By Erickka Sy Savané of Bitches Brew Blog

“N. A. P. P. Y.” said my grandmother to her friend, as she struggled to get a comb through my hair.

The woman, who like my grandmother was so light that she could almost pass for white, chuckled and nodded in agreement.

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Sensing that something was fishy, six-year-old me spelled the letters back.

N. A. P. P. Y. Wait a minute! She just called my hair nappy!

And that is how I discovered I had “BAD” HAIR.

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I couldn’t wait to tell my mother who tried her best to assure me that my hair wasn’t that bad, and not to worry because in a couple of years we would relax it.

I waited on that relaxer like kids wait for Christmas. When the day finally came at ten years old life changed overnight. Free of naps, I felt beautiful, alive, ready for the world!

However, a few weeks later I realized that one relaxer did not a whole life make. I would have to get it done again, and again, and again, whenever my new growth would come in. New growth being a fancy way of saying, my nappy ass edges! Man how I HATED those edges.

The first time I knew they were different was when I was hanging with my cousins who had beautiful edges or ‘baby hair’ as it was called, when they told me all they used was Crisco grease to get them to look so pretty I ran home like my ass was on fire! But man, I must have used half a can of grease with no result. It wasn’t until later that I found out that they had “good” hair, of course. Their Dad had Indian in him and, well, you know the rest…

photo (11)c2

By high school I started doing my own relaxers and decided it was time to finally deal with those edges, if I could just get them to chill… so I relaxed them three times in one week. Now once every 5-6 weeks was the rule, so this was akin to MURDER, which is exactly what happened. Instead of beautifully straight edges they became over processed and I was left with a patch of burned up weeds.

Damn

So I took a razor and shaved them to the middle of my head and everything was fine.

Until a few days later when that nappy hair started growing back and I was faced with another problem: INGROWN HAIRS! Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!! I had no choice but to keep shaving them, and walked around for months like an old man with a bumpy receding hairline.

Finally, the most popular girl at school sat me down for a heart-to-heart. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”

She was a senior, I was a freshman, and wouldn’t you know she had good hair! The best in the whole school! Whites, Blacks and Mexicans wanted her beautiful, long, wavy, hair. I was in shock that she even knew me, though we played on the same basketball and volleyball team.

“Uh, yea, what’s up?”

“What did you do to your edges?”
(A beat)
WTF was I supposed to say? The truth? Hells no!
“Uh, I was trying a new look.”
“Well, I think you should grow them back. It doesn’t look good.”
“Ok.”

I grew them back immediately.

So life moved on and so did I. After high school I started modeling and kept rocking a relaxer. By then I’d sorta made peace with my edges and the only time I had any real issues was when I was working and white hair stylists would try to get creative: “Will it go curly?” No. “Can I wet it?” No. “Can I put this car wax on it?” No, No, and more No.

Until one day, I was due for another relaxer and couldn’t bring myself to do it. My hair was screaming for a break that it hadn’t seen since I was a kid. So I called Derrick, a hairdresser that I met on a job, and we started two strand twists that would eventually lock into my own hair.

Whoaaa…

The liberation I felt was immediate! With my edges locked up I felt free. I was unstoppable.

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Photo: Carhart

Sure enough, I booked three national commercials that year, including one for Pantene and GAP, where I got to shake my hair like the good haired girls!

But as great as it was, after some years I longed to comb my hair again, to brush it, to feel it. It was time to unlock, but damn, those edges.

Having tasted freedom, there was no way I was going back to a relaxer. Soooo I cut my locks and went au naturel, a look that would allow me to make the edges irrelevant and still work in the commercial TV realm.

Or so I thought

What I hadn’t anticipated was the change of tide and the emergence of the super good haired girl. I’m talking professional good hair, not your high school prom queen. These girls didn’t model because they were beautiful and happened to have good hair, they modeled because they had good hair. Walk into an audition room and good hair was coming out of the walls! It had me up late nights twisting, gelling, conditioning, doing whatever I could to if not beat it, at least imitate it. But no matter how hard I tried, I’d go to a casting and see all that curly, wavy, bouncy, luxurious, silky, long, larger-than-life hair. And my heart would sink. I felt like an imposter trying to sneak in somewhere that I didn’t belong.

