Friday, November 27, 2009

Munachi (to love)...

Dedicated to a heart, which for better or worse has spent much time traveling the valleys and peaks of the Andes in search of it's missing piece, learning along the way the limits of language in expressing any type of emotion worth having...

To the hills I went looking for you
because it was there I saw you first
you were playing with the wind
perhaps waiting for me.

There I found you,
and in that same place I lost you,
jealousy kills,
now what will become of me?

To the hill I return,
intending to see you once more,
and if this time I find you,
I will never let you go...


And same poem in Quechua...

Ucsha urcuman mashcancapac rircani
chaipi canta ricsishcamanta
huairahuan pucllashpa carcanqui
ñucata shuyanacuimantachari

Chaipi tuparircani, cuitsacu,
chaipillatac chincachircani
imamantachari, huarmicu,
¿cunanca imashi tucusha?

Ucsha urcuman ticrani, huarmicu,
cutin tuparisha yuyashpa
canta chaipi tuparishpaca, huarmicu,
ña na canta saquishachu

Thursday, November 26, 2009

but did they bother to leave a tip?...

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the American colonies. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.

The colonists didn’t even call the day Thanksgiving. To them, a "thanksgiving" was a religious holiday in which they would go to church and thank God for a specific event, such as the winning of a battle or landing on terra firma after months at sea. On such a religious day, the types of recreational activities that the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians participated in during the 1621 harvest feast – dancing, singing secular songs, playing games – wouldn’t have been allowed. The feast was a secular celebration, so it never would have been considered a thanksgiving in the pilgrims minds. During the next fifteen years, additional epidemics, most of which we know to have been smallpox, struck repeatedly. Europeans caught smallpox and the other maladies, to be sure, but most recovered, including, in a later century, the "heavily pockmarked George Washington". Indians usually died.

In his "History of Plymouth Plantation," five-time governor of the [Massachusetts] colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years because they refused to work in the fields, preferring instead to steal. Bradford recalled for posterity that the colony was riddled with "corruption and discontent". The crops were small because "much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable".

Today we consider that event our "First Thanksgiving," but the holiday that we celebrate today is actually a combination of two different and long-standing holidays that were celebrated by various cultures around the world: the harvest-home festival or feast that was celebrated when the main crops were harvested; and a formal day of thanksgiving, which could be declared for any occasion. Various "days of thanksgiving" were declared at various times in the New World, ranging from a day set aside by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541, to a day honoring the arrival of supply ships in Jamestown, Virginia in 1610. So, competing claims for the "first Thanksgiving" have arisen.

What is beyond debate is the fact that the Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Thanksgiving's modern celebration dates back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them "Pilgrims" until the 1870s. Plymouth Rock achieved ichnographic status only in the nineteenth century, when some enterprising residents of the town moved it down to the water so its significance as the "holy soil" the Pilgrims first touched might seem more plausible. The Rock has become a shrine, the Mayflower Compact a sacred text, and our textbooks play the same function as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, teaching us the rudiments of the civil religion of Thanksgiving.

Indians are marginalized in this civic ritual. Our archetypal image of the first Thanksgiving portrays the groaning boards in the woods, with the Pilgrims in their starched Sunday best and the almost-naked Indian guests. Thanksgiving silliness reaches some sort of zenith in the handouts that school children have carried home for decades, with captions like, "They served pumpkins and turkeys and corn and squash. The Indians had never seen such a feast! However, the Pilgrims had literally never seen "such a feast", since all foods mentioned are exclusively indigenous to the Americas and had been provided by [or with the aid of] the local tribe.

To most of the Pilgrims and Europeans, the Natives were heathens, savages, treacherous, and Satanic. Upon seeing thousands of dead Natives, the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, called the plague “miraculous.” In 1634, he wrote to a friend in Engl

But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not fifty, have put themselves under our protect…

The ugly truth is that many Pilgrims were thankful and grateful that the Native population was decreasing. Even worse, there was the Pequot Massacre in 1637, which started after the colonists found a murdered white man in his boat. Ninety armed settlers burned a Native village, along with their crops, and then demanded the Natives to turn in the murderers. When the Natives refused, a massacre followed.

Captain John Mason and his colonist army surrounded a fortified Pequot village and reportedly shouted: “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord Judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies”. The surviving Pequot were hunted and slain.

The Governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, further elaborates:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.

