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Relaxing in Ghana

I saw this YouTube ad yesterday for Dark and Lovely boxed relaxer that was targeted for the women of Ghana. It follows the same formula of the commercials here in the states. As you can see there’s a beautiful young lady with her friend, letting the wind whip their straight hair around. She walks past a young man who’s all “Whoa, check out her hair!”

This commercial is also perpetuating the same myths surrounding perms and relaxers:

  • It’s fine if you find a relaxer that claims to be a moisturizer. This one happens to be “blend shea butter” with its “Moisture Seal Technology”
  • A man will become attracted to you and potentially fall in love with you when your hair is not just “straight, but silky straight. . . with extra bounce.”
  • You will gain confidence with straight hair, causing you to dress better, hang out with prettier friends and potentially pull yourself up out your depressed socio-economic state.

This is where my Shea Butter comes from too! So it makes me fume when the announcer of the commercial says that the super toxic chemical treatment is infused with shea butter. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure. And so what if it is? The chemicals of the perm are the active ingredients and they are all dangerous.

I was so intrigued by this commercial that I scouted about for more information about the straight hair influence in Ghana and found this amazing article written by Yukiyo Oda, entitled: WOMEN WORKING AT HAIRDRESSING: A CASE STUDY OF A RAPIDLY INCREASING BUSINESS AMONG WOMEN IN URBAN GHANA

I learned that Ghana only gained independence from British colonizers in 1957 and today, because of their industrialized society and Free Zone Act of 1996, they have received a major influx of foreign products from both America and Europe. Relaxing kits are one of those booming imports.

The western influence and the urbanization of some parts in Ghana are some of the reasons why homegrown salons have been spouting since the 1980’s. It’s a great way for women to make money. Women who don’t want to work manual labor like farming and forestry, can work in their own homes and now they can get certified. I’m all for women have the opportunity to work and make their own income, but it saddens me that it’s through an industry that continues to hold women back from becoming their natural selves.

But of course, not all of the women of Ghana are on the hair straightening bandwagon. There are many who are trying to free themselves from years of European influence. I was excited to read this Facebook discussion between Ghanaian woman on the subject of natural hair. It’s slow moving, but it’s happening, just like here in the states.

I think they are getting to their natural hair revolution too. I hate to sound ironic, but soon, even the “Motherland” will be natural.


Are You Running This World?

I am so late on everything, including seeing this music video called: Run the World (Girls) by Beyonce. But I have finally seen it and I’m. . . stunned. The visuals are pretty spectacular for today’s “Gaga” standards.

The setting is a dystopic, post apocalyptic, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” landscape. There are leather and metal studded ladies who have reclaimed the Earth. There’s a lion on a leash, even hyenas on leashes! There are what look like dancing eunuchs and overturned cars and sand. Tons of sand.

Noah said he appreciated the Irish jig that occurred in the beginning. So did I.

What I wasn’t impressed with were the lyrics. Who’s running the world? Girls. Holy shit! I shouted (spitting my morning tea) When did this happen? Where was I? I had receive no notice on this. Then I watched this next video and was brought back to reality.

The commentary of the latter video can accurately describe the lyrics and how harmful they are to women’s self worth. So I won’t beat a dead horse in that respect. Instead, I would like to discuss the visuals.

Men on one side, women on the other. The women are obviously besting the men with their awesome dance moves. It does remind me of the Sharks and the Jets, but it is a tried and true theme for videos.

What I find interesting about Beyonce’s interaction with the riot control police force, is her super sexy slinking. She seduces the men and also scares them at the same time with her “Irish Jigging”. Historically, women have always had the “power” to seduce men with their wiles and then destroy them. Women were made to be revered and also feared.

But it’s the mother/whore dichotomy that has held women back from positions of authority and real change. For example, women’s seductiveness and evil persuasive nature has stopped them from being leaders in the Catholic Church. On a much smaller scale, the mere fact that women menstruate, make them an object of fear and awe. 

