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On Being the Other

When I was in Thailand, I was met with a lot interesting stares from children. They hid behind their mother’s skirts and looked at me like I was the first black person they’d ever seen. I’m sure it was true.

They probably didn’t run into very many women who looked like me. I was tall, verging on hulking. I was dark skinned compared to them and I wore interesting western clothing. I dug that. I even thought it was amusing.

But here in the states, specifically Normal, IL, when I see children who act like the Thai. . . I am a little disturbed.

Today in the Coffeehouse, I drank tea with my friend Evan when a family of three small white girls sat down near to us. Evan gestured at one of the little girls saying, “I think she likes your head wrap.”

I looked over to see one of the little blonde girls staring at me, unabashedly. She finally waved and gave me a smile. I waved and smiled back, but felt odd about it. Her parents ignored us completely and that’s how their lunch continued. The little girl staring at me, unable to eat or go about her business and her parents pretending that wasn’t happening.

I felt like “the other.” And I suppose that’s what you have to deal with when you’re in a small Illinois town looking the way I do.What with my “flamboyant” and clearly “ethnic” head wrap. What felt normal to me, was completely out of the norm to others and it reminded me of what it felt like not to assimilate into popular culture.


What do you do?

You just deal with it, I guess. You pretend to go back to what you were doing, forcing the stares out of your consciousness. Or you snap on little kids and go: “WHAT?”

I see how difficult it is for women to go natural. It’s a lot work to carry your head upward and proudly, ignoring all response to your look. It’s much easier to assimilate, to go along to get along. I must admit, there are days that I leave the house wondering: “Is this too much?” And by too much, I mean too ethnic.

For those who straighten their hair or take out their piercings or wear longs sleeves over their tattoos, I understand why you do it. I don’t malign you at all. Just know that you are more than welcome to take a break from being “the other” and tomorrow you can go back to doing your thing. It’s our prerogative to be ourselves, isn’t it?


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Strawberry Face

Tonight is going to be a natural spa night! I’ve got a couple items in the kitchen that I’m not going to eat soon and I figured I’d put them to good use. I have some ripe strawberries from a fruit salad. I ate all of the watermelon and cantaloup chunks first, leaving about seven or eight strawberries. They’re generally not my favorite fruit to eat. But I’m going to put them to good use!

Strawberry Face Mask:

Ingredients:
7 or 8 strawberries
3 tsp honey                                                                          

  • Mash strawberries in bowl until pulpy
  • Mix in honey 
  • Slather on face and rinse off in 10 mins


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We’re HERE!!

Noah and I drove 15 hours from Georgia to Ohio, yesterday and we’re both dead tired. We still have work to do and many more miles to get settled. Turning off utilities, setting them up. Moving our stuff from the truck to a storage space (because our apartment won’t actually be ready til the first week of August!).

I have a job interview with Noah’s college for a Admin Assistant position. Yes, that’s right, your girl hasn’t had a “job” since April and it was working at a pub. But I’m very ready to use my skill and intellect in a better environment.

I’m also going to scope the location and hopefully meet up with the people of the Natural Hair and Beauty Expo. Hey! If you’re in the area and you don’t mind spending $10, come visit with us. Evelyn and I will, of course, be there. Okay guys, I gotta go move my furniture to storage. . .

-xxx charish


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Brown Like Me

*This is an old blog post from my days in Thailand. If you want to read more about a black chick’s adventures in Bangkok, go here*
 

White Dave and Black Charish.

On my last Sunday Session with Dave, we were accosted by a Thai man who wanted to know why Dave was “so white.”

While minding our own business at a riverside park, a not so subtle but very witty Thai man came strolling up to us. He stopped, with his hands held behind his back, he stared at Dave in amusement. “You are you so white,” he said. “Why?”

Dave was more than a little perplexed. I watched in amazement. Could one just state the obvious like that? The Thai can. Things like race, sexuality, and often at times, weight are not at all taboo to discuss directly. I suppose we shouldn’t have been too surprised that a stranger would just point that out.

Dave shrugged. “I’m English.”

The man pointed at my leg. “She is brown.” He pointed to his arm. “I am brown.” Then he finished the circle. “You are white.” Before Dave could reply, the man directed his attention towards me. “Are you Thai?”

“No.”

“Why are you brown?”

