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Writing, learn-ing, jewelry, deconstructing t-shirts and reality - it's what I do. I live to be inspired, and to inspire.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fixing Women Who Are Not Broken to Appease Men Who Are

I don't really pay attention to Steve Harvey's relationship guru direction, or anything on TV in general, but I found this particularly disturbing and I can't help but wonder why it is acceptable of anyone. In the above clip a husband has extreme negative reactions to his wife's natural hair when she takes a break from wearing weaves. Harvey playfully admonishes the husband for not supporting his wife then brings in a "professional", Nikki Walton to speak with them about natural hair. The "professional" treats it as if it is all about the woman and her confidence and the whole fix is to teach her new hairstyles. This is not okay.

It was disappointing and frankly upsetting how this situation was handled. I don't generally care for conversations that treat natural hair like an anomaly. This sort of conversation stems out of white supremacy, an obvious legacy from this world's history, the consequences of which are still, to this day, damaging and real. The concept that "straight silky" hair is the norm and that other people with other textures of hair are abnormal and ugly is an example. This is why grown white people will ask me how I get my hair the way it is, because surely having hair of my texture and shape is not natural and I must be doing something drastic to make it all stand up like this. I always find it surprising that people can grow to adulthood without the basic understanding that people have all sorts of natural differences and not everyone's hair lies flat or is similar to theirs. Unfortunately the "normalcy" of whiteness is so deeply ingrained in so much of society that, even among the African diaspora, natural African hair is treated with scorn - especially the shorter and more tightly curled its texture. The natural hair of people of African descent comes in various textures and lengths and is extremely versatile. Healthy hair is beautiful, no matter what the texture, color or ethnicity of the person whose head it crowns. It really should be that simple. Instead what we have is a devaluing of hair that seems more "African" or "nappy" or "kinky", and even in natural hair circles, people are encouraged to disguise the texture of such hair to make it more wavy or to "tame" it.

I care passionately about a woman's right to own her natural body, to love herself and be loved as she is without having to change her natural features to suit a shallow and misguided society; which brings me back to the above clip and why I consider it more damaging than helpful. The husband in this story needs to be called out on his shallowness, his mental slavery and overall horrible selfish, childish inconsiderate behavior. If he can't let his lovely wife be herself at every stage of the "growing process" he doesn't deserve her.  Her hair is beautiful AS IS, at the length and texture it is. All the styles offered as solutions are about either hiding her hair or changing the appearance of it. It is not her fault her husband is inconsiderate and ridiculous, though she literally states she feels guilty, and she shouldn't have to "fix" her hair for the situation to improve. This solution reinforces patriarchal ideas that the husband is not responsible for his own behavior toward his wife, but rather she caused him to behave that way towards her. 

We are looking at a grown man here. He ought to have the maturity to accept that he does not own his wife's hair, that she is taking actions for her own true natural health and beauty, and that he needs to move beyond shallow "white-is-right" ideologies to accept his wife for who she is and not just how she looks. When he met her he knew she was a woman of African descent and he had an idea of what her natural hair texture is like because he has the same hair. The fact that he is repulsed by his wife's similar hair texture to his own seems to demonstrate some self-hate. As a grown man he needs to recognize and work on that. His wife also needs to work on her own discomfort with her natural hair. Both need to journey to a place emotionally where they can see each other and themselves in their natural state without the lens of white supremacy, patriarchy or any other ingrained misconceptions and judgments that teach them they are anything less than beautiful and good. Anything else is simply not enough. Harvey and Walton are putting band-aids over bullet holes and I refuse to condone such carelessness.

I have nothing against twist-outs, iron-outs or pin-ups. Hairstyle is not the point (and if you think that is you've definitely missed it). I do have something against people of influence reinforcing damaging concepts or trying to fix women who are not broken to appease men who are. If you know better, do better. If you don't know better, you better learn fast or give voice to those who do know better. Band aids over bullet holes will not produce the type of healing we need. Let's do the surgery necessary, dig deep and find healing for ourselves and by extension our larger society.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The November Experiment: Health and Poverty

If "Health is Wealth" what does that mean for the poor?
November 2013 I embarked on an experiment looking at healthy eating on a tight budget. I promised to spend $20 per week on food and still eat healthily. The first 2 weeks went smoothly and then I reached a budgeting roadblock in the third week. I wanted to celebrate a special birthday with a friend so I used my $20 allotment for that and skipped the grocery that week. I was fine for week 3 and 4 with what I had already in my pantry and making use of leftovers – another important skill on a budget. I used the remainder saved from the previous weeks to splurge for Thanksgiving ($25) and by the end of November I averaged $19.80 for each weekend that I would have gone to the grocery.

Now in doing this experiment I was not going far off the road I am used to. I have been putting myself through school and money has always been tight. Oftentimes I’ve had less to work with and sometimes more. The purpose here was to get concrete information about shopping with a set limit for healthy eating. As an educator I hope to use this information to prepare health and wellness workshops for people in financial hardship. During this time though, there were other things I learned  too.

For one I learned there are some psychological roadblocks that can be associated with or exacerbated by poverty which a recipe list and mere shopping advice cannot solve. Anxiety and depression can be triggered or exacerbated by the very real struggles of poverty. This was well expressed here in a blog post by a woman living in poverty entitled “Why I Make TerribleDecisions, or, poverty thoughts.” 

So in addition to caring for the physical health of those with low socioeconomic status, we need resources caring for their mental health. Taking care of oneself and one’s family is a commitment that can truly be derailed when issues of depression and anxiety overwhelm. Everything starts with the mind, health included. 

The tangible limitations of the cost of food can be worked around with the right MIND set and SKILL set. Knowledge and application of what your body needs, what foods are healthy, how to cook, how to shop for  or grow them; these are all important in overcoming the challenges of being healthy when funds are scarce.

So it comes down to education: not necessarily the institutional classroom and grades type, but the education generations before us were receiving in the home, in the kitchen, the market and the yard. In many U.S. families, for about 3 generations (both boys and girls) have not been leaning how to cook for themselves and their families (here is Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about this). That leads to a deficit contributing to poor health among lower socioeconomic classes. If you are poor and do not know how to cook for yourself, you do not have the money to pay someone else to prepare wholesome meals for you and your family. You end up paying cheap fast food restaurants to cook for you instead. You are stuck with low quality nutrition form the cheapest prepared food sources: fast food and cheap processed bulk foods.

In order for us to truly address the health of the socioeconomically disadvantaged we need to make available resources for their mental health as well as help them develop the necessary skill sets through education.

Truth is socioeconomic imbalance should not even exist and is a symptom of the many things wrong with this world and how it is governed and controlled. The argument that a poor person is responsible for his or her circumstances because of laziness or poor character is the highest level of bullshit. The deck is stacked. Those of us who have knowledge and resources to do something need to look out for those who do not – that is how we build and grow together. The November Experiment helped me gain new insight into what I need to include in developing my strategy to help. I hope it also helps you get a wider perspective of the issues of health and poverty.