Beyonce’s use of sexuality is tired. We get it. Women can be sexy. In essence, the media has made it our only JOB. To what end, can we use that power? What can we to gain from using our feminine wiles? Jewels, money and cellphone bill payments? We’re not exactly courtesans anymore.

What we’re doing is keeping an ancient gender standard alive in a modern world. In a world where women are career and education oriented, the media is asking us to fall back on older means of “power.” This video is only affirms how little power we actually have and how we’re okay with that.

Are you okay with that?

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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.


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Black Beauties of Vogue Italia


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.


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!



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.

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My Sister’s Keeper


How many girlfriends do you have? A good tight group? Or like many, none at all? Are you one of those women who claims: “I don’t get along with women that well.” Or “I deal better with men because they’re less drama.” I used to be one of those women also and I wondered why that was. I was afraid of getting to know and trust women on because of the back-biting and gossip typically associated with women.

I’ve met many young women who have said the same thing and would much rather keep the company of males. There’s nothing with have male friends, but having only male friends sure is lopsided! I love my husband very much and one of my best friends is a man and I know while they are sympathetic to my menstruation plight, they have no idea what I’m going through. They also don’t know how a good shoe shopping spree might be good for the soul. They sure as hell don’t want to spend all day watching reruns of Girlfriends with me. That’s what girlfriends are for!

But for some reason women are good at “hating” on one another. As a black women, I can see it clearly within my own race. Instead of finding the friend who we can trust, fall back on, cry with, shop with ect., we’re caught up with the superficial stuff. Hair: where did you buy it and who does it. Clothes: Who are you wearing? Cars, shoes, handbags. . . so on and so forth.

But think about it. Your sister (yes, that’s what she is) is just like you. She’s got your stresses, your worries, your hopes and your aspirations. She’s a woman, just like you, living as an oppressed female in a male dominated world, just like you. For all you know, she might have it worse than you. Her boyfriend might be knocking her upside her head nightly, but all you see if her cute Prada bag and you shut down.

Well please, for the sake of sisterhood and friendship, don’t shut down.

The next time you see a woman, black or white, you need to give her a smile, “hello,” or friendly nod of the head. Let her know that it’s okay to let her guard down. Let her know that you’ve got her back. Let her know that you understand where she’s coming from. Who knows maybe she too will one day stop saying things like: “I just don’t like women, they’re haters!”

Help her begin to love herself.


St. Patrick’s Day

So today is St. Patrick’s Day. The economy will receive a boost from alcohol and costume purchases and numerous of Americans will drink themselves into a stupor in the name of “The Irish”. I’m sure you’ve noticed the pessimistic tone of this blog–I apologize (sort of), but I can’t help but to think of the experiences of the Irish in early America. Upon their immigration in the 1800s, they were not welcomed with open arms. They were immediately considered inferior due to their lack of wealth and education(many Irish also had thick, sometimes curly manes). Many Irish women immigrated to North America alone which did not bode with English women who believed that women were to be married and tending to a home and children. Irish women were quite the contrary, they took jobs, declined to marry, and became self-sufficient. The Irish were looked upon by English Americans with the same low regard as African Americans and Native Americans. Just like African Americans, Irish immigrants were stereotyped as lazy, unmotivated, inferior peoples. They were often compared to animals, apes for example (hence the depiction of the tiny Irish man leaping about). One of the most prevalent stereotypes of the Irish was that they were alcoholics. Many operated small-scale distills and often sold liquor to other settlers as a means of economic mobility.
St. Patrick’s Day is recognized as a holiday in Ireland, but drinking has not always been a part of the celebration. It is my hope that our society can learn to recognize the Irish for their contributions to American industry and their political savvy rather than their level of alcohol consumption.