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Photo: Ebony Magazine

I was drowning.

Work declined and so did my bank account.

Erickka-Sy-Savane
Photo: Daniel Discala

Now, now, we had a problem.

But like an addict, I knew I couldn’t handle it on my own, bad hair was controlling my life.

So I did something that I should have done a long time ago, called for help.

Sidra was first because, well, she’s bald, so there had to be a story. Did she shave her head to escape bad hair? She explained that she cut her hair because she’d been wearing hair extensions of every kind for so long that she no longer knew who she was. Shaving her head was a way to reintroduce herself to herself. That was twelve years ago and she couldn’t be happier. When it comes to bad hair she says that she never bought into it because she believes there’s nothing stronger and sexier than a black woman with nappy hair. Hmm. If naps are so sexy, why didn’t she keep them?

Collage

Sidra Smith, Producer of ‘Free Angela & All Political Prisoners (Sidra’s identical twin sister on the right, Actress Tasha Smith)

Next I called Debi, a relaxer girl. Was she running from bad hair? Debi said that her hair’s not relaxed and she gets it straightened at the salon every few weeks because it’s easier than wearing it natural. When it comes to good and bad hair she says she never entertained the conversation because in her mind black hair is black hair. A black girl who didn’t grow up obsessing over hair texture? Humph.

It was time to speak to Ta-ning, a bestie I’ve known for six years and never seen without a wig. She HAD to be hiding bad hair. Ta-ning shared that growing up her mom wore a different wig everyday so she sees wigs as accessories. In fact, she and her mom have zillions. And, yes, she does have nappy hair, but she’s never been ashamed of it because with light skin and green eyes she could always count on her nappy hair to let people know that she’s black. Nappy and happy?! Was it possible? But I was inclined to believe her because her mom looks white and has really good hair, so she never had a reason to hide it under a wig. Maybe they really do love wigs!

I honestly don’t know what I was looking for next, but I knew I had to talk to a good haired girl because so far nothing was as it seemed. I got in touch with Blakelee, a light-skinned Southern belle who I was convinced grew up privileged. Funny enough, Blakelee said that the only time her hair texture was discussed was when she went to black salons and hairdressers would make comments. In her family, everyone had curly hair so it wasn’t a big deal. But she had to know that people viewed her differently? At school, kids would sometimes tease her about being half-white (which she’s not) but that was about it. Today, she’s trying not to continue straightening her hair because she wants to bring back her natural curl. The bone-straight look, she feels, doesn’t capture her feisty personality. So the good haired girl is trying to bring back some kink because she wants some edge?!

This was CRAZY.

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Photo: Krista Kahl

My whole life had revolved around the belief that my nappy hair somehow made me inferior.

It was something not only enforced by my grandmother, but countless people that I’d met along the way who seemed to share a disdain for nappy hair. One friend even told me to pick the right mate so that my kids wouldn’t have “carpet-textured hair…”

This inferiority complex is something that I had accepted as my lot in life so to hear that it could have been different- that like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, good hair was mine all along- left me feeling sad, really sad.

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Man, what I could have done with my life.

Like Brando, “I could have been a contender, I could have been somebody.”

But the fight was not over. And I could see clearly what I needed to do.

The multi-generational inheritance of the Good and Bad Hair obsession would stop with me.

Period.

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Photo Krista Kahl 

*Find Erickka Sy Savane’s Blog, Bitches BrewFacebook & Twitter

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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64 Comments on "How I was Taught that I Had “Bad Hair”"

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Missy Julien-Thelemarque
Missy Julien-Thelemarque
All I hear my whole life was, she got that good hair. My hair would be in extension and I still have to hear the “good hair” comment. Once I asked a lady how she knew I had “good hair if I have extensions?” She replied, “I can tell by you baby hairs on The side.” I just shrugged it off and walked away. I never bought into the “good hair, bad hair” stupidity. I always thought If God made hair how can it be bad? If HAIR is healthy, its good hair. Everyone has different textures and might need… Read more »
Kay
Since I was a baby, everyone thought I had good hair. My hair was soft and easy to braid, and I could comb through it without it hurting. All my cousins were envious and my aunt loved braiding my hair. The only exception was that it always stayed at neck length. There was even this one time when I went to Nigeria(my country, I live in NYC) they sent this Fulani lady (I am half Fulani half Hausa) to braid my hair. She just finished braiding my cousins hair and since her hair was very coarse, the lady was really… Read more »
Kay

and they all thought nappy hair was the worst type of hair. And honestly now whenever someone says anything about Afro Hair I go bat shit crazy and say it is amazing because of its uniqueness.I always loved my hair but the natural hair community made me realize that all hair is good not just soft hair or mixed chicks hair.

