I am often asked via either email or direct message on social media, “Why do we always make everything about race?” My blanket response references how (neo) colonialism was founded on the binary polarity of black and white skin, coupled with texture of one’s hair to justify enslavement. It must be noted that revealing the unique challenges a group has experienced is not divisive but necessary for healing. What prevents heathy discourse on this subject is the fact that the media often stokes the flames around this subject and some are left to believe that they are expected to bear the blame and guilt from it. In college, I majored in the disciplines of anthropology, psychology, and education to ensure that I was learned enough to help others celebrate diversity with the spirit of unity, compassion, and belonging, without editing my voice or story.
Prior to the completions of my master's theses (Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline & The Effects of Communicator Similarity on Healthcare Recommendations) and my world-renowned doctoral dissertation (African-American Males Perception of Law Enforcement From a Psychophysiological Perspective), my research advisors admonished me about the importance of using my findings above and beyond that of a "public intellectual." Hence today, I have trained over 300 police precincts and countless juvenile and family court judges, medical professionals, corporate officials, and educators on "Equity In Action™ Bridging Racial & Social Divisions without Shaming and Blaming." The aforementioned 1-2 years consultation is often preceded by one of my DEI master classes.
Often in my DEI master classes, I may enter as the young student I once was in public education...dressed in oversized clothing indicative of the fact that I often wore my oldest sibling and only brother Oscar's clothes as resources were limited. I also enter with an African hairstyle I learned about from my great aunt Lorraine who was also a licensed cosmetologist and beautician. The elders in my family took great pride in teaching us about the beauty and uniqueness of our African heritage. Hairstyles in my community were a central theme of individualism and cultural representation. I loved seeing friends and family members express themselves with dreadlocks, cornrows, braids, twists, and plaits often adorned with beads and cowrie shells. I vividly recall learning about the spiritual significance of the African’s hair being the highest point of the body thus the closest point to the Divine. I became intrigued with the historical accounts of the Ugogo peoples of Tanzania and how many would wear their plaits pointing straight up, in an attempt to be even closer to the Divine. They would only cut their hair when mourning. I wanted this hair! And I began to “grow out” my hair.
While growing my hair, I was often celebrated and cheered on within my community. I also recall the chastisement of larger society. My mother, grandparents, and especially my great aunt Lorraine more than adequately prepared me for the forthcoming ridicule, teasing, and overall novelty of my hair in broader circles. I was told and later read about how hair and skin color became the foundation for determining race. African hair was often referred to as woolly, nappy, kinky, knotty, etc. Slave owners would often refer to African hair in animalistic terms to support the perpetuation of the inhumane treatment of slaves. This is a prominent visual in my DEI master classes as I am able to show the damaging effects of unchecked perception and perspective. The slave trade inflicted severe physical trauma, emotional scars, and psychological abuse that are still reflected today. One of the most devastating consequences of the slave trade in my opinion is the damage done to the slave’s self-image. Slave owners often favored those with “light skin” and “straight hair.” Following years of oppression and suppression, and seeing those with “light skin” and “straight hair” afforded better treatment, many slaves begin to accept this narrative and consequently dislike the uniqueness of their appearance.
I only cut my hair as a youth after my brother Oscar was murdered. If you have seen me lately, you may have noticed the lengthiness of my hair. I’m back at it! I am the hopes and dreams of my ancestors and I have no right to disappoint them. Representation matters! I will continue my mission while being down to earth, but reaching for heaven.