Perhaps most disturbingly, it is strongly argued by many historians that the Pequot Massacre led to the “Thanksgiving” festivities. The day after the massacre, the aforementioned Governor Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: “A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.” It was signed into law that, “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.”

As human beings, I do feel that it’s important for us to approach history with honesty and sensitivity. Perhaps some of you as you set down to dine with your families today do not believe this history is relevant to you, but I would strongly argue that a history that is not inclusive is a dangerously racist and prejudice one. Yes, we should spend time with our families and Loved ones, and yes, we should be grateful and thankful for all that we have, but not at the expense of ignoring an entire race of people, their culture, and their history. The fact that history textbooks and schools try to glorify the Pilgrims while omitting significant facts about the Natives represents that there is a lot to improve in the United States. Let us not become blinded by super-patriotism or blowout sales of “Black Friday.” Let us give some thought to the Native people, learn from their struggles, and embolden ourselves to stand up against racism and genocide in all forms.

Origin myths do not come cheaply. To solely glorify the Pilgrims is dangerous. The genial omissions and false details our texts use to retail the Pilgrim legend promote Anglocentrism, which only handicaps us when dealing with all those whose culture is not distinctively Anglo. Surely, in history, "truth should be held sacred, at whatever cost."

They [Natives] deserve your attention...and your thanks!

Monday, November 23, 2009

she's so "precious"...

Nothing quite prepares you for the rough-cut diamond that is the movie "Precious." A rare blend of pure entertainment and dark social commentary, this shockingly raw, surprisingly irreverent and absolutely unforgettable story of an obese, illiterate, pregnant black Harlem teen circa 1987 is one that you hope will not be dismissed as too difficult, because it should not be missed. Bleak, depressing, and shockingly brutal, Precious is the "feel-bad/feel-good" movie of the year. It's a film designed to pummel you with a situation that would send most humans into a weeping fetal position but to then show you that the power to overcome is greater than the tendency to withdraw one's self and die.

Sure the movie may be criticized social pornography at its worst, festering in racial self-loathing and oblivious to an economic system that routinely neglects its neediest and most vulnerable. Making those inbred white trash screen caricatures look like family values filmmaking at its finest in comparison. While certain to reinforce white prejudices related to African-American criminality, ghetto mothers as conniving, evil and violent welfare cheats, and habitual eating disorder fast food binges as sources of bad bodies and bad behavior alike. For all the darkness seen in this film it's astonishing the amount of light that is seen at the end, even though the unsettling nature of it all was still with me as the credits began to roll. Sidibe created a character so believable, she not only manages to earn the compassion of the characters in the film, but also those in the audience. It's a truly masterful performance in a film "Precious" is not an easy movie to watch, but it is an important one and one of the best films of the year (indeed of recent memory).

After watching the movie, I began to ask myself, "What are norms?" What can be considered a "normal" family life? The average social institution and relationships are intimately grounded in a pervasive economy of negotiation and discourse of power, which shape relations between people at all levels in a society. This idea of normalization is pervasive in our society: e.g., national standards for educational programs, for medical practice, for industrial processes and products. The movie provoked some research into the causes, sources, and possible solution to chronic, generational poverty and dysfunction, especially since many of the scenes in the movie were filmed in my neighborhood of Harlem.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 study, "The Negro Family" offered the argument that "the Negro family in the Urban ghetto was crumbling." This fed into other emerging contemporary ideas: such as the "culture of poverty" hypothesis. Accordingly, the culturally available and politically opportune way of explaining poverty was convincing: the poor were poor because they made bad decisions and lacked the motivation which would get them good jobs (assuming, as always that there are good jobs to be had!). The proposed solution was to reshape the poor, perhaps with programs that provide "values" education, along with the right mix of incentives and penalties which would promote "marital stability" and strong development of the familial unit.

According to the definition of relative poverty, the poor are those who lack what is needed by most Americans to live decently because they earn less than half of the nation's median income. By this standard, around 20 percent of Americans live in poverty, and this has been the case for at least the past 40 years. Of these 20 percent, 60 percent are from the working class poor. Black children have a higher chance of experiencing poverty during their childhood (79%), compared to White children (31%).

