Cross-Cultural Discourse on Black Culture and the Black Family

After the Michael Richards racist tirade many non-Blacks chastised Black folks for being angry and suspicious about white America’s hidden racist views. A number of non-Black commentators said that Black folks’ suspicions were just as bad as Richards’s use of the term nigger and references to lynching. I have been called the nigger with the same contempt and rage that Richards spewed on that stage. I am not alone, I know a number of Black people who have been insulted, intimidated, physically threatened, and even assaulted under the banner of white supremacy (all over the country). It isn’t rare to hear family histories where relatives or family friends were lynched, gang raped, or chased down by white mobs. Based upon this real, and not imagined history, a lot of us Black folks were enraged. And NO… apology is still not accepted. It is especially not going to be accepted when the American public belittles our rage by pointing out that rappers appropriated the term nigger. Same thing for Don Imus calling those young women at Rutgers nappy-headed hos.

The internet discourse on Richards, Imus, and Black rage is emblematic of many cross-cultural discourses on race and class in America. I have often been disappointed by some of my conversations with well meaning, open minded, and liberal white people. I have spent my life having cross-cultural discussions because I grew up in a multi-cultural environment. Coming from different backgrounds and expeirences of race, we approach the issue from very different subjective positions. Sometimes the conversations are difficult, they challenge underlying assumptions, they expose logical inaccuracies, and, above all, they push us to confront deep seated and complex issues.

Yet there is often a complete dismissal of my viewpoint. Sometimes, a reluctant acknowledgment. It is not unknown to experience a fiery backlash that seems to come out of nowhere. Despite the many opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, I find that many non-Black people do not seem to get it. There are people who do get it, but they seem to be few and far in between.

Two trends in my discourse on race and class really bother me: 1.) color-blind approach; 2.) Blackness-as-a-pathology approach. In the first approach, they assume that America is color-blind society. They tend to point to Irish American or Italian experiences in America to make their case. They tend to overlook the fact that the Irish, Southern Europeans, and Eastern Europeans were not considered white when they immigrated by the masses to America. The people who argue for a color-blind society rarely have a critical understanding of how whiteness is construted in this society. The color-blind view minimizes the traumatic experience for many of black folk under the barrage of a global system of White supremacy. The second group does see race, America is not color-blind. But this group insists that African Americans do not have a distinct culture. Basically, they believe that AA do not have any cultural contributions that are worthwhile. Black culture for them is poverty, crime, a key example of the dangers of matriarchy, social depravity, and social marginalization, etc. Blackness becomes a pathology, a sickness, a “Negro Problem.” Black cultural heritage is invisible to them and any positives produced by Blacks is often attributed to them letting go of their Blackness and “becoming” White in a cultural sense. The people who see Black people as pathological basically see people who celebrate Black culture or highlight connections in the African Diaspora as dreamers, Black nationalists, facsists, ethnocentric. They are not satisfied in the conversation until you say that we are all the same, except somehow Black cultures is manifestation of the worst in American culture. Basically, they are not happy until you are so full of self loathing and shame about the condition of Black people that you are apologetic for being of African descent.

If African Americans are pathological, so is everyone else. It just plays out in different ways in the AA community because of the break down in social structures and networks due to exploitation, various migrations, and ruptures in families. Despite these challenges African Americans have many beautiful things to share with the rest of the world. And it is not just about singing, dancing, or playing basketball. We have strong family ties based upon extended and fictive relations, strong loyalties, spiritual values, inclinations toward communalism, and cutting edge intellectual thought from the academy. But this gets lost in a lot of discussions.

Without the writings of amazing Black intellectuals, and white anti-racist scholars and intellectuals such as Tim Wise, Allen Johnson , Dalton Conley, I think I might have checked my self into some psych ward. Many of white folk have told me that my perceptions were off, observations skewed, and experiences imagined, especially when things did not line up with how they perceived race and class in American society. But over the years, I have become increasingly sensitive to the asymmetries of power that allowed them to be so dismissive of my views in those exchanges. I am beginning to see how white privilege or male privilege plays such a prominent role in many of my cross-cultural conversations on race.

