Please Let Me Testify: An Open Letter to Rachel Jeantel

First, thank you for having the courage to take the stand, for having the courage to testify on behalf of your slain brother, a responsibility too many of us have been shucking for way too long. Most of us choose to plead the fifth, afraid that we’ll be judged just as you have been, and in our silence, the blasts of gunshots resound ever louder right in our own backyards.

I hope that other young people are not gagged by their fear of malicious tweets, but are encouraged by your example, encouraged to speak up and share their sides of the story, whatever that story might be. I pray that more black girls speak up and tell their stories. There are hosts of people, who try to dismiss, disparage, and downright silence voices like yours, but I tell you, little sister, you have been heard.

Second, not only do I hear you, I also see you, and you are beautiful.

I know that the mere color of a person’s skin and a person’s class too often discredit everything they say and do in the eyes of the prejudiced ones. I know that racism is the reason so many blacks and non-blacks have come to consciously and subconsciously devalue dark skin. I know that’s the reason they feel so comfortable maligning you in your moment of grief.

But I’m feeling you. How could you not be annoyed and frustrated in the face of these men, who in many ways embody the source of an entire community’s anger? How could you not be frustrated and bitter about these men who are claiming that your beloved friend deserved to die, and that the person who murdered him was actually the real victim and deserves to live the rest of his life peacefully and free? When I saw the demeanor and heard the tone of the prosecutor, I knew exactly why you rolled your eyes. I’ve often rolled my eyes at people who are trying to “play me,” trying to be condescending and mocking.

Some of us only have respect for those who reflect the image of who we think we are or wish we could be. Some of us believe that only those who speak like us have a right to speak, and we’re deaf to the songs sung by birds of other feathers. Some of us think that only those who look like us have a right to be seen, that only those who live like us have a right to live.

Rachel, I don’t know you, but I’m all too familiar with the way our culture breeds bullies and the way we’re taught and encouraged to tear each other down and rip each other apart. I’m all too familiar with the way society has to make examples out of a few so that the rest of us will be too terrified to simply be ourselves and say what we need to say. Although we’ve all been the bully before, we don’t have to accept the worst in ourselves. We don’t have to accept the worst in our world.

I hope that justice wins. I pray that you, the young vessel that was left to speak on behalf of someone who can no longer speak on behalf of himself, I hope that you find the hope and the healing that you need to go forward from this period in your life and always be beautiful and brave.

Visit ColorismHealing.org

 

Show Me How to Be Courageous: Angela’s Legacy

Featured

Angela Davis shows us how to be courageous The struggle would be difficult, but there was already a hint of victory. In the heavy silence of the jail, I discovered that if I concentrated hard enough, I could hear echoes of slogans being chanted on the other side of the walls. ‘Free Angela Davis.’ ‘Free All Political Prisoners.’ -Angela Davis: An Autobiography, 1974

April 5 is the debut of the documentary film Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited that the world can once again be inspired by Angela Davis’s courageous story.

Those who were alive in the 70’s may have forgotten. Those of us who weren’t alive at the time may have have never known.

Indeed, we’ve done a poor job of retelling Angela’s story in our ongoing distribution of American history.

She rarely gets more than a blip in a montage, as if merely showing her face, fro, and fist is enough to convey the gist of her legendary life.

Too many of us, however, aren’t clear about the story beyond these images.

For me, of course, the most resonant theme in her story is courage.

Outside in the open, entangled in my grief and anger was also fear. A plain and simple fear so overwhelming, and so elemental that the only thing I could compare it to was that sense of engulfment I used to feel as a child when I was left alone in the dark. . . . Images of attack kept flashing into my mind, but they were not abstract–they were clear pictures of machine guns breaking out of the darkness, surrounding Helen and me, unleashing fire . . . -AD

Though most of us will never be one of America’s most wanted, Angela’s story can teach us all how to be courageous.

In fact, there’d be no documentary, no story to tell, had Angela not lived courageously in her everyday life, long before the criminal charges or the ensuing manhunt and trial.

One thing I hope Free Angela reveals is that while Angela Davis’s imprisonment and trial is perhaps the more sensational and infamous part of her story, all along, every day of her life, then and now, Angela is a role model for having the courage to think, speak, act, and be revolutionary.

The Courage to Think

I’ve seen the fear in my students . . . the fear of pursuing an education, the fear that it’s not meant for them, not part of their inheritance.

Then there’s the fear of the responsibility that comes with learning.

The fear of what truths may be uncovered if we allow ourselves to follow a thought process through its entire cycle.