Minority women, particularly African American and Hispanic, are twice as likely to delay or have no prenatal care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Troubled pregnancies expose unborn fetuses to the potential for birth defects, low birth weight, and premature delivery that can lead to lifelong cognitive, social and behavioral problems. By the age of 4, the average child of lower socioeconomic status on welfare might have had 144,000 fewer encouragements than middle-class children and 560,000 less than upper-class children and 84,000 more discouragements of their behavior than middle-class children and 100,000 more than upper-class children.

The effects of poverty are serious. Children who grow up in poverty suffer more persistent, frequent, and severe health problems than do children who grow up under better financial circumstances. Children raised in poverty tend to miss school more often because of illness. These children also have a much higher rate of accidents than do other children, and they are twice as likely to have impaired vision and hearing, iron deficiency anemia, and higher than normal levels of lead in the blood, which can impair brain function.

While strides have been made in a post-Civil Rights society, no single initiative has been able to break the fundamental correlation between poor families, impoverished communities, and low academic achievement that disproportionately affects minorities. More than forty years later, a Black child in the United States still lack a fair and equitable opportunity to live in decent housing, learn within adequate educational systems, and to prosper and excel socioeconomically. Measures taken further along the educational path to equalize the achievements of minorities, such as college enrollment quotas, achieve only small-scale affects and ignore the multitude of disadvantaged children who have failed to reach this point. As such, these policies disregard the long-term intergenerational effects of having one’s life choices limited by race.

A number of those in the Black middle class originally benefitted from War on Poverty initiatives themselves and were able to achieve a degree of social advancement and mobility. It has been posited that as neighborhood income increases, test scores and behavior improve significantly for white children but not for black children. However, those who are able to acquire the knowledge and skills that could influence and motivate the next generation of children moved away and left those less competent isolated in communities riddled with drugs, crime, unemployment and despair. A 1997 study in Chicago found that 79 percent of black middle-class households in Chicago live within four blocks where a third or more of the population is poor, compared to only 36 percent of white middle-class households.

Equal access to education is unmistakably one of the most important elements in aiding to lift those who can take advantage of such measures out of economic dependency and social mobility. Family circumstances that undercut cognitive skills such as poverty, high unemployment among family members, inadequate nourishment, overcrowded and unsafe environments, and violence continue to be present throughout many urban neighborhoods. During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to establish a Presidential Early Learning Council to coordinate federal, state and local policies to quadruple financing for Early Head Start, provide federal challenge grants for states to use for early care and education programs, and expand home visiting programs for low-income mothers. These measures emphasize improving quality, not just reaching more children. Students at risk for the biological or social effects of poverty are also more likely to attend schools with reduced educational resources and fewer opportunities for quality instruction. The $787 billion economic stimulus package passed recently by Congress has provided an increase in funding for programs aimed at young children. Head Start and Early Head Start will receive $2.1 billion over two years, and the child-care grant program will receive $2 billion over two years. Additionally, the $10 billion Mr. Obama has pledged for early childhood education would amount to the largest new federal initiative for young children since Head Start began in 1965.

In a nation with a per capita GDP above the poverty line for a family of four, it is appalling that almost 3 million people work full time, year-round and are poor, and that more than 12 million American children are living in poverty. Lyndon Johnson proposed to fight poverty "because it is right, because it is wise." In a land of vast wealth, twice as rich as America in the 1960s, can today's leaders to rise to the occasion?

Friday, November 20, 2009

low-level shit...

“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars
is the very bottom of hardships.”
~ W.E.B. DuBois

We live in a world where 20 percent of the population uses 80 percent of its resources, where upward of 1 billion people live on $1 a day or less, where 16,000 children die daily from malnutrition and where the people of sub-Saharan Africa, the globe's poorest region, spend $25,000 every minute servicing their massive debt to the rich countries of the North. All those markers of extreme poverty have gotten dramatically worse since the 1980s; despite rapid technological and agricultural progress in the developed world, the number of people suffering from chronic, absolute (as opposed to relative) poverty and malnutrition has roughly doubled in the past 40 years. There are places I have seen in Brooklyn, L.A., Harlem, or Chicago that look as "third world" as anything I have witnessed in Bangkok, Cairo or Rio.

Out of all my 27 years living in New York City, in El Barrio and Harlem, I have prided myself on never having been robbed, mugged or stuck-up.

I have had knives pulled on me...
I have had guns flashed on me...
I've been spat at, punched in the face and somehow people have never manage to get my wallet, money, or in one case, my Jordans.

