Back to the Basics

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash

Welcome to 2020, another year and another day to be thankful for every person who has followed me this far. Because there are big things happening in the world and well, we’re only getting started.

And I’m starting it off doing something I’ve never done before (on my own, at least). 

I’m trying out my natural hair. It might not seem like a big deal, I mean, for a lot of people it isn’t. But for black women, for all of us who feel as if we cannot be our natural selves in a way that society supports, it takes a lot to grow into who we are and want to be. Hair has a whole lot to do with it.

Here, let me explain.

You see, I grew up looking at magazines and TV shows with women in it who all had silky smooth straight hair. I didn’t see people who looked like me; that says a lot about the world around us. At least, it said a lot to me as a child. 

It told me that I was outside the norm.

From what I can tell, the world around us has taken a turn towards a movement of acceptance, the celebration of differences. But growing up, I didn’t see that. What I saw was a whole lot of insecurity, the kind that you carry with you until it’s something you can’t ignore.

Photo by José on Unsplash

Now, I’m choosing to face it. Because I want to see what I can do without anything altering who I am, from the way I live my life down to how I wear my hair. There is something to be said for authenticity, right?

I have nothing against relaxed or straight hair; the thing is, I’ve never worked with my own hair in its natural state. I am 21 years old and I have never taken the time to embrace myself as I am. As undergrad winds down and graduation looms five months away, I feel that now might be just the time to do exactly that.

Do you know why?

Because how we look, what we do, the way we own our lives, it defines us. There are so many things that have happened in the last few years of my life that have completely altered my perspective on the world around us. I wrote a book of poems on the way out of high school (check it out here if you haven’t yet) and reading it back through, I am nowhere near the girl who wrote it.

I’m okay with that. Every year of high school, I changed my hair in one way or another. I guess you could say I was trying to find something that felt like me. Each style was something different, something fun—as a black woman, I have a whole lot of options to change my hair up if I wanted to.

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Going back to the basics, going completely natural, is not one of the ways I’ve tried yet. It simply seemed too hard, too complicated. And a little far outside the boundaries of “normal” that I didn’t have the confidence to push. Maybe it’s time to challenge myself a little.

I’m not doing this because it’s a new year and I think I can completely change who I am simply because the calendar flipped another page. Not at all.

I’m doing this because I need to know who I am in order to change myself in the first place; I only aim for the first part of that process. Maybe you’ve noticed in the past couple months—years even—I’ve been doing what I can to get back to the basics. To rebuild the foundation of who I am, the one that’s been breaking and rearranging with every day that passes me by.

Weird that doing so starts with my hair, isn’t it?

In a way, that’s exactly where I need to start. How I look is one of the first things I have ever defined myself by, so I want to take control of that into my own hands this time. I wrote a poem a two years ago, A Black Woman’s Battle Cry, that spelled out how I define myself. From the stereotypes that follow me, the choices I make or the capabilities I hold, are things that can either hold me back or push me forward.

The first line of that poem was all about my nappy hair, how it makes me different. Instead of letting it hold me back the way it used to, I’m going to let it push me forward.

Forward, or right, or left, or diagonally… I’m rebuilding a foundation with whatever I’ve got. Whatever comes next.

So, it’s a new year with the same old me. But the year comes with a few new challenges; I think maybe I can be ready to handle them. Can you?

Here’s to whatever 2020 holds for all of us. Happy New Year.

Beyond the Surface of Black Excellence

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Black History Month Week 2— Are you ready? Because I want to talk about something that ties into an entire culture of people, a term that I use a lot; one that I never quite defined for you. I want to talk about what it means say black excellence.

I’ve mentioned this term countless times, I know that, but I never quite said what it means. In our society or even on Urban Dictionary, you’ll find that we define it as what we see. We see things like an athlete on scholarship, a girl accepted to every Ivy, Will Smith, Oprah, or even the upcoming Black Panther Movie. When people think of the term black excellence, this is the direction they go.

But does that mean this is all the phrase may ever encompass?

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Absolutely not— like I said in my posts on this concept last year, black excellence is so much more than one person or one achievement or one underprivileged black student earning their way into a great University or program.

Just because I’m here at Cal Poly as the 1% does not mean that those of us in this representation here are the definition of the term.

I share this sentiment with Kiri Rupiah, Mail & Guardian’s social media editor when she says “I don’t see the value of being the only black person in the room.” That is not what black excellence is, that is inequality or under representation, a lack of equal opportunity… That is not excellent. No where close.

Living a life worth living is where the real merit comes from.

Consider the simple state of existence— getting up, eating when you can, and going back to sleep. This is what I like to call being. But working, parenting, studying, living, this is what I call excellence. It is achieving what matters as an African American who is making something of themselves.

Take a single mother: she is black excellence in the way that she is pulling it off by herself. Or an adult deciding they want more, so they go back to school part time for a GED or higher degree: they are black excellence in believing in their worth of deserving something more. How about the und

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erprivileged, those who often consider themselves the underachieving? They are excellence in their determination to keep going in spite of circumstance, or opportunity, or how many times they are told the word no. They are still going.

There are far too many ways to be brilliant to define it only in terms of fame or money; in what society sees as worth. At some point, it comes to how we define the achievement of working towards something, any goal of merit.

Consider how far black people have come, from the allowance of getting educated, of literacy, to the voices and the platforms we are now seeing African American people uphold. As much as I wish I could say we were out of “firsts” by now, it is still a great thing to see people striving to go after each and every one of those achievements until we break the standards and the barriers that seem to hold us back; no matter how many misdirected steps we attempt towards equality.

When I say the words black excellence, I am talking about the things that I see in my culture beyond skin color, beyond stereotype. I see hard work and a challenge to

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adversity. I see beauty in the struggle or sometimes, just another struggle to overcome. I think we need to stop seeing terms of culture as derogatory, but simply as an appreciation of what makes us different. It doesn’t mean black people are better, as a disparagement of others. No, this excellence is the celebration of who we are. Of who I am.

Because I am excellent. The black single mother is excellent. The struggling black student or the worker or the human being just barely getting by, all of them— all of us— are excellent.

Because we are still going.

And that is incredible.