Category Archives: culture

Hair’s To Freedom

by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger, originally published at Neesha Meminger

This weekend, I was interviewed for a magazine article. Nothing to do with my book, or even writing, for that matter. The topic of the hour was body image. This is a topic I could go on and on and ON about (and have, on several occasions), but I’ll refrain just this once.

Before the interview, all sorts of thoughts went through my head about what I might talk about — will I do the usual issue of weight and body size/shape? Would I go to the more familiar topic of areas of my body I’ve waged war with? Or would I go into the skin shade territory? So many areas to cover (no pun intended), not enough interview time . . .

So, when the lovely interviewer called me, we had a fantastic, lively, friendly discussion. It was fun and hilarious. We were about forty-five minutes through when I realized all I’d talked about was my hair. My hair. Not the usual trilogy: butt, boobs, belly. Not flab, sag, and lumps. Hair. And not body hair, either.

I had no idea what a huge issue hair has been all through my life. But as I talked to Ms. Lovely Interviewer, I realized that as a Sikh girl-child, then young woman, so many battles over control and power in my house were fought around the territory of my hair. I was not allowed to cut it, there were certain hairstyles I could not wear, and there was just so much IMPORTANCE placed on what I did or did not do with my hair. Continue reading

Gran Torino and Hmong Gangs in the Midwest

by Guest Contributor Joanna Eng

In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood plays a bitter old man who’s basically the only white person left in a run-down neighborhood somewhere in the Midwest. He (reluctantly, at first) gets to know his Hmong neighbors, and ends up getting intricately involved in their lives, as they deal with issues caused by a local Hmong gang that some of their relatives are a part of.

There are plenty of things about the movie that might make for great posts on Racialicious:

1. Like most Hollywood movies that are about a community of people of color, Gran Torino features a white protagonist who not only saves the day, but also has the most layers of complexity to his personality.

2. As the first major Hollywood film about Hmong Americans, how did it do at depicting this community? Does the exposure of Hmong culture and the opportunity for Hmong actors outweigh the possible inaccuracies and negative representations? (See some of the commentary about this on AsianWeek.)

3. Clint Eastwood’s character’s constant racist remarks serve as a running joke in the movie. Just because he uses outdated and blatantly un-P.C. language with an “equal-opportunity discrimination” approach, is it OK to use this deeply offensive language as comic relief?

But I don’t really want to write about those things. I want to write about another reaction I had. Continue reading

Nappily Ever After? Not Quite…

by Latoya Peterson

*Warning: Strong Language*

Regular readers might remember a piece I wrote a year or so ago, called Hair, Apparently. In the piece I wrote about an incident where I felt like someone had insinuated I was a “house nigga” because my hair was straightened with a chemical relaxer.

The piece sparked an interesting conversation in the comments and I was comforted by the reactions by most of the readers – do you and let it be done. The overwhelming consensus was your hair is your hair and you should be able to do with it what you please. (Should is the operative word, but more on that later.)

However, a lot of time has passed since then. In the interim, I read Tami’s piece (the original version of the piece posted here), started reading Afrobella’s blog regularly, and watched as my friend Spiffany transitioned from chemical relaxers to a beautiful and natural do. I admired what people could do with their naturals, but never felt motivated to do it myself.

Yet, Tami posed a little question in her original piece that always stuck in my mind.

Earlier this year, a fellow blogger very smartly observed that black women may be the only race of women who live their whole lives never knowing what their real hair looks and feels like. Think about that.

I was one of those women. Aside from a happy little puffball photo from the fifth grade* and a couple of shots of me with pressed hair, I had a relaxer for as long as I could remember. And that question stayed with me, for the next six or so months until I had my third Catastrophic Relaxer DisasterTM and found myself bald at my temples and missing a big chunk of hair from the back of my head.

From that day on, I was like “Fuck it – I’m letting it grow.”

And so it has. Today, I’ve been relaxer free for more than a year. My hair is fully natural – I cut out the last of the chemically straightened hair six months ago and haven’t really looked back. I love my hair now, love everything it does, how it looks, all that.

But it occurs to me that this was strange journey for me. Navigating transitioning my hair out was never really about my hair – it was about notions of societal influence, beauty, intra-group standards, cultural conditioning, and asserting my own personality. It was about my hair as a political battleground – where people read the pattern of my stands like tea leaves, trying to divine my personality and political views. It was about everything except what I actually wanted to do – which was stop relaxing my hair and wear a new style.

While I scoured all the pro-natural sites on the net for advice, all I learned were new styles. No one told me how to cope with the transition itself. Everyone cuts to the happy – “You’ll love yourself! You’re free from chemicals!” speech, but no one really talks about how tough that road is to walk. So, let’s look at a few of the things we tend to gloss over when we talk about natural hair.