Maria V.
Beautiful. Skin tone has never been an issue in my family, but hair texture has always been one of those things that seemed to determine one’s beauty. My mother, the darkest woman I know, has always had “good” hair almost down to her elbows. Her curly/wavy hair easily takes to heat, brushes smooth with just a little water, and can grow with little to no effort. My hair, on the other hand, has always been a source of curiosity because no one else has a similar texture. It grows thick and fluffy and it has no curl pattern. I remember… Read more »
Ashley

I enjoyed reading this article. I remember seeing her in some magazines.

Dabney
I read this blog when it was on Urban Bush Babes. It hit me in the gut then as it does now. Though, I am just, as I call myself, a regular ole black girl, nor light nor dark, with “regular” hair, I remember feeling the stigma of not having shoulder length hair or extraordinary powers. My Cousin, who is a lovely shade of Hershey Chocolate, did have hair that reached extraordinary lengths was the measuring stick which my hair was constantly compared. By the time I was able to go to elementary school the message of unacceptable hair was… Read more »
William Sanchez
Hey Dabney! Good for you! Yes, the idea of “nappy hair” or hair with African features being bad hair is racist ideology that has still not exited our society and will take more time and education to do so. I am a Dominican-American male and have noticed this form of racism present in Hispanic culture as well. My mom is obsessed with the idea of my future marriage mate being a woman who is just as light as me or lighter and with hair that is not “nappy”. In other words, I should stay away from women that have too… Read more »
RukiyatG
“my aunt who permed my hair is practically bald and I am enjoying a head full of healthy hair!” Girl, tell it! It amazes me that the hair practices of women in our families, as unhealthy as they may be, are not discovered to be so until it’s too late. On one hand you may want to gloat over your aunt for her misfortune, but on the other hand you have to be empathetic to her plight and see that she was a victim of the ‘black hair care lie’. My grandmother especially, but a few others in my family… Read more »
cici
I have 4a hair and i feel the same way. Now that i wear my hair curly my mother does not support me. When i wear twist or a wash and go she tells me to comb my hair. Eventhough to me it is combed. She wants me to flat iron it but i do not want heat on my hair since its thin and fine. She makes fun of me looking at the internet for hair care she thinks its wrong she wants me to straighten my hair. But i love wearing my hair in its god given state.… Read more »
stephanieb

I hear ya Cici, my mom is the same way and can’t stand for me to wear my 4b/c hair out unless it’s either flat ironed, permed, or covered over with a wig. It can be hard dealing with family regarding the very hair on your head, but I say hold your head up high and know that you are wonderfully made, regardless of how you wear your hair 🙂

Alicia Haan

@ CiCi, Continue to wear your hair proudly!! You will inspire someone else in the family at some point. Don’t let your mother’s issues destroy your liberation 🙂

Cami
“My whole life had revolved around the belief that my nappy hair somehow made me inferior. It was something not only enforced by my grandmother, but countless people that I’d met along the way who seemed to share a disdain for nappy hair. One friend even told me to pick the right mate so that my kids wouldn’t have “carpet-textured hair…” This right here! I loved your entire piece, but this part right here immediately reminded me of that classic Twilight Zone epi, “Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder” – only instead of a pretty woman being made… Read more »
Jenny

PREACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ubah Luar

This reaaly brought tears to my eyes….
I recently had this discusion with 2 cousings of mine.11 and 15. They are light skinned type 4 hair and they hate their skin and hair. There i was showing Ypoutube vids of ‘Picture me natural’ ‘XGoldn/Ambrosia’etc.. tho let them see beauty Where i come from, even in 2013 women are defined by their hair texture…everything thats type 4 is considered bad…..Such a shame
Your ‘Twilight zone’ explanation is so on point.