“I’m. . .” I was confused, that’s what I was. “African American. I’m black.”

And now he was confused or suspicious. I have had many Thais question my ethnicity, just like some Americans do. They know that I’m not Thai, but I’m not just black either and it must be verified.

A group of my Thai students. So cute!

Another color related issue took place in my classroom. The girls of my level two class are usually a rowdy bunch, but mostly cute and precocious. It was after one lesson that I was packing up my things and about to exit the room, when one of my students pointed out how brown I was. Mai compared me to another one of my students, a cute brown Thai girl named Bell.

“Mother and daughter,” Mai said to us and pointed to our arms. The other students giggled about it and I cringed inwardly. They may not have realized it, but I felt like we had walked into something that was potentially awkward. I looked at Bell who gave me an unusually strained smile.

What I already know about Bell made me think twice about my response. She’s the darkest in a group of light-skinned Thai girlfriends and I think she’s quite aware of it. It might be the reason, she seems to identify with me. She marvels at my fashion sense (truthfully, I hate wearing my teacher’s uniform. I’m glad someone appreciates it) and is always telling me how beautiful I am. I return the favor, not because I feel sorry for her, but because she really is. She’s got lovely burnt sienna skin, dark expressive eyes, and such an inviting smile.

One day, I asked her if she was looking forward to our field trip to the beach (to see those sea turtles), she was not happy. “Too much sun.”

“Yeah? So?”

She pointed to her arm and frowned. I didn’t like hearing that.

I also didn’t like it when her and her friends came to my class, with so much powder, they looked like a gaggle of geishas. It was more obvious on Bell with her being so much darker than the other girls. I don’t understand how she could think she looked better with a pound of powder hiding the skin she was born with.

So as I faced the girls and Bell, I chose my words carefully. “Not mother and daughter, I’m too young for kids,” I told them. “We’re more like sisters.”

They nodded in recognition and Bell flashed me that beautiful smile of hers. Crisis averted.

Race isn’t an issue here in Thailand, but color is. There are no dark skinned models or actresses representing in the media. This isn’t unusual though, many countries and cultures share this idea of beauty. I find it interesting that my experiences here have been eerily similar to the one’s I’ve had as a kid in America. When I was younger, my mother told my sister and I not to play in the sun. She wasn’t as concerned about our safety as she was our appearance.

“Do you want to get black?”
Before I could reply, “Duh, mom, I already am,” I just put on a hat to her appease her.


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Black Soap Follow-up

After being asked by devoted reader, Naturaleza, about more information on RA Cosmetics Black Soap, I thought I would try for it for a few weeks before I convince you all of it’s powers. This is the same product that I compared weeks before in another product review:

Here are the Ingredients:
                                        
Pure Honey                                  
Shea butter                                      
Osun (camwood)                            
Cocoa pod powder
Plantain peel powder
Palm kernal oil
Coconut oil
Water
Aloe Vera

Price: ~ $2.00 for a 5 oz bar

Smell: Nutty


Consistency: Particle bits, slightly gritty, but this can be worked into a good lather (because of the palm kernel oil.) Just be cautious about rubbing this directly on your face and other sensitive parts of the body like the decolletage. It’s a super exfoliate!


Results: I feel really good about this soap. There are no irritants, no obvious over drying effects. . . so I’ve been able to use this twice a day. In the morning and before I go to bed. In the morning, I use a light Aveeno moisturizer and before I go to bed, I use that same moisturizer with a small bit of shea butter for some nighttime skin repair. For several weeks, this regiment has been working out for me. I’ve noticed a sharp decline in break outs and an increase in fading old marks. 


Would I use it again? Yes, I’m running out at the moment and I’m going to buy some more. I did however, make the mistake of leaving the bar in the shower. Since this is a really porous soap, constant wetness causes it wear away quickly. So keep it in a dry place!
 


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Black Soap vs. Black Soap

The farmers market in downtown Columbus, GA is underway and I’m excited! The first week I went, I bought some of this black soap from the shea butter lady.