A while back, I read Sunni sister’s blog about White privilege. She wrote:

White privilege tells a male who admits he has nothing to do with this belief that he knows more about radical Black Islamist and racial seperatist movements than Black Muslims who follow a mainstream path of belief, who may have even come out of those movements themselves. And White privilege means that White male can tell Black people this. And he can call those Black people names and get applauded for it. And White privilege, and male privilege, means that he can represent himself as a voice of Islam, and outsiders don’t question this, and others egg him on and encourage his “voice,” without giving a moment of thought to the racist implications of his actions and words. He too, extends his middle finger.

In some ways I found myself in this type of exchange as I chimed in on a Umar Lee blog entry My Thought, Culture Matters. There was a side argument that developed where I argued that Black families instilled strict discipline on children because of the legacy of slavery. A White Muslim man, who argued that he had daily contact with African Americans of various classes, contested my claim about cultural practices in rearing Black children. Who was right? The insider or outsider? What came to mind was the anthropological view of the outsider. There is this historical legacy of the impartial observer (a rational white male) who draws upon empirical observations. His point of view is priveleged in both academic and mainstream circles. Academia, like mainstream media, is often quick to dismiss the insider’s point of view. We cannot get beyond our bias. So, as an insider speaking about Black issues or Muslim issues, I better be on point. If I have anything to say that challenges the sensibilities of my white friends, I better have my facts 100% together. They cannot be based upon my personal observations, and I better have 10 widely accepted scholars and their books to prove it. Importantly, I need to conjure up a white person like Tim Wise to make sure my view point sticks. Otherwise, not much I say holds weight.

I will continue with the discussion that begin in Umar Lee’s Blog. The reason why I think it is important is because there is something at stake, for me. I value my culture and feel that some of the views expressed on Umar Lee’s blog about Black culture were demeaning and not problematized. I will only address one topic. The issue that drew the most ire from a well meaning commentor. I am arguing that there are some cultural specificities of African American culture by looking at child rearing and disciplining young children. So, in the spirit of my own scholarly endeavors, I will support my arguments with evidence. I’ll start with an article on discipline, then provide some empirical evidence with a study on spanking, then I will list books that deal specifically with sociology of the Black family to show that this issue is subject to several erudite studies. Finally, I will point to a brief sample of one of the academic programs that specialize in the sociology and culture of the Black family. (Mind you, I am not an Americanist so my knowledge of the material is limited). My primary argument is there is enough scholarly work and anecdotal evidence to support my insider view that Black cultural practices in child-rearing tend to emphasize discipline (and corporeal punishment) because of the historical legacies of slavery. Here goes:

In support of my comments on the blog, I found this article in Salon magazine that discussed corporeal punishment.
In the article,“Spanking: A Black Mother’s Point of View” the author points out Black cultural perspectives on discipline:

Spanking is part of a long, historic continuum in our community. During slavery, a black person’s pout or backtalk to the wrong person could not only get him whipped, it could get him sold — or, if the transgression was deemed bad enough, maimed or killed. So black mothers and, by extension, the entire local community, had a vested interest in keeping their children alive and safe. Swift physical retribution for even minute transgressions tended to reinforce the rules, and adhering to the rules meant you were able to live to raise another generation — who, in all probability, spanked, too, but not as hard as the previous one.

The annals of black comedy are rife with examples of strict parental discipline. Sinbad, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and the late Robin Harris have all riffed howlingly funny on the subject of gettin’ whupped. Cosby used to make audiences scream in delighted recognition when he went into his routine about The Belt that hung in his father’s closet: how long it was. How thick it was. How big the metal buckle was. What it sounded like as it whistled through the air, accurately aiming, like a smart bomb made from the cow’s outside, at his quivering buttocks. What it felt like when, on impact, his flesh was sucked through the holes.