Blessings Ubah

Cami
@Ubah My heart goes out to you my sista and your dear cousins. God bless you for trying to make a difference in their young lives and for being proactive in showing them that true beauty extends far beyond the 24-7 lie being perpetuated and shoved down our throats by the media. And you know what Ubah? You are absolutely right, it is a crying shame that even in this day and age, we as black women are defined by our hair, our skin color, our appearance, and even our place in the world, rather than the content of our… Read more »
sadesia

@Cami

25,000 thumbs up!!!!!!!!!

Cami

@Sadesia

Thank you my sista! Right backatcha girl!

dicey
I often see female children are made to wear too many ornaments.This obsessive use of ornaments appears to be used on little girls with 4 c texture. Their mothers are consciously and subconsciously ashamed of their daughters pure phenotypes, that they saturate it with decorative ornaments, so much that you may not even see their hair. With male children they make them shave off the hair if it is 4c. I notice this is not done if the child has hair that is naturally straighter or wavier. Small children are not stupid,they can sense or figure out that parent and… Read more »
eve-audrey

“many black parents are at the root of self-hatred and inferiority complexes”
you know what? if i could i’d like that comment a million times. i stated the same on another topic and i’ve been accused of “showcasing” a coon behavior. it’s nice to see that someone shares that point of view

Ubah Luar

This is true i see it alot!
A bestie of mine with 3abc/4ab hair is so scared that her girls get 4c hair(her hubby is 4c)
Now one daughter has 3a her and the onther one more 4bc. She yells tucks the the girl wit the nappier texture. Also se tend to be jealous ad her sister’s daughter who has 2a hair and compares her “4c daughter” hair with her cousins “2c”hair. And says ‘eyah its beacuse there the same age…bla bla
Its so sad that i cant stang bing around her i really dont.

Lana

I don’t know how to express how much I deeply love and am connected to this story. I didn’t have the same experience but I felt all of the feelings of frustration and insecurity, we carry because of our BEAUTIFUL hair. Mad love and respect to Erickka for this story.

Krista

Neat story. Next time, can we remove the cursing?

Leslie

Wait…there was cursing? The greatness of the story overshadowed it I guess…smh

Go to Sleep..

Grow up. What difference does it make if the cusses are in a story or on the street. Go to sleep..

Krista

You can refer to the above comment to likewaterforchocolat as well. 🙂

MizzB

And you can refer to my ass..K thanks

Nappychique

go read something else…this isn’t about YOU. sounds like the green-eyed monster has escaped and is rearing its ugly head…

Likewaterforchocolat

Why? This is someone else’s testament to their struggle with their hair. It’s THEIR story.I actually had to go back and read it because until I read your comment, I didn’t notice any cursing. I was so captured by the actual content of this article.

Go to Sleep..

Agreed!

Krista

It may be her story and she can express herself, but the point can be lost if others are put off by your use of language.

Clarissa Evans

Then go watch sesame street, the rest of us will continue to live in the real world. -_- Honestly, she’s a grown-ass woman she can use whatever language she chooses. If that’s all you took away from the article anyway, you read it wrong!

Nappychique

I don’t see any curse words…B…F…the article is her voice, not anyone else’s. write your own story and stop trying to sanitize another’s to suit your tastes. who is put off will be put off. tell the truth girl!

Likewaterforchocolat

She “can express herself?” It’s good that she gets your permission. I think I feel this way because this article talks about one thing be “acceptable” vs. something not being acceptable as determined by the appropriate police and the things that are deemed unacceptable should be changed for the presumably better.Why should she dilute her words for “others”? In reading her article, it seems that she has done enough changing to suit others. If there are people who are “put off” by her use of language, perhaps the story is meant for them and they should move along.

Krista
Perhaps you should separate your emotions from the situation and stop being so defensive. Perhaps you too were once told you had bad hair and that’s why it resonates so deeply with you. The cursing and her story are TWO different things. That might reach you, but it doesn’t reach me. We are all grown and should be professionals at some point. There are clever and witty ways to broadcast your personality and story to the world WITHOUT using profanity. She can do that all she wants on HER website and if that’s your cup of tea, then hit her… Read more »
Michaela

I don’t think she is trying to be offensive or anything by not liking cursing. Some people view things differently. Some people prefer cursing and some are offended by it. Its not that deep.