Ingredients:                      
Pure Honey                       
Shea butter                        
Osun (camwood)              
Palmkernal oil                   
Cocoa pod ash                 
Palm bunch ash     
Aloe Vera
Lime Juice
Water and Fragrance
        
This brand of black soap is not bad I definitely felt cleaner and smoother skin, although slightly dried out. My acne spots and scars seemed like they smoothed out and lightened after a couple weeks use. However, it was the fragrance in this product that made it hard to use. It was an overpowering smell that if I got it up my nose while lathering, I would have a bad sneezing fit. It was a major irritation and I believe there is a link between the fragrance and my dry skin.

But last night I found this stuff from an Atlanta company called RA Cosmetics! It’s all the goodness without the overpowering smell!

Ingredients:                                         
Pure Honey                                  
Shea butter                                      
Osun (camwood)                            
Cocoa pod powder
Plantain peel powder
Palm kernal oil
Coconut oil
Water
Aloe Vera

As far as I can tell, I received the same benefits as the Tropical Naturals Brand but without over drying effect on my face. My skin still felt smooth and pores appeared minimal. And there was definitely less sneezing! Plus the coconut oil has to be great hydration for the skin.

Here’s what they both look like next to one another in their bar form:

Overall? I think I’m sticking with the RA Cosmetics 100% Black Soap (fragrance-free). I think it works rather similarly to Dudu-Osun, but with what seem like completely natural ingredients. You can find this soap at your local black beauty supply or online at: www.racosmetics.com


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Today at the Nail Salon…

Today at the Nail Salon I found myself more attuned to my surroundings and the people than I had been in the past. I noticed the almost guilty looks on customers faces as Asian women scrubbed and rubbed their feet and hands. I too became a little embarrassed as I took off my shoes, laid down my belongings and climbed into the massage chair above the woman who was to do my pedicure.

I had on a dress, but I wore spandex shorts underneath so that I would not “flash” my pedicurist. Still I felt uncomfortable as she kneeled below me and washed my feet. Who was I Jesus? Jesus, it was strange. It felt very homoerotic. We did not talk other than her occasional directions to put my feet here and there. I was not even speaking to the lady that was washing my ugly feet! What a bitch I felt like. At that moment I felt obliged to at least say SOMETHING to her. My conscience was giving me hell. I told her I was ticklish as she scrubbed my feet with a pumice stone. She smiled and continued. I would hardly call that a successful conversation. I asked her if I could get a manicure as well, she said sure.

I’ve always wondered why the pedicurists put so much damn lotion on my legs when they do the massage. It takes forever to rub in. And it makes me uncomfortable. This woman massaging my naked legs, sometimes well past my knees. Her tiny hands. It felt good. I wondered what she was thinking. Did it feel homoerotic to her also? Did she hate doing it? Did she like it? She added a hot stone to the mix which felt amazing. I really shouldn’t be enjoying it this much I told myself. I felt like Queen Sheba looking below at the pedicurist, observing and qualifying her work. She wasn’t the best, but she was good. I surely have the right to be critical when I’m paying for a pedicure, but I still felt guilty for being that way.

When the pedicurist transformed into manicurist and began doing my nails I sporadically glanced at her from across the table. She was young, unmarried, pretty, and seemed to be doing her job out of obligation instead of enjoyment. I wanted to ask her if she went to school here or if she was related to any of the other workers, but I was fearful of coming off as condescending or presumptuous. I didn’t want her to think that I was really interested in whether she was an immigrant or whether she spoke fluent English, which I have heard others shamelessly ask nail salon employees. I was curious about her and I wanted to talk to her, but I just didn’t know what to say. I wondered her story. I wondered whether she had children. I wondered if she was happy. All very personal things that were not really any of my business, but I wanted to know more about this person who had been touching my feet and legs for about half and hour. She wasn’t a cashier at a restaurant or a retail store in which I would have casual, brief, scripted exchanges. Our interaction was more personal. Hell, it was physical. I felt I should know something about her.

She broke the silence by asking me if I was off of work today (it was before 11am). I told her I was on summer break and only teaching online classes this summer. She seemed briefly interested in the fact that I taught at a college. As she painted my nails, a few of my fingers would instinctively touch her hand. She had soft skin. Her nails were unpolished, but manicured. She would occasionally glance at me to make sure that I was approving of the job she was doing. She was better at the pedicure than the manicure. I wondered if she was going to ask for my payment or make me pay before she had finished as others had done at other salons. She didn’t. She escorted me over to the area where I would sit and let my nails dry, smiled and walked away.