[…]

A new study by Marjorie Linder Gunnoe, a developmental psychologist at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., has revealed something different from previous studies, which found that race and class do not affect the decision whether or not to spank. According to Gunnoe’s study, which tracked 1,110 children from 4 to 11 years old over a five-year period, spanking may be divided along racial lines. Gunnoe found that spanking increased antisocial behavior (lying, cheating and bullying) among white boys, but was correlated with a decrease in aggression among black boys. Her explanation: Spanking is not only tolerated, but endorsed by the black community. The culture expects that adults will be seen, and treated as, authority figures.

Whether or not certain traditions are dying, Black families have traditionally used corporeal punishment, taught children to respect elders, taught children to not talk back to authority figures, to be seen not heard. I’m not saying that all of these practices were good. But my cultural sensibilities were rudely shaken when I went to nanny for a mixed-race couple.

I found a study that breaks down stats:

Non-Hispanic black women are more likely than Hispanic women to agree or strongly agree that spanking a child is sometimes necessary. In 2002, 80 percent of non-Hispanic black women, compared with 56 percent of Hispanic women, agreed that a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking.” Seventy-four percent of non-Hispanic white women say that spanking a child is sometimes necessary. Differences for men were not statistically significant.

See the rest of the study here.

I have encountered two books that demonstrate the cultural and social practices in Black families. The first is Theodore R. Kennedy’s

    You Gotta Deal with It Black Family Relations in a Southern Community

and the second is Carol B. Stack’s

    All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community

. I am sure there is a wide range of scholarly literature on Black families. These books detail parent-child relationships and relationships between children and extended kin and fictive kin. I think they move beyond the clinical approach to the Black family, diagnosed as disfunctional because of matriarchy, to point out complex social relationships.

In addition to various books, there are legitimate degree programs and classes that explore issues specific to the Black family. I will not even mention the graduate programs that focus on similar issues.
San Francisco State’s Africana Department

The Black Studies Department at San Francisco State University was the first Black Studies Department established on a four-year college campus in the United States. The birth of Black Studies at SFSU in 1968 was, in fact, inspired by student-led opposition to the then Western intellectual hegemony and racist scholarship that characterized the limitations found in traditional approaches to college education. In 2005, the Black Studies Department at SFSU changed its name to the Africana Studies Department.

They offer courses on the Black family. Also, Virginia Common Wealth universities offers a sociology course on African American families:

206/AFAM 206/SOCY 206 African American Family Relationships
Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Focuses on the African American family from the 1940s to the present. Examines the values and the interpersonal/role relationships that are involved in forming and maintaining African American families in the contemporary United States. Topics include dating and sexual relationships, marital relationships, parent-child relationships and relationships with members of the extended family.

Finally, I found a curious final exam for class on the Black Family from the department of Pan African Studies at University of Louisville :

PASS 520.01: Black Family in America
Exam Questions: Summer 2002
Instructor: Professor Lateef P. Badru

1) What evidence would you cite to support or oppose the thesis that the black family in America today is disintegrating or dying? Discuss your answer.

2) Drawing on your personal experience and observation of the portrayal
of African Americans on popular TV, identify the basic stereotypes associated with Black family life in the United States. Discuss your points.

3) What aspects of African family pattern are still retained in the
African American Community? How do you think a comparative study of
family can be of value to you? Discuss your points.

4) What major functions does the Black Church, as an institution, perform today in the African American community? How are these functions different from the ones performed immediately after emancipation? Discuss your points.

5) What are the major obstacles to “plural marriage” in American
society? Can multiple cohabitation (men- sharing) solve the crisis of
shortage of mating partners for black women? Discuss.

6) Briefly define the following concepts:

i. Polyandry us Polygyny.
ii. Matrilocality vs. patrilocality
iii. Matrilineal vs. patrilineal descent
iv. Exogamous vs. Endogamous marriages

v. Nuclear vs. extended family

7). What role does religion play in black family life? Discuss your
answer with specific reference to the adoption of Christianity during
slavery and after emancipation

This is not to say that the students in this class come out blazing experts. But I am sure they have been given tools to think critically about issues involving cultural and social practices in the Black community. A number of the top scholars studying race in America are white. And they deal with the topic empathetically while focusing on understanding Black realities. An outsider’s gaze can be helpful in providing perspective on issues that face a given community. But when it comes to dealing with communities of color, the white point of view is often given more weight than a person of color. This is not to say that Africans or Black people have a monopoly on truth, but that insiders have an important perspective that is often overlooked but should be taken into account.

