This is a compelling topic; this whole natural hair argument for black women, in my humble opinion. Mostly because it doesn’t directly affect me since I’m not a black woman, and thus forces me to look at the conversation from a totally different perspective. According to this poem, I and those of my kind (black men) are the primary reason for this confusion amongst black women about their hair. I understand what she’s trying to say, but I wouldn’t say that black men are any more to blame for what may be a result of their conditioning as much as black women may suffer from their own, so I wouldn’t go that far. However I understand and empathize with her message, it’s difficult to be made to feel “not wanted” by those whom you want; especially when they look just like you. Sometimes the “preferences” (or even perceived preferences) of black men seem to point to the direction that we definitely have been programmed to like women with fewer or less pronounced African physical features. Whether that be black women who wear their hair relaxed or with weave, or black women of a fairer complexion, or even when black men date non-black women all together, I understand that people like to attribute that to our having being programmed to covet “the white man’s wealth” or in this case that dating a women that’s further removed from your own ancestry in Africa, that somehow that’s a step up in status. I’ve read the letters from Willie Lynch on “How To Make A Slave” and Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul On Ice”. I understand the programming that black people as a whole have been subjected to, from several different places that were designed to manipulate our thinking for decades. Although I know the world may not see things the way that I do, please do not take for granted that the culture power structure of America HAS in fact tried to assimilate black people into American culture by conditioning us to subconsciously reject our own blackness and our own heritage. Spike Lee even tries to show us the futility in our self-divisiveness using an HBCU as his backdrop in “School Daze”. Lee show’s us how the subconscious messages we send about what’s beautiful and what’s desired horribly and pointlessly fractures us and makes us unable to connect with our brothers and sisters. The conflict between the “Jigaboos” and the “Wannabes” unfortunately is based in a deep rooted truth about us as black people. And even with my understanding of the deep implications of the conditioning of black Americans, I still feel a certain level of “live and let live” when it comes to our choices.
The truth of the matter is that to say some type of “conditioning” has and continues to manipulate the decisions a person makes is a moot point…conditioning leads to EVERY decision you ever, have ever, and will ever make. Look around you; all of the stimuli of the environment you come up in are a part of your conditioning. Your parents provided the most conditioning for your thinking and behavior in the modern day. They laid the groundwork; they hopefully instilled their values and even beliefs into you, so that you would have something to build upon in your life. And although we don’t always follow in their footsteps with everything we do, we are constantly aware of the watchful eye of our parents that hopefully has guided us to a place where we at least have the health and freedom to make our own grown-up decisions. The days will come when many of our decisions become divergent from our background or perceived “conditioning”, and we decide to become our own men and women. We see it all the time: people decide to work and study in a field that is completely different to anyone in their family or community, people choose to get jobs and live and work in parts of the country that are completely new to their families, or they even date someone from a different cultural background than anyone around them has become involved with. Which brings me to my point: Even with all the various forms of conditioning that people are supposedly influenced by, the individual person still has the free will to make any choice they want, even when it contradicts their “conditioning”. How do we know this is true? Because black women are, in larger numbers, making the “decision” to wear their hair natural even though they have been conditioned to see long, straight, silky hair as being beautiful. Black men, who have been “conditioned” to believe that they are only good for their bodies and brute, physical strength, are entering college to become scientists, engineers, lawyers, doctors, business owners, law-makers, and educators. People who grew up in the ghetto around drugs, gun violence, domestic violence, gangs, etc., in larger numbers than ever, are making the decision to pursue lives that don’t involve any of these things. Often times so that their children don’t have to grow up around those things the way they did. I’m not saying all this to throw out the notion that black Americans are heavily guided in many of their choices by the programming and conditioning placed on our culture by the psychological weight of slavery and being assimilated into a Eurocentric society. I very much still believe that; what I’m saying is that some people make choices that appear to fall in line with that conditioning, while others make choices that definitively go in contradiction of it. Even though black women wearing their hair naturally without chemicals or weave is seen as going against their programming and embracing their “African-ness” most of the black women I asked, who wore their hair “naturally”, did it more-so because they said it was healthier on their hair and scalp. Perfectly reasonable and practical, however the choice that these women made was done so not because it was a strike against their conditioning, but because it was simply the better option. It just so happens that in this case, the “healthier option” also is perceived as a middle-finger to the established order.