Sunny

You are gorgeous and so is your hair. But the “good hair” and “bad hair” sounds so ignorant. “Good” only means closer to white, which in the US means the slave master asserted his privilege in ways our foremothers were powerless to prevent. So do I consider my hair texture some badge of superiority? Hell no. I call it what it is: plantation hair. And do we realize that “bad” means black? Please let’s stop the madness.

lonnie

Sunny

I think the writer was using ‘good’ and ‘bad’ hair to illustrate the point and the ignorance of using those words and the mentally that is engrained in so many of us surrounding its use. I don’t think she believes it.
I don’t know, I think the person who is capable of writing such a beautiful, well-thought out piece is way smarter than that.

tj

This is an awesome article!This speak truth all the way to the bone!
Love how your finally ‘found’ yourself in what you thought you hated the most..funny how that happens?
Congrats 🙂

Stace

BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO !!!! Standing ovation.

Amber

LOL We could have grown up under the same roof…! Like you, once I grew out my locs I booked commercial after commercial. All those years I’d spent trying to contort my hair into somebody else’s…lol…nice to know we aren’t alone. lol

Midwestnija

Awesome.

Karisa C.

I loved this post! I truly feel that this post screams out to the experiences of young black girls with kinky hair everywhere. My hair experience effected everything… my self image, my choices, and tons of bad relationships… I thank God for beautiful sisters like you who inspire us to love US… just as God intended the first time…thank you.

Michelle Hubbard

It all depends on how we learn to look at people. It took years for me to look at individual beauty and not believe in the racial hierchy of what is ‘normal’ therefore more beautiful. I can admire a halo full of healthy, textured coils the same way I can look at long, shiny,wavy hair and admire it as well-I can see the beauty in both. I also have learned to look at people this way, whether they are an olive-skinned Itallian or a jet-black Senegalese girl, I can see the beauty in both if their faces have symetry.

lablooplah

God is not boring. He knew what he was doing when he created us. I agree with you 100%

Sandy

Your writing is quite captivating and definitely on point! These are my sentiments exactly. My mom who is going natural again is still very negative toward natural hair. I love my curls and have chosen to love and appreciate the hair God gave to me. This is not to say that I don’t occasionally wear a weave or straighten my hair. I have finally accepted me! I’m beautiful with kinky hair an all. Thanks for sharing this article with our natural hair community.

Johanna
Great article! And you are so beautiful! I have 4b/4c hair too. And I grew up in haiti. I remember how people would tell me that I have good hair!!But at the same time, nobody wanted to comb my hair because they new how hard it was. I had a friend, she had 4a/b hair and her mother would tell mine that she wish her daughter had my hair… It’s not the best thing to compare children like that. But what I’m trying to explain is the perspective we have on our hair changes depending on where we are from.… Read more »
lablooplah
Yes that is true. I grew up in Kenya, Africa where everyone thinks that all our hair looks alike. Type 4 hair is the dominant hair texture in Kenya. Anyways I got the same comments (i have 4c hair although I’m not sure I think I just have the usual texture I grew up seeing) I was told my hair was healthy, full, and thick, but a nightmare to braid because it took forever. Although africans perm their hair, the good hair/bad hair thing is an american thing. Besides I remember my childhood (before weaves became the dominant hairstyles) we… Read more »
Je

Typo No one

Je

@Cece know one can teach you to love your hair. Love you and all of you!

Britt Britt

I didn’t know Tasha had a twin sister! CooL!

Michelle A.

They actually tried to make you think you had BAD hair??! You actually THOUGHT you had bad hair!? Shooot! Girl your mirror broken or sumthin’; cause you woulda seen the beautiful hair that I’m lookin at in these here pics!
Seriously though, I’m happy that you’ve gotten over the ‘bad hair’ hump. Your hair is thick and lovely.
Thank you for sharing.

