Reading Home

On Twitter, I had this exchange:

@ProfClaiborne: “@fallen7627: “They were so beautiful. And they stood like men.”– Toni Morrison (Home, 2012),”/ I love that line! Home is a beautiful novel

And Home is a beautiful novel. As I think about how to describe it, I find it really difficult except to say that this book is magic, it must be magic because even months after reading it I find that I cannot stop thinking about it and I find that I still cannot put into words what this book means to me. I still feel it. In some deep part of me this book lives, the same way that Ralph Ellison’s book stayed with me long after I read the lines, “I am an invisible man.”

To say that I am a fan of Toni Morrison is to put it mildly. I have written and teach classes on Morrison. I have an appreciation of the complexity of Morrison’s novels and I think that her novels have been necessary in the way that we understand what it means to have an African American identity in the 20th and 21st Century.

This book is necessary. I think that people do this novel/novella a disservice in comparing it to other novels by Morrison. She writes in many genres, including plays, children books, and operas.

Home is its own thing–part poem, part historical fiction, part essay on spirituality and family dynamics. Don’t read it as if it supposed to be Song of Solomon, which is an epic novel. Read it as what it is in this time and place. There is so much value in this work that I think can only be seen in reading and re-reading.

Next semester I will teach this work again and I am sure I will love this novel in new and different ways. Offer yourself the same opportunity.

Home

A video by the Very Smart Brothers about what distinguishes bougie black girls from other black women.

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

― Howard Thurman

 

The Natural Hair Hokum

Photo-shopped Michelle Obama

In 1926 George Schuyler wrote an essay, “Negro Art-Hokum,” decrying the idea that the Harlem Renaissance was some sort of evidence of great African American art. Not that artists like Aaron Douglass and Louis Mailou Jones weren’t great artists, only that it wasn’t their “Africanness” that made them special, that they were a product of American society-which is a mix of all cultures. While I generally disagree with Schuyler’s views– for example, I do believe that the Harlem Renaissance was real and evidence of a long line of black creativity and aesthetics– I understand that the claim that something is wholly “African” when it comes to certain things in black American culture is problematic.

The natural hair movement is one such “African” thing that is troubling on so many levels. For one thing, oftentimes, there is nothing natural about natural hair. If we take natural to mean not made or altered by humankind, then black women’s hair, which is feuled by a multi-billion (yes, billion) dollar industry in products and human hair weave is definitely not that.

The picture above of Michelle Obama, which was digitally altered, was making the rounds late last year on the internet to great fanfare. Despite the fact that in order to achieve this style, Michele Obama would have had to add extra hair and use considerable product and devote hours (Hours!) to her hair, everyone was saying, “thank God she is representing natural beauty!”

The thing is that we don’t know if Michelle Obama hair is chemically processed or merely straightened. Dr. Koritha Mitchell, at a panel on Michelle Obama at the Modern Language Association in Boston, said that Obama’s hair dresser literally will not say if Michelle Obama has relaxed hair. Should that be a secret? We know that for many years Oprah has not had a relaxer in her hair. Does this change her politics? Is she more African because of this fact?

I have had “natural hair”–meaning hair that is not relaxed–for about 4 years. The choice was not political, not spiritual, and not based on a decision to redefine my identity. The decision was instead both (mistakenly) financial and about wanting more control of my own hair. I never trusted myself with chemicals and could not relax it myself. What if I went to live in Paris, would my hair look crazy? (Later I learned that there is a black hair salon on the Champs Élysées, in fact.)

I quickly realized, however, that I would not be saving money with natural hair–whether I put it in braids, twists or just try to wear it in cute ringlets. Braids are expensive, and for someone to maintain your locks and twists is expensive as well (almost the same cost as having a relaxer). And, not only is any hairstyle that I like highly contrived, I usually found myself having to plan my hairstyles 24 hours in advance. I felt that my hair–thoughts about my hair and disappointment in my hair–was consuming my life. I never worried about messing up my hair, interestingly enough, when I had a relaxer. Now I watch videos about how to do different natural hair techniques and I am often spending buckets of dough trying out different products to hopefully and finally manage my tresses. The sad part is that more often than not my hair just ends up in a bun because I’ve got bills to pay, ideological wars to fight, and students to educate.

The truth of the matter is that we do ourselves a little disservice when we limit who we are to mostly our physical appearance. Not to say that I don’t appreciate adornment, but if I was really concerned about “Africanness” I would look like this beautiful woman:

African Woman</

I understand Madame CJ Walker and I am happy for the black women who have found great success in this natural hair game. As for me, hopefully this is the last thing that I will write about my hair. One thing that I know for sure, my African roots are not found in the roots of my hair.

I’ve Never Seen Porgy and Bess

Porgy and Bess Poster

I’ve never seen Porgy and Bess. Of course, there is an element of racism that never really made me think that it was possible  to enjoy this opera/play without guilt.  However, curiously I decided to name my blog  based on lyrics from the iconic tune “Summertime.” One thing that I am clear of, having not seen the film, play, or opera however is that there is nothing easy about living in the 1920s, being both poor and black, and being in Charleston, SC. I am from South Carolina and I love my home state. However, I am not immune to the sheer awfulness of it too. How African descended people have always been so much of this place but excluded and punished for their presence at the same time. Charleston is a beautiful city, one of my favorite travel destinations– along with Paris and San Francisco. It is a city that shows that it is equal parts provincial and cosmopolitan–grand enough for a fashion week, but awful enough to still have largely segregated black and white populace, where so many families live in abject poverty blocks from million dollar homes. So this blog is going to be an homage to my home and also a recognition that being black and from South Carolina is not all about singing and dancing. It is not okay if “I’ve got plenty of nothing.” I want to read the novel Porgy and maybe even see the movie, but I just know that when black people who are also Southern are presented in movies, usually it is so problematic that I will end up writing a dissertation-like diatribe only on the problems of black Southerness in film. Beasts of a Southern Wild was so bad that I literally had to consider whether the people who were raving about it saw the same movie.

I want this blog to be about the writing life and the subject matter that I am drawn to write about. For some reason, in the 10 years that I have tried to write about the Gullah/Geeche heritage it has been so hard. In some ways I think that I need to counter all the awfulness that has already been produced. It is difficult. Instead of just trying to write in a vacuum, I will start with what is out there and hope that is enough. So daily blogging is the challenge. We will se what emerges.

The story that you don’t know is more powerful than the one you do. All I have is a picture of when and where someone lived and died. The rest, if there is a rest, is hearsay. The gaps in the history –unsearchable by google.

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