The choices that black Americans make are often perceived in this way; as being a lot bigger than just the choice. Our choices are often viewed as an indictment on our “blackness”. Black women wearing their hair “naturally” is healthier for many of the people I’ve asked. I have no idea what the costs/benefits of dating black women vs. dating non-black women are. However, I confess, in my pretty young life, I have actually NEVER been romantically involved with a non-black woman…ever…I’ve never dated outside of my race. Is that fact about me a singular choice? Or is it a series/pattern of choices that I’ve made in my relationship life? I tend to think the latter. I, at no point in my life, made a choice that I would never date a white woman, or Asian woman, or Indian woman, or what have you. It just so happens that my luck as a young man on the dating scene consistently lands me paired up with a sister. Does this somehow make me some type of relationship racist? Am I the antithesis of John Mayer? Or is it even that deep? I’ll be the first to admit, I’m attracted to women of all ethnicities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve been surrounded by all types of people. Hell, if I had the opportunity to date Mila Kuniz, I probably would’ve taken it. I haven’t dated every attractive young woman with a killer personality I would have wanted to either. Hell, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been rejected a few times in my life. The young ladies who I have been fortunate enough in my life to date were people I was both physically attracted to and shared a profound, intangible relationship with. Does this make me more black than the next man who may have dated a non-black woman? Or a man who currently is dating or engaged to or married to a non-black woman? I find that a troubling path to go down. Does this mean I have to take issue with EVERY black man that dates women who wear relaxers? Or what about women who bleach their skin or alter their appearance using plastic surgery? I’ve dated plenty of women with relaxed hair, hell I grew up in Greensboro North Carolina: the home of Dudley’s hair care products and one of the Mecca’s or “creamy crack”. I didn’t even start meeting women with natural hair until I got a lot older. And although I think that skin bleaching and plastic surgery are grotesque and life-destructive, that’s my preference. I can’t legislate the next man’s preference. Not only because I believe in and will defend another man’s right to his choice or opinion, even if I totally disagree with it. But also because I understand how THAT sort of thinking is what the slave-masters sought to instill in us. Divide us, by any means necessary; create differences amongst black people that would cause them to go against each other. Truthfully, I don’t care if the next black man dates and marries only blonde haired white women, it’s not really my place to come at him for his choice; even if deep down I believe that his pattern of choices IS dictated by a social conditioning to fit into white America. But in Black America, the weight of our choices is heavy, and is a burden we find ourselves carrying to the point where it comes across in all of our forms of expression. So the comments in the “Beautiful Disaster” poem neither surprised nor offended me. I was nodding the entire time, but at the same time it revealed the tragic irony in being black: Even the differences between how we respond to our conditioning becomes one more method of dividing us. It’s a catch-22: Black Americans have the same freedom of choice as any other human being, but because of our positioning in this world as the burden bearers of the most powerful nation on Earth, every aspect of our lives is complicated. We’re confounded by our choices because we understand that in one sense it’s irrational to embrace any aspect of the culture that has oppressed and tried to destroy us, while at the same time understanding that, to a certain degree, we’re beholden to it to survive. The dual-consciousness of being Black-American: the cross on our backs that we’re born with. And the 2 options seem to be either to accept it completely and live in a “Matrix” like mind-state, or walk around with a sense of resentment at the established order…because you’re awake. I’m fully aware of the psychological weight of being black and having to decide whether or not you can live at peace with your choices. I mean, at the end of the day, self-preservation is the thing that drives most of anyone’s decisions, regardless of who they are. So who am I to judge them? Everyone isn’t ready to see the light, all I can be is a torch in the darkness.
Natural hair, straight and silky, or augmented length and thickness (I wanted a fancier way of saying “to wear weaves”). Black women can be gorgeous however they decide to go, and regardless of what you may see or think, there are men who love everything I just named. Even if, maybe those meant aren’t the ones that are desired. And maybe that’s, to at least some degree, the crux of the problem as it relates to some people. Because truthfully, most black women that get up in arms about black men who date non-black women, are usually only speaking about the black men that THEY want. They could care less when the janitor finds love with a lovely, racially ambiguous young woman. And let’s just be honest; when you do happen to see a black man with a woman of another race, it’s not like he honestly choose between that non-black woman and EVERY Black woman on the planet. It’s not like he chose that non-black woman over Sanaa Lathan. A person’s choices are also a product of their available options. Which brings us right back down to the core of the whole thing; the choices of other black people and how we’re programmed to make judgments about them. So yes, while I absolutely agree that we as black men could maybe do better a little better at celebrating all of the different flavors of black women we’re blessed with…I can’t legislate people’s preferences. They are what they are. Now keeping that in mind, go out there and find somebody who loves what YOU have to offer.