At this point, the story is getting a little old:
Black Girl ridiculed by peers about having “different” hair, and teachers/administrators further isolate said girl by fixating on her hair as the issue, rather than addressing the blatant bullying that repeatedly occurred. After “public outrage” ensues, said teachers and administrators redact/retract their statements and apologize for their actions. Then everyone goes on about their business until something else happens. Rinse, lather, repeat.
More than treating this latest story as another notch in the different day, same bull belt, we cannot afford to view Vanessa Vandyke’s story through the narrow scope of natural hair. Yes, a Black girl, like countless others (and possibly even some of us) has been bullied and unsupported by the educational “professionals” who are supposed to have her best interests at the forefront. Yes, once again our God given hair is trivialized, under attack, and our naturalness otherized.
But make no mistake: this discourse is nothing new, and has never been limited to our hair. Black women in America have endured a long history of purposely being painted outside the spectrum of acceptable beauty. Our skin color, hair texture, facial features, and body shapes have been bastardized, abased, devalued, and reduced to mere spectacles. In the early 1800s, Saartjie “Sara” Baartman was put on display as a freak show attraction in museums throughout Europe, because of the size of her butt. Fast forward 200 years, and Miley Cyrus continues the racialized parading; rendering the Black female body as a prop for profit.
Of course to the Black woman who walks daily in reminders of her less-than, this maltreatment and dehumanization comes as no surprise. For longer than we’ve loved our natural hair, thick lips, and array of complexions, we’ve fought against embracing who we are, just to make it stop. Just to make it hurt a little less. Just to be acknowledged as more than a societal punching bag. Just to get a little further ahead professionally. Not understanding that perms, powders, and proper English don’t present us passes into the circle of privilege. Seeking acceptance into a clique that wants everything from us, but nothing to do with us has been an exercise in futility, at best.
Ask the family of 19 year old Renisha McBride what a Black female life is worth. Ask Rachel Jeantel about being perceived as an embarrassment because her dialect did not align with that of the dominant social stratum (and why Ebony and The Grio felt she needed new extensions, a manicure, and makeup). I could go on for days citing names and occurrences in which their is no other explanation for their crucifixion but their Blackness. Up against a larger discourse that is hell bent on marginalizing the presence, contributions, and value of anyone that does not pass a Eurocentric beauty standard, Vanessa Vandyke’s story makes sense (and it makes even more sense that Huffington Post filed her story under “Strange News”).
The truth is, there is a war going on — and no, I’m not being dramatic. There is a war going on, and the battlefronts are our minds, bodies, and spirits. And this war is by no means new. According to author and psychiatrist Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, “Inferiorization is the conscious, deliberate, and systematic process utilized specifically by a racist social system, as conducted through all of its major and minor institutions, to mold specific peoples within that system into “functional inferiors,” in spite of their true…potential for functioning.” When viewed through that lens, it is no wonder that the Black woman is attacked on all fronts. In a racist and patriarchal system, Black women are painted as anything from mammies to video vixens, ghetto ratchets, to sidepieces. Anything but human. Anything but a whole person, with a conscience, brain, and soul.
See, when we expand the scope of our thinking, a broader picture is painted. Yes, the “Black is Beautiful” mantra has been in circulation for over 40 years, and “Black Power” longer than that. But when does that rhetoric become meaningful action? When will we truly believe that our Blackness is beautiful and cannot be challenged by a socio-political narrative bent on systematic disinclusion? When will we truly believe that we possess the power and authority to reject the sentence that we’ve been served by dominant culture? I’m far from a feminist, and even farther from perfect. But I think it’s time for us as women who are supposed to be a part of a community to ask some critical questions. Too many folks already think our kinks, coils, and curls are just a fad. Hell, sometimes we can’t even take ourselves seriously due to infighting, e‑backbiting, cyber-slander, and perceived texture hierarchies. Every second that we spend invalidating each other undermines any broader attempts at challenging the denigration of our Black womanhood — and reinforces the notion that we are appropriately labeled and dismissed.
More than 4C, 3A, and 2B, big choppers and transitioners, we are, and should be a community that aims to change the course of the conversation around Blackness as women. We have the platforms. We have the economic power. We have the potential. But without knowledge of self, self determination, and collectivism, all of our tools and resources are useless. And we certainly won’t be in the position to effectively support the Vanessas, Tianas, and Lamyas that are too young to understand the nature of the attacks against their existence.