I had been in the salon for about an hour. My nails had been cleaned, clipped, and polished. A woman spent an hour doing these things just for me, just as I wanted them. I did not know her and she did not know me. I left the salon satisfied and introspective. I hadn’t even asked her name.

-Evelyn





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Black Beauties of Vogue Italia

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Never before have I wanted to learn Italian quite like I do now. Vogue Italia, is featuring a huge spread called “Tribute to Black Beauties,” which includes gorgeous hues (not just black) and sexy retro fashion that’s exciting to see again. But honestly, when will chunky platforms and boxy mod dresses go out of fashion? Colors, as always, are big in this spread. From the make up to the blue trench with white trim, I’m falling in love with Italia’s black fashion perspective.

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It’s the beautiful glowing skin and natural curls exploding off the pages that have completely ensnared me. If I can get my hands on this issue, (at my local Barnes and Noble) I will surely buy it. This is not the first time Vogue Italia has surprised me. In July of ’08, they released the “Black Issue” featuring four heavy-hitting black supermodels on their own covers. This is a great step in the right direction, not just for black super models but for black women all over the world. This is really a tribute to you and me!

Source


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Grow Up, Will You?

The younger natural Charish, before “womanhood.”

Sorry for being M.I.A. lately, but things have been a little hectic on this end. Have no fear, I’m back and with a smidge more attitude. I was at the last meeting of my workshop group “For Colored Girls” and today’s topic was about, you guessed it. . . hair!

One of the young ladies spoke of her experience of talking to black men about natural hair and let me say, our group got a little heated. We were upset by this particular young man’s response to: “What kind of hair do you like to see on women.” He admitted that he was into “a loose coil.”

A loose coil?

We were shocked by his use of our vernacular. I didn’t know any man could articulate different hair types like that. We were even more shocked that he also said, “I don’t like that afro stuff. No afro puffs.” Hrumph, was what I said. Now, let’s add another dimension to his tale: Did you know this man was black? I could have guessed, but shit, why a brother gotta be like that?

I’ve experienced this kind backlash from black men who don’t understand or don’t appreciate the natural state of hair. You can argue that it’s because of a long line of media depictions of black beauty or just physical preference. Either way, a natural needs support and it’s disheartening that some black men are not available. Check out this video:

Sunshine couldn’t have put it better: The black guys were TRIIIIIIIIPPPING!! One things that screamed at me was one black man told the subject of this video “natural hair was for little girls and grown women NEED to get their hair relaxed.”
WHAT?! Are you’re telling me my natural hair is prohibiting my growth as a woman? 

I know if Noah told me such mess, we wouldn’t be married. I chalk it up to these boys unable to grow up themselves. It’s an incredibly immature response to the way a woman carries herself. I got no problem with the way women wear their hair. If you want to rock a natural or a weave down to your ass, I want that to be up to YOU. I want you to make that decision without any pressure or expectations. You need to do you.  Don’t raise a crazy high bar of expectation and make me pole vault over it!

I also chalk it up to some black men seeing something in us that reminds them of their own blackness. It’s in their minds not our hair. The heritage they’re avoiding is messing with their heads. This leads to a perverse transference of insecurity unto us.

I have written in a past blog post about my hair relationship with my husband, a white man. I can tell you that the white men I’ve run into have fully supported my afro. The ones that don’t, I don’t hear anything from, so I couldn’t tell you what their deal is. A white man’s reasons for loving lush voluminous black hair are their own and sometimes those reasons can get “hairy.” (A discussion about natural hair adoration bordering on exoticism will have to be saved for another post).

But I also have to tell you that I hate to generalize on this topic and want to remind you (and myself) that not all black men share this opinion. I’ve gotten some interestingly positive feedback from black men about my afro. Some have fallen over themselves trying to “hollar” at me. Some have been utterly fascinated that leave the house like this, in a good way. Noah and I were walking around the local mall when I was sporting a freshly picked fro. When a group of black men passed us, Noah said that one of them murmured to him: “Good job, man.” I know that this particular young man was not a “natural-hater” and it made me a little prouder.

There are more young brothers like that out in the world. I’m certain of it. Sunshine also said that it could be a generational issue. Well, until all black men can get on the same page, I recommend you keep your heads up and be you. Maybe one day, they’ll grow up and get on your level.