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Passing Down the Banana Skirt

When asked what kind of music she likes, my 16 year old cousin squealed: “I love Nicki Minaj!” I didn’t know who Nicki was or what kind of music she made, but I could tell was particularly “awesome” from the way my cousin Yolanda began hyperventilating. I thought to myself, I gotta find this Nicki Minaj!
I saw Nicki on television, a beautiful woman with a futuristic pop fashion sense and comical British/Queens/Spanish accents. At the time she just seemed cute, a painted black Barbie making strides in the rap community. But then I saw the music video Monster, the latest single from Kanye West, where Minaj makes a guest appearance. (*Note: I have a lot of problems with this video and hold Kanye West accountable for most of it. If you’d like to watch an analysis of his music video and how its images are harmful to women, make a quick stop here.)
In Monster, Minaj is continuing her multiple personalities gimmick with black leather clad dominatrix persona and her sweet bubble gum Barbie persona. “Dominatrix Minaj” was fully sexed up. She was not an ordinary sex bomb, but wild, savage, and essentially monstrous. This imagery is not new at all. Black women have been represented in the media as loose Jezebels, who thick hips and asses were solely for the purpose of pleasing men. Black women were bought, bedded and sold on these physical attributes in this country three hundred years ago.
Which brings me to Josephine Baker, an American ex-pat of the early 20th, who wowed French audiences with her exotic dancing. One of the most enduring images of her comes from her performance in Danse banane. It doesn’t take too much of a leap to say the bananas are sexually provocative but they are also culturally specific. Baker was bringing to life a wild jungle image that whites expected from a black performer back then. She was also in films like Siren of the Tropics (1927) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935).  I won’t deny that Baker went on to do better things. She was a spy during the second World War and went on to be a powerful voice in the Civil Rights Movement in America.
What’s remembered, however, is Baker’s image. If we fast forward to today, we meet up with Nicki Minaj, a performer who is built entirely upon image. She graces the covers of magazine, ass first. Her hips and butt are prized and make her a 21st century “hot n tot.” She’s another sex symbol, yes, but built on old stereotypes that are harmful to black women today. Not all of us want to walk the streets representing hassle-free sex. Not all of us appreciate cat calls that bring attention to just our butts. Not all of us are performers with sex to sell. 
Minaj and other black performers like her i.e. Foxxy Brown and Lil’ Kim are problematic for black women today because their image is stopping an entire group from progressing in today’s society. There is no room to grow if we’re hiding behind our “thickness.” I’m not fine with having no autonomy. I have a brain and I do other things besides dance. I write. I investigate. I change. 
These are things I want to tell young black women: “You have choices!” I want to tell my cousin that there’s nothing wrong with pop music and the people that sing it, but do look closer at what else they are selling you. If you find that they are perpetuating unhealthy imagery and problematic social constraints, then you need to consider your loyalty to that artist.

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WTF Georgia #1: Car Propaganda

The first in many installations, What the F*** Georgia, today I’d like to discuss Southern cars.

People love their cars down here and don’t mind making it known. Noah and I have driven past a truck with tires taller than our Elantra. The owner of the truck would have to use a ladder to get to his door handle and use a ladder to climb down from his truck. (When I get a picture, you will see this monstrosity)

In the Winn Dixie parking lot

Columbus, Ga is not a pedestrian town, partly because of the city’s infrastructure and mostly because of people’s love for OWNING vehicles, the more the better. It’s a capitalist ideology that prevails in the South. I own it. It’s mine– not yours. Don’t tread on my property. There aren’t any sidewalks for people who walk at their own leisure. Biking is not recommended because “truck people” don’t share the road. Public transportation is almost non existent. I thought about following the bus line, but I never saw the buses.

People think their cars are a good place to share their politics. Both sides do it; people with liberal leanings and conservative leanings. Now that I’m in the deep South, where Tea Party mentality reigns king, all of the anti-reason propaganda is starting to wear thin. Sigh. I think this picture describes what I’m talking about. We get it, you don’t want to share your wealth. You don’t mind poverty.

I love the “American” message paired with a foreign car!