As a student and professor of philosophy, Angela Davis embraced the power of thinking . . . of not only learning the thoughts of others, but in having new and original thoughts of one’s own.

She not only had the courage to hold and mold deep thoughts in her mind, she also had the courage to spread them.

The Courage to Speak

We keep silent for fear of exposing our true thoughts.

We keep silent because others have told us we should, told us to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

We’re wordless because we think our words are worthless.

Angela’s example shows us that our words are sometimes the greatest gift we can give to the world, and that we should say what must be said even as others try to silence us.

She shows us that words can save souls, save lives, and stoke revolutionary fires.

The Courage to Act

Nothing in the world made me angrier than inaction, than silence. The refusal or inability to do something, say something when a thing needed doing or saying, was unbearable. The watchers, the head shakers, the back turners made my skin prickle. -AD

Organizing, voting, rallying, marching, visiting, feeding, housing, leading . . .

Some of the greatest words are action verbs.

The beautiful thing about Angela is that she lived among the people, not segregated within her words or intellectual world.

She was a physical presence in the struggle for freedom and justice for all.

She gave her life:

For me revolution was never an interim ‘thing to do’ before settling down; it was no fashionable club with newly minted jargon, or new kind of social life–made thrilling by risk and confrontation, made glamorous by costume. Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime. -AD

The Courage to Be

Angela thought, spoke, and acted while being a black women in a world that says blacks can’t think, that women shouldn’t speak, and that any actions by either group to take control of their lives is an automatic threat to society.

She was proud to be black, and she was empowered in her womanhood even in a society that overtly tried to suppress black pride and women’s empowerment.

That’s revolutionary.

By merely being herself, Angela Davis shows us how to be courageous.

This post is a submission in the Black Bloggers Connect contest.

Get your tickets to the New Orleans Area Screening of Free Angela and All Political Prisoners!

 

 

I Think I Need a Barber But This As A Man’s World


I prefer short natural hair. Very short.

Unfortunately, that means I’m dependent on someone else to cut my hair because I haven’t learned how to do it myself.

I’ve often turned to the universal experts on my kind of hair–black barbershops, but it’s clear that barbershop culture is not ready to embrace women like me.

In Hair Story, the most comprehensive account of black hair I’ve ever read, the authors Anna D. Byrd & Lori L. Tharps explain that there is indeed a culture built around black hair:

“The many aspects of human adaptation–including language, technology, traditions, values, and social organization–are all identifiable components of the culture of Black hair in America.” p. 134

The first time I went to a barbershop for a haircut, it was a culture shock. I felt like an utter outsider.

I didn’t know that there’s a certain way to request services in a barbershop, so I sat down and waited to be greeted or acknowledged, you know, like: “Hi. How’re you doing? What can we do for you today?” I just sat there feeling and looking out of place.

When I finally got in the chair, I didn’t know the proper lingo or understand the technology for describing the haircut I wanted. Brush length or comb length? A number 3 or a number 2? I didn’t know there were different kinds of fades. I had a picture of a beautiful model that I tore out of a magazine, and that was the best I could do.

Whereas the average man has long since been initiated into barbershop culture from the time he was a few years old, I had no such acculturation. When I was a young girl, I spent hours in beauty salons and never ventured into a barbershop unless I was with my mother to wait for my brother. Back then I could never even imagine that I might be in a barber’s chair someday.

Beyond my personal ignorance of barbershop culture, there’s something else at play, something deeper and more troubling.

From small towns in Mississippi to big cities in California, I read a distinct aversion in barbers when it comes to cutting this woman’s hair, and I think there are four main reasons why the aversion exists.

1) When barber’s see me, they don’t see a loyal customer that yields the highest profit margin.

This explains why I get handed to the newcomer without many clients of his own yet, or I get passed off to the guy no one else likes very much.

But worse than that is getting the barber who rushes through the process of cutting my hair so that they can get back to their “real” clientele or back to sweeping floors. Those barbers disengage. They sort of do what they want, never cut my hair short enough, and don’t even let me evaluate the look before they’re ripping the cape from around my neck.

Unfortunately, with such crappy customer service, they never give me the chance to become a loyal customer. Like I said before, I love short hair, so I would actually come back if my experience was at least decent, if I at least felt respected.

In Hair Story a barber explains that full loyalty comes from “the way I treat him and the service we provide.” p. 154

Isn’t the same level of respect required before a woman becomes a loyal customer?

Respect is the reason I stopped accepting discounts. If you charge less because I’m a woman, it might be chivalry, but it could also mean you do lesser quality work because I’m a woman. I pay the same as the guys so that I can expect the same service as the guys. A dollar is a dollar whether it comes from a man’s pocket or a woman’s pocketbook.