In any of the other countries I have been to I have seen people pickpocketed, robbed, beat-up and beat-down (with metal chairs) but I have managed to avoid such misfortune despite having the habit of taking random walks into different neighborhoods with the help of maps or a destination. I truly believe that New York breeds a particular type of street knowledge that is universal and allows one to analyze situations before they occur and avoid becoming a victim. It also helps that at one point during my youth I was briefly a stick-up kid in El barrio until I saw that this was a temporary solution to a larger problem and more profound needs.

What I "needed" in my youth was quite frankly money, because from an early age, literally when we first realize as kids that our parents can only obtained toys and candy with this "thing" called "money", we identify it as a means of obtaining our material desires. As young adults we begin to associate money with social mobility and status and the objects we can obtain with it as a means to define our worth. Even as a child I knew that the "power" that local neighborhood drug dealer had did not garner the same respect or the same power in any other context besides local neighborhood politics. Obviously long-lasting change in my socioeconomic status and social mobility would have to be achieved by other means.

Years later I find myself in Chicago visiting one of my dearest friends to network and politic with her in the Second City for a couple of days. A couple of spots we hit up include J-Bar, which is a lounge located in the upscale James Hotel and patronized largely by well-off minority clientele and
Funk Lounge, which is more "hood" with a vibe of a strip club (it has poles), though it is open until 4am on the weekdays.

Last night I found myself at Funk Lounge posted up against the bar, watching my homegirl's purse and coat while she networked. I was busy on facebook, text messaging, emailing and doing a hundred others things besides listening to the music and checking for women. I wasn't worried, I had my black trench on with True Religion jeans on so I knew there was no way anyone could get to my wallet unless they cut a hole thru my jacket and jeans.

While looking 4 the "Halle Berrys", the "Mo'Niques" graviate towards my ass instead...some girl just reached 3rd base w/ me against my will in Chicago...
-a random tweet of mine from 19 November 2009

Sometime around 3am his heavy set woman walks up to me to dance while am text messaging on my phone. I cut her a smile and continue to ignore her.

When she gets close, I pull away;
When she grabs my pants, I push her away;
When she grabs my dick, I elbow her.

I tell her am with my girl and go reach for my friend who is standing behind this woman though she is oblivious to what is going on. As I walk away the girl sticks her hands in my pockets and tries to grope me while my friend laughs thinking I am enjoying it, encouraging me to dance with her. In the process, the girl pulled out my money clip from my pocket, an empty money clip, minus a £20 British Pound, because in the struggle my American money slipped off of it. Do girls really go to clubs and damn near give dude's handjobs to locate and then remove money out of there pockets? Grown women? Come on, really? And then you have to leave the club before the person realizes it. So do you make a night of it? Just continuously club-hop until you get enough to keep your cellphone on and your rent paid? Like F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "You can stroke people with words" love, I woulda gotten you a drink and sent you home in a cab like a lady if you would played your cards right, maybe even a meal with the happy ending you were attempting to give me.

You can't be mad when misfortune hits. I hope she enjoys the money clip filled with a foreign currency note. I mean I did get turned on a little bit by the whole event. That being said, I hope she realizes that you can't make a career out of such low-level shit. Women possess the power to manipulate men in far greater ways than literally digging through their pockets. If I have learned anything from my business degree is that there more insidious ways of acquiring lasting wealth. Ways of gaming the system to gain influence and then using your newfound power to change the rules to your benefit (re: NYC Mayor Bloomberg). Exactly how different are these scenarios? Compare any nickel-and-dime scheme to the fraud perpetuated on Wall Street and you visualize the difference in scale that I am talking about. You can quite literally rob and deceive and have people pay you for the pleasure of being relieved on their money and belongings. If your going to hustle than be the best at it. Go all in! What that woman lacks in foresight can never be found in the pockets of men.

Friday, November 06, 2009

embracing life...

When I turned 25 back in 2007, there were only two people that I saw that entire day whom were unrelated to me. A quarter-century of life was very personal for me and I chose to spend the day reflecting and meditating, wearing a new outfit and treating myself to lunch at Jean-georges' Mercer Kitchen. However, a few weeks before my birthday I got the idea that it would be cool to meet up with the doctor that delivered me back in the 1982. So I got his information from my mom and then googled him and found out that he now had a private practice close to the hospital where I was born.