The Influence of Men and the Perception of Attractiveness

Let’s start with the outside influence aspect of things. About two weeks out from the Catastrophic Relaxer Disaster,TM I was hanging out with my friend KJ, the natural haired friend I referred to in the first piece. Artfully rocking a cap and a long bang to cover my bald spot, I excitedly told her my decision – I was switching to natural hair.

She stopped fumbling through earrings and looked up at me, face locked in a hesitant expression.

“What did your boyfriend say?” she asked carefully. Continue reading

Microcredit: “A political economy of shame”

by Guest Contributor Tanglad, originally published at Tanglad

It’s easy to understand the appeal of microcredit. Poor women from the Global South use loans as small as $20 to start businesses and lift themselves from poverty. The creditors make a profit when the loans are repaid. Win-win.

What do they say about things that look too good to be true?

A whopping 90 to 99 percent of these loans are paid back with interest, another shining indicator of microcredit’s success. But there is an ugly side to ensuring repayment, where poor women are made to police one another and punish defaulters with collective acts of aggression.

In her study of Grameen Bank microcredit programs in rural Bangladesh,* Leila Karim finds that the focus on the 98 percent loan recovery rate hides how beneficiaries are co-opted into “a political economy of shame.” Continue reading

On Being American and African Black

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

The first time I saw “Roots” I was in puberty, but since my birth the groundbreaking miniseries has been a running joke among my maternal relatives.

My mother is a black American, raised Baptist in Tennessee. My father is a Muslim from Nigeria. More specifically, for those in the know, he’s Yoruba.

When I was a baby my American relatives, all natives of small-town Tennessee and wholly unfamiliar with Africans, took to holding me up in the air and anointing me Kunta Kinte, like the character in “Roots.” Although the gesture annoyed my mother to no end, her family members found it hilarious.

Africans, you see, are hilarious. If there is one stereotype about Africans that has lingered throughout my life it is this. Perhaps because of this stereotype, before my birth my maternal grandmother envisioned that I would look less like a baby and more like an offensive cartoon character. She warned my mother to expect me to have coal black skin and bright red lips like Little Sambo. In expressing her fears, my grandmother ignored the reality of my father, who is dark-skinned but not especially so. In fact, he is a shade or two lighter than my mother is. Because Africans are an “exotic other,” however, my grandmother adopted a white supremacist gaze in connection to my father.

She’s far from the only black American to adopt that stance in relation to Africans. In Chicago, where my parents met and lived, my mother recalled being approached by a black woman curious to know if I cried in “African.” Now, I was born in the late1970s, before Akon dominated music charts or Hakeem Olajuwon (a fellow Yoruba) dominated basketball courts. Still, it’s somewhat shocking to note that some of the African Americans in my midst then viewed me as an entirely different entity from themselves. Continue reading

“The next big shift in feminism”

by Guest Contributor Tanglad, originally published at Tanglad

Camille Paglia recently wrote a number of gushing statements about Sarah Palin, but here’s the one that made my eyes roll the hardest:

I stand on what I said (as a staunch pro-choice advocate) in my last two columns — that Palin as a pro-life wife, mother and ambitious professional represents the next big shift in feminism. Pro-life women will save feminism by expanding it, particularly into the more traditional Third World.

It’s amazing how many wrong assumptions can be crammed into two short sentences. Twenty years after Chandra Mohanty’s Under Western Eyes, and we still have Western feminists advocating colonialism for the good of Third World women?

Feminists like Paglia still refer to a monolithic Third World, a categorization that assumes a homogenous oppression of all brown and black women. Of women who are characterized by all the stereotypes attached to the word “traditional” – backwards, primitive, uneducated, victimized, poor. Continue reading

Icing on the cake: The Truth about Marriage

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

Professor Tracey has me thinking…as usual. Over on Aunt Jemima’s Revenge, she has launched a spirited discussion about black women and marriage. Rather than go the usual “why can’t black women get married” route, hand-wringing over dire statistics like these:

The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent. Read more

…Tracey asked something different–something no one else seems to be asking, since it is easier to cast black women as powerless victims or simply undesirable (too educated, too aggressive, too black, too too). She wants to know, “Do black women really want to get married?”
Continue reading

Anachronism and American Indians

by Guest Contributor Lisa, originally published at Sociological Images

In many places in the midwest the American Indian is very present, but in other places in the U.S., like in California, Disney’s Pocahontas is as close as we get to “Indians.” The idea that American Indians are gone comes, in part, from the ubiquitous representation of them with feathers, buckskins, and moccasins. These anachronisms are everywhere (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here).

American Indians are as modern as the rest of us, why are representations of American Indians, as they live today, so unusual? And what effect might that have on the psyche of American Indian people?

Via PostSecret.