid my sister and my niece for the rest of the day. Noticing my niece did not seem to have understood what had actually happened, my sister decided not to leave the birthday party, as she did not want to have to explain to my niece what had been said to her, and why she could not play with the rest of her actual friends for the rest of the afternoon. Why they had been invited to a party at all by racists is well and truly beyond all of us.

I have experienced racism countless times in Australia, having lived on both the east and west coast. It is something I have accepted will always be part of human existence. As long as history cannot be altered, there will always be those who substantiate the transgressions of the wicked and still preach human rights and civility with blood dripping from their hands. All while simultaneously condemning the ostensible weaknesses of oppressed marginalized groups denied the right to repercussions of slavery, colonization, apartheid, genocide or segregation. Even still, I have maintained that neither white, nor black or anything in between, are inherently good or evil. We choose who we become. Sometimes we are a product of experience, or live our lives around fears or preconceived notions. We hate what has hurt us and we love only that which gives us a dose of euphoria. This is more apparent as we grow and form our own opinions or subscribe to other peoples.

However, ultimately, when we are adults, we make conscious decisions to live our lives in a manner that is indicative of our beliefs and values. We are expected in the eyes of the law to be accountable for our actions and words, because we are old enough and presumably wise enough to discern what is right from what is wrong. Children do not have the luxury of accountability. They repeat what they hear from those who influence them most. What tragedy is this that a child has to learn hate from one they love? Is it not children that have the capacity to love without caution? Is it not through the eyes of a child that one sees angels at the sight of ogres? They will hold the hand of a beast and not know the danger of its jaws, only the warmth of its fur.

“Kisses and Cuddles” by Kagendo Limiri (My sister and my niece)

So my gorgeous, baby niece:

I am so sorry, that all the knowledge I have of race relations, all the rants I have written on the subject, all the times I have cried over a valuation of the black community in our societies eyes, could not render you exempt from such an abhorrent incident. You will have many more, baby, and sadly none of us will be able to shield you from all of them. But know this, I promise to educate you on your constitutional rights, your equal worth as a human being, and remind you that your skin is only ever beautiful. I will do my best to teach you how to love diversity, and celebrate difference, because it makes the world exciting and gives you a bigger canvas to paint on. When your hair is tangled and knotted and you lament the pain and hassle of taming it, I will tell you of the many black women that have struggled with the same problems and much worse, yet still they rise. You will be a black woman in an Australian society that will likely place you on the lowest rung of the ladder, but you are born of a resilient people and your steps upward will not be easy… but they will be- I promise.

Baby, I could never love a world that refuses to learn what it is to love you; to hear the sincerity of your laugh; to know the innocence of your curiosity; to celebrate the splendour of your skin. You are exactly what God intended, and no man with organs that work as yours do, mortal as you are, will ever determine the weight of your worth. Shine, little lady. You are the star we hope will live higher than the skies, the winged beacon we pray a brighter future.

I love you and your mother and I will absolutely, never, ever stop.

Auntie Gendo

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Filed under Africa, Politics

Letter To Me (1)

Dear Seventeen Y/O Me,

We stop liking weaves in our early twenties and cut all our relaxed hair off and go natural then get dreadlocks.

It’s awesome.

K

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A Kind of Nothing

He told me to write.
“Write about nothing.” He said.
The kind of nothing that matters.
The kind of nothing you worry about.
The kind of nothing that plagues your dreams.
The kind of nothing that feeds off of your soul.
The kind of nothing that makes you weak.
The kind of nothing that makes you scream.
The kind of nothing that makes you bleed.
The kind of nothing that makes you, you.
For in doing so, you may well find that it counts.
“Yes” He said. “Your nothing counts for something.”

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Why can’t we talk about race?

“To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or colour is like living in Alaska and being against snow.” -William Faulkner

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My name is Kagendo. It means Traveller. My name has meaning; my language affords it this opportunity to have meaning, to be more than just a sound leaving one’s mouth. The Whites have described it in many ways- strange, beautiful, exotic, unknown, difficult to pronounce. I am a black woman. I am educated, but I am not free. As a result I have often wondered how different my journey would be if my skin were the colour of the Whites. Whether I would be ashamed of my history, or whether I would disregard it as several breaches of human rights I had no control over back then and am not interested in addressing presently. But I am not White.

At my age, no one wants to talk about race. We are all walking on eggshells trying to avoid any topic that may result in our individual classifications as extremists or even racists. We live in an age where race, colour and creed are topics for the anti-social, the politically motivated, and the unpopular. But if you strip away my education, my status, my character, all I am is black. All I have is the skin that defines years of struggle. All I have is the history they will associate with my legacy; the odds I will have faced, the barriers I will have crossed, the fight I would have put up to ensure mine is a burial equal to that of my white counterpart. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela- these Blacks struggled. These people put their lives on the line so that those with skin, various shades of brown, would have reason to believe that someday equality would be more than just a spoken promise. But make no mistake- the fight cannot stop with them.

I remember sitting at my desk at a previous job and overhearing a conversation between two co-workers, one who openly admitted to being racist towards Indigenous Australians. She found them to be dirty, inferior beings- notorious for stealing in her case. Yet she is just one of the many misguided Australian’s who due to a faulty education system may be unaware of the atrocities the Stolen Generation had been subject to as a result of their skin colour. So this is the question I must ask, what will it take for white Australian’s to acknowledge the damage they have done to this unsuspecting race? I’m not talking about an apology made before man, as has already been done by a previous administration, I’m talking about calling a spade a spade. Why isn’t the truth in the history textbooks taught to the descendants of the colonialists responsible for the murder and bloodshed of numerous Indigenous Australians?

If I were to answer my own question I would say it is out of shame that the history textbooks are lies agreed upon by the white colonialists with blood on their hands. For decades now they have neglected to shed light on their transgressions, choosing instead to dismiss important facts in history that have led to the demise of Indigenous Australians. Surely this is unacceptable and something no man or woman who believes in basic human rights can ignore. Yet this is exactly what we do. It doesn’t matter that I sat there disgusted by the words that left my co-worker’s mouth, what matters is that I said nothing to change her view. Despite her seniority, I did nothing to defend those who share my colour and all this in the name of courtesy in the workplace.

Who does it serve to be courteous?

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Pause for thought.

“Centuries ago, had life not already decided on what colour represented the slave and his oppressor, would freedom have been more than just an empty promise? Would “negro” be a celebrated word?”

-Kagendo Mbogori

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