So on that day, the 17th of June, 2007 I went to his office, walked in and asked to see him, the receptionist looked very confused and hesitated to call the doctor to the front of the office. But he came out and I shook his hand and thanked him. Told him it was my birthday and twenty-five years prior he had been the first face I most likely saw upon my entrance into this world. Surprisingly, he offered me five minutes to sit and talk to him. He said he had never had a child come and visit him this far along their life path and thank him. We spoke for a while and I was leaving I asked him if he remember the details of my birth (he did not), then I asked, "Is there some sort of reaction common to all children as they are born, what is their most common "first reaction" to birth"?

His response: the first human gesture is the embrace.

After coming into the world, at the beginning of their days, babies wave their arms as if seeking someone. He then added:

Other doctors, who work with people who have already lived their lives, say that the aged, at the end of their days, die trying to raise their arms. Reaching out to their loved ones, or if they don't have any near them, they simply reach out to anyone. They lunge out towards the living as death pulls them in the opposite direction.

I have had the misfortune of seeing people in my family die, quite literally in front of me. I saw my grandfather breath his last breathe as cancer consumed him. He died with my grandmother and his sister embracing him, he too weak to move, that is everything except his eyes. His eyes told his whole story, "they said continue without me, I have carried this family as far as I could, sorry for my untimely exit". My great-grandmother, unable to speak after a debilitating stroke, told me (in spanish) to find a woman who can cook me arroz con salchicha like she could, her kitchen had been ordered closed forever by God. She never walked again but she could move half her body and gesture, and with that one arm she gave tighter hugs that some people could give with six.

And that's it, that's all, no matter how hard we strive or how many words we pile on. Everything comes down to this: between two flutterings, with no more explanation, the voyage occurs...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

a little prince in harlem...

I grew up as a little prince in an old-school extended family, with multiple generations under one roof, where I was the only male. My Great-Grandmother, Grandmother, Mom, and two aunts were all my queens in our little tenth-floor, 3 bedroom kingdom in the El Barrio sky. Around 1989, things fell apart. Mom was 25 and decided she wanted to live her youth to the fullest and go clubbing, grandma moved out, titi gave up on men and was always at her girlfriend's place in the Bronx, so it was me and the eldest watching cartoons and novelas in spanish. She went to bed early and sometimes my mom didn't come home at all, although she always kissed me on the forehead before heading out the door. I never did quite understand why I took showers and dressed into pajamas whereas she did the same and put on dresses and heels and went outside. What do people do at night? You can't play basketball. You can barely see things. Adult life seemed so complicated from the perspective of a 9 year old.

Fast forward 18 years:

Grandma is still in Florida; Great-Grandma is 10 years passed; my mom is in North Carolina, still dances but has given up the clubs, one aunt had breast cancer and the other is healthy. Healthy that is until two days ago.

As time passes I am constantly reminded of their mortality as their generation slowly slips away. Am an adult now, and my world has grown far beyond the borders of my childhood. I am an artist and a graduate student. In the past 3 months I have done photo shoots in Paris, had meetings in London, and went out to Munich for Oktoberfest with eight of my closest (girl)friends. But I define home as 5 square blocks in the middle of the island of Manhattan where my family lives scattered throughout El Barrio. Not so much the actual structures of NYC subsidized housing but my family themselves. They are my living, breathing homes. Residences that are never in danger of foreclosure or denying me a hug because I was short on the rent on the first of the month.

So when I landed this Sunday in JFK after another flight out of the country I turned on my phone and was greeted by text messages and voicemails from family. A stroke: sketchy details, conflicting reports as to which hospital in the city, the condition of my aunt. One of my homes was in danger, perhaps the strongest home I have left. See this particular aunt is a warrior, her spine is composed of spear points. She has never put up with any sh*t from her husbands, boyfriends, family, children, or friends. Her will was indomitable but the cemeteries of the world are filled with women (and men) just like this. She will overcome this. Her body will bear the scars of this battle. And who knows, they may be some other malady lurking, undiscovered, that will offer one final coup de grâce.

But seeing her lying there I could see her struggles, the struggle to simply speak coherently, to move one half of her body, however even surrounded by family she was clearly leading the charge in this battle. From all the tears in the room (curiously absent from her own face) you would think the roles were reserved. After my hospital visit I was left with more questions than answers but no matter the outcome of her recent health issue, no matter where I may be in this world, whether in Harlem, NYC or Haarlem, The Netherlands my aunts can be assured that their little prince has never stopped defending the family castle...