Cece
I got my first relaxer at 2yrs old.Im in highschool now and I had long relaxed hair until it started dropping so I stopped because it wouldn’t make sense to keep relaxing if my hair was gonna forever stay short.I went natural because I thought I had ‘good hair’,but nope(it only looks good when curls are showing).Whenever I wear it out at school people would say ‘Are you going rasta?’,’You need to fix your hair’ or ‘You should loc your hair’,I get so offended because they’re telling me my hair is too nappy to be worn out anyway some girls… Read more »
sady

LOVE LOVE LOVE this girl’s writing! I just started following her work at Bitches Brew blog and I am OBSESSED! Thanks for sharing this post because I think so many women will benefit from reading her honest depiction of life as a black woman. And though I love her blogging, I hope that a book is in her immediate future because every time I read, I end up wanted something longer. I keep wanting MORE MORE MORE!

eve-audrey
i liked that piece. i was lucky enough to grow up in a family where people had something else to care about than skin tone and hair texture and i was taught confidence. even now that i live in a place where i’m surrounded by people who don’t look like me and have different hair textures i don’t care and i love mine. even though people from other communities might have prejudices against us and our hair i find that black people are often the ones who obssess a lot about that and make stupid comments. i wish we would… Read more »
Just me

Similarly, in my house the good hair vs. bad hair debate was forbidden and a sense of pride was the emphasis. That lesson was priceless because when I do encounter black folks (cause black men have THAT conversation too) I am ever so grateful that I am cannot relate! Great point! Instead I keep saying it’s not what you have but how you have it.

Anonty

I hope she can overcome the good hair/bad hair thing because being honest, it still exists. I fear it always will. What she says about the castings she went to where she saw all the ‘super good hair’ is what we have now with the new natural community. Popular blogs are full of girls with ‘perfect’ hair in length or curl and so is youtube. It’s a shame that when 4Cs start something on YT less people subscribe. I liked her story anyway even if I long for the day when no one says ‘good hair’ ever again.

Faith

You are so right. I have 4c hair as they call it and it’s extremely kinky and TIGHT. I started not to like my hair because it wasn’t like everybody else’s. I had to stop watching YT for a while. 3 years after the infamous BIG CHOP I have grown to love my natural hair all over again.
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stephanieb
I so agree Anonty and this article was excellent. I too have 4b/c hair and always heard from my mom, aunts, etc., growing up that I had hard hair to deal with and that my hair wasn’t like the rest of the women in my family, therefore I couldn’t do what they did to their hair. I didn’t have the “good grade” of hair, so they called it, so I was stuck with only relaxing my hair or perming it, both of which over the years ruined my hair. I am 33 yrs. old and still deal with this mess… Read more »
Amarmi
This good hair/ bad hair thing… It’ll go away if we all teach ourselves and our children that if it grows out of your scalp that way, It is the best hair. Everyone has the best hair. Because God never gives us second best. And honestly, i’m subscribed to a few looser curled naturalistas like Naptural85, because I get a lot of DIY tutorials that are useful. But I HUNT for 4c naturals bcuz I want to know what products look like in hair like mine. I’m not gonna spend hours looking at hair that is nothing like mine, and… Read more »
Jacky

Great story,i loved the pictures,thanks for sharing this post

Kellie

I think we all go through this where we believe we have inferior hair, and going natural changes that perspective-its part of our growth into confident women. In all aspects of ourselves, not just hair, we might have body issues, relationship issues etc, until we confront ourselves and love us the way we are..in the end we become confident and emphathetic women. I love that, God authors our lives, self-doubt and low self esteem, all happen for a reason, its part of womanhood and I think we all can relate to that.

maxine
This post was great, had everything from good old fashioned sense of humour to the issues that black people still face today. The fact that her grandmother is light enough to pass for white or one ladies hair is silky enough to get a free pass,sometimes even with ‘nappy'(not a term I’m that comfortable using so I will use coarse)hair the fact she has light skin and eyes gives her another pass as well as the dark girl down the road who gets a pass just because her hair is long. Her grandmother does reminds me of a neighbor who… Read more »
Chaka

Your writing is captivating. I went over to your blog. Phenomenal blog entries. You really need to write a book. Yours is a voice that would speak to many.

lonnesha

You’re so right! I went to her blog as well and I feel like so few people write like that anymore. At least not for blogs. Her work feels like a throwback to days gone by when writers really wrote. People like Baldwin and Zora Neal Hurston but she’s contemporary because her voice is also very much for today. I deeply connect to what she has to say and I also hope she writes a book. I would buy it. But I also hopes she continues to blog because I’m enjoying it immensely!

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