So I’m a graduate student at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) and the second semester has started. In one of the first sessions for a class that I am taking, the professor asked us to introduce ourselves and talk about a cool new piece of media that has captured our attention or that we absolutely love. (It’s a class about designing and producing educational media) Although we all sat in a circle, he called on us randomly. The entire time, before he called on me, I argued with myself over whether I should discuss my favorite program (LOST) or this blog. Remember, this is a PWI. Discussing LOST would be much easier and many more people would be able to identify with me. I opted to talk about my blog and was pleasantly surprised by what happened next.
Talking about hair: Just my thoughts February 5, 2009
I told my new classmates that I had very recently created a blog devoted to African-American hair care, and the uniquely political aspects of our hair styles and choices. People seemed genuinely interested and some asked me to share the site, but this wasn’t the most surprising part. Right after I discussed the blog, my professor told me that he was recently reading a book about Madame Walker. He asked me, ‘Do you know Madame Walker?’. I smiled when he said this and nodded yes. He explained that it might seem weird to me that he is reading a book on Madame Walker but that as a native of Indiana, he had become particularly interested in hair and hair products because of the variety that are available there and the fact that Madame Walker is from his hometown. I told him that it wasn’t weird and that blackhairstory was all of our history, which brings me back to the debate that I was having in my head before I told my classmates about the site.
I was nervous about sharing the site, nervous about appearing radical or afro-centric, nervous about being placed in a black box by my white classmates and professor, nervous that they might visit the site and be totally confused and nervous and that it would just be dismissed. But I believe what I told my professor. Black hairstories are part of American history. It made me so happy that my professor was reading a book about Madame C.J Walker. It also made me realize how we are often engaged in internal dialogues about ways to minimize or diminish our differences. Maybe if we ignored our internal dialogues and started speaking honestly to each other instead, we might be able realize the similarities in our differences and just be ourselves. White students have approached me and talked about how some of the issues on the site resonate with them because they have curly hair that they are compelled to straighten very frequently. What a first class!