She will overcome this. that I can assure her of...

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

she got that good hair...

In the documentary Good Hair, co-writer/producer Chris Rock has a marvelous timely subject all to himself. The easy jokes we've all heard at comedy clubs about a black woman's hair being untouchable are brushed aside: Rock gets to the matter's center by asking men what it's like not to have the intimacy to touch a lover's hair. The numbers are surprising and overwhelming. African-Americans comprise only 12 percent of the national population, yet they purchase 80 percent of the country's hair care products. Rock likens this passion to an addiction, one he peruses with equal parts humor and seriousness. Although the documentary's presentation is cut from the well-worn Morgan Spurlock cloth, Rock's wit and cunning insight enlivens even the most mundane tableaus, including an over-reliance on talking-head interviews with such celebrities as Nia Long, Maya Angelou, Ice-T, the Rev. Al Sharpton and many others.

While the film's format is familiar, Rock benefits by delving into subject matter foreign to many viewers. Yes, Spike Lee once staged an inspired song-and-dance routine in School Daze, in which rival female African-American groups debated "Good or Bad Hair." But Rock goes much further, visiting beauty salons, barbershops and hair industry conventions to examine the economic and intimacy dilemmas wrought by black women's hair obsession. He spends much time researching the perils of traditional, common hair-straightening treatments and reveals the shocking expense of hair "relaxing" and extensions. He travels to India to track down the source for most African-American hair weaves. He even tosses in a bit of intrigue by following four teams vying to win the annual Bronner Bros. Hair Battle Royale in Atlanta.

In the documentary we are told that "you never touch a black woman's hair, or with women who happily hand over a thousand bucks (or more) for a complicated weave, all because hair is a vital component of how they view and assess themselves". "Our self-esteem is wrapped up in it,'' admits actress Tracie Thoms (who sticks with a natural curly look). "A woman's hair is her glory,'' adds Maya Angelou. And that trick of image and syntax has even working-class women spending a fortune on expensive weaves that can't be touched, fondled or wetted, or have sodium hydroxide rubbed into children's scalps to get them on "the creamy crack" -- relaxers -- pretty much from birth.

Most consumers are misled about the deleterious effects of hair weaves. After extended or prolonged usage of the hair-weave process (six mouths or better) most weave clients will experience a degeneration of their texture. Once the hairline fades or the hair texture thins, the client is more susceptible to continue wearing the weave to hide her imperfections and to maintain an image. Sadly, this is another form of bamboozlement that has plagued the black beauty industry for years. Black women have suffered through some of the worst product launches I’ve seen in the last 25 years. The No-lye and Gel relaxer kits, Rio products, permanent colors and high alkaline shampoos, etc. In some respect, the local beauty supply store has turned into a chemical waste dump.

Hair is a very tangible form of self expression, of how we feel about ourselves, and how we want to be perceived." Sharpton says in the film, we happily “comb our oppression” and spend thousands of dollars on anti-curling agents from hot combs to chemical relaxers—both of which could serve as a weapon if need be. Al Sharpton, who wouldn’t dare trade his own perm for anything or anyone at anytime, regardless of the weight of social acceptance. There is no parallel in human history where a people have been subjected to similar mutilation
of body mind and soul.

In 1933, Harvard trained Ph.D, Carter G. Woodson wrote his classic text, The Miseducation of the Negro in which he offered a critical historical analysis of the effects of a Eurocentric/hegemonic education on the minds of Black students informed both Black and White readers that “the Negro’s mind” had been brought under the control of his oppressor, and that when you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. Dr. Woodson furthermore penned the following statement regarding Black student mis-education, “To handicap a student for life by teaching him that his Black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless, is the worst kind of lynching. It kills one’s aspirations and dooms him to vagabondage and crime.”

And, after all, in a country with standards so untrustworthy, a country that makes heroes of so many criminal mediocrities, a country unable to face why so many of the non-White are in prison, or on the needle, or standing, futureless, in the streets—it may very well be that both children, and their elders, have concluded that they have nothing whatever to learn from the people of a country that has managed to learn so little. I think history, media, politics, and everytyhing under the sun has influenced black culture and beliefs. Blacks are suffering from some poor self worth, values and beliefs these days. Some of us are doing anything to fit in to make life easier for ourselves, not realizing that if we hold what is true to us, we will prosper and grow.