When it comes to engaging with these issues, whether over dinner, at a cocktail party, tea party, internet forum, or wherever, it is important to distinguish between informed opinions and unsubstantiated claims. In cross cultural discussion, neither party may fully understand the socio-economic and cultural structures that undergird our social worlds. But when it comes to weight of evidence and cultural translations, I would rather refer to the insider’s (especially those who have been rendered voiceless by the dominant group) viewpoint.

There are few mysteries in the Black community that others cannot participate in. It is really a matter of whether people want to join. The anthropologist’s gaze is on us on a daily level and he often tells us that he knows more about us than we do. That would be great his assessment was accurate. But sometimes those observations miss the complexities. Instead, they often provide an unnuanced understanding of Black culture and the challenges we face. I extend an olive branch in hopes of an honest and respectful cross-cultural discourse. But it is important that we all note our positions of power and privilege. I recognize that my status as an educated Black American Muslim Woman means that I have to fight tooth and nail for my voice to be heard by almost anyone. My perspective is so easily dismissed by so many. But it is still worth fighting to get it out there, don’t ya think?

Hip Hop and Culture Vultures

First, let us define culture vulture. This is the definition that I found in the Urban Dictionary:

1. culture vulture
4 up, 3 down
Someone who steals traits, language and/or fashion from another ethnic or social group in order to create their own identity.

Todd just bought himself a Fubu track suit and changed his name to Tyrone. He is such a culture vulture!

by shaniqua2 sacramento Dec 27, 2006 email it
2. Culture Vulture
12 up, 15 down
A scavenger, circling the media, looking for scraps of originality to add to their conceit. They sport eclectic styles and tastes, always recognisable as having been borrowed without adaption or refinement from elsewhere.

David Bowie is probably the best example of a successful culture vulture.

That website was put together by a Culture Vulture

For those of us into Animal Planet or any Wild Animal Kingdom show, we have seen images of these scavengers.They are often the harbingers of bad things about to happen: a sick, weak, or dying animal. They move in once the animal is dead and don’t mind taking their fill of something that is dead and decaying. Fortunately, the many cultures of the African Diaspora are always re-inventing and re-creating, so that the vultures always have fresh meat to feed off of.

My home girl just brought up this issue up in her blog. Her blog really hits home for me, because I feel as if I just “be.” But I was also a B-girl, a back packer, a houser, and breaker. Ultimately, I don’t have to prove credentials to show how my culture influenced the way I lived my life. Having a young mom, I grew up with music all around me. I was a child born in the mid 70s, and my household was alive with disco, R&B, Funkadelic, Soul, and Hip Hop. James Brown was always playing, as well as George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Earth Wind and Fire, and Marvin Gaye and so many other. My Uncle Booker-T had mad skills spitting game. Rhyming was a way they spit game. And growing up, we knew smooth talking hustlers and artists. I knew rapping from the brothas spitting game, melodic and rythmic. My dad also was a musician and he played the drums and kill some Congos. My mom and aunts used to throw basement parties (you know the kind with the red or blue light). My mom, aunts, uncles, and their friends would wake me and my cousin up to demonstrate our skills. They’d hoot and holla as we worked it out. Yeah, me and my cousin Corey partying with the grown folks. Many of the songs that are remixed today, I grew up with and they are the soundtrack of my life.

But hip hop had a special appeal. As a little kid, I followed my older brother’s footsteps trying to do everything he did. And I remember him sifting through records trying to find the hottest tracks. We shared rooms, and I remember him getting mad at me when I made a mix tape that included scratches. He had the biggest boom box and the freshest gear. Whatever kicks he rocked, I wanted some too. His boys had a brea dancing crew and they used to perform at Great America. In the mea time, I had a crew of other neighborhood rug rats and we’d pull out our cardboard too. My signature finale