2) One of the things men love about the barbershop is the absence of women.

In Hair Story, the authors explain this concept and cite the experiences of various men:

“One of the most satisfying times in my life was going to the barbershop [and] bonding with the other brothers.” p.151

“The Philadelphia Hair Company is the type of establishment where Black men go to get pampered, watch the game, and while away an entire Saturday afternoon in good company.” p. 154

If the owners were ten year olds, barbershops would definitely have “No Girls Allowed” signs out front. This boy’s club atmosphere is most evident in the conversation.

Sports and politics I can handle, but when the conversation, as it always does, veers into the realm of women and relationships, I wonder if my cute cut is even worth it.

Many barber shops have televisions streaming hip hop videos or melodramatic reality TV shows. Though many women are into those things (even I’ve watched a few in the past) I’m now averse to them.

But the barbers don’t just let these shows play in the background. They have to start offering their commentary on the women’s bodies, on the relative worthiness of each female character in comparison to each other and to women in general, on the “reality” of relationship politics, and other distorted ideology.

Perhaps this doesn’t signal that no women are allowed, but it definitely signals that a certain type of woman will not feel comfortable, like any woman who’s sick and tired of the racist and misogynist portrayals of men and women in the media, any woman who laments the continuous brainwashing of both sexes, basically any woman like me.

I won’t go into detail right now about my last two reasons but they are essentially this:

3) Men still expect black women to be at the beauty salon getting perms and weaves to look good for men.
4) Men don’t like to see women cut their hair

I don’t expect barbershop culture to change for me or even for the growing number of women like me. But I do think it’s a relevant experience that’s worth sharing (especially when I get deeper into reasons 3 & 4).

I’ve tried going to unisex salons or female stylists, but my previous post on hair explains why that’s not much better.

Now you tell me what you think!

Do my observations seem ligit, or is it just me?

Should I just suck it up if I want my hair cut?

Are barbershops and hair styles so irrelevant that you don’t know why you bothered to read this post?

Clearly, I have my opinion, but maybe you can sway me.

Go ahead.

Give it a try.

Then come back later when I share more thoughts on reasons 3 & 4.

Peace & Love

Sarah L. Webb

Can Girls Benefit From Absent Fathers?

Featured

Here’s more empowerment and encouragement for single moms and their daughters.

Remember my post about alternative narratives? If not, read it here. I’m revisiting the idea of alternative narratives because I know people have firm beliefs about the negative effects of growing up without a father. The media has so effectively distributed a single story about children raised without fathers that people miss the whole, evident truth. This is such a complex issue, and I admit, there aren’t many (if any) studies on what I’m about to say. I’ll address the lack of academic/scholarly/scientific study in another post, but first, let me offer some possible, even if a bit contrived, benefits of growing up without a father. Forgive me for focusing on girls, but as a female, it’s what I’ve thought about the most. If you want to read some of my ideas about boys with absent fathers, go here.

Many people say that girls have issues because they don’t have a father to tell them they’re beautiful.

The problem I see with that belief is that validation is still external and still from a man. It reinforces the idea that a man has to validate your beauty, whether he’s your father or not. One thing girls without fathers have the opportunity to learn, is that no man, not even a father or father figure, should be the determining factor in how you feel about yourself.

Another belief perpetuated especially by conservative thinkers is that girls raised without fathers won’t know how to interact with adult men, and thus won’t make good wives.

I think what these people are really saying is that these girls won’t know how to be submissive to adult men. I split my argument two ways. 1) If this happens, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being strong and assertive can be excellent qualities when done correctly. 2) It might be that the girl can be submissive to an adult male, but only if she really wants to, only if he’s deserving, not just because he’s an adult man. Submissiveness is about humility, and anyone can learn to be humble with a father or not.

Then there’s the story that girls without fathers will end up in abusive relationships, often with older men (meant to replace their missing fathers), and engage in a vicious cycle of self-destructive love affairs.

Well another story we could tell is of the girl who sees her mother as an example: a mother who is single because she refused (and refuses) to be in an abusive relationship, because she expects and demands love and respect, not just romance. I like to tell this story because it is my own. My mother’s example is the reason I was okay being single, therefore not falling into the trap of trying to fill a void with unhealthy relationships with men.

Remember that these are additional/alternative stories. They are by no means the limit. What stories do you have to share about girls growing up with absent fathers? Any of them counter to the usual mainstream narratives we hear? Please share them with us!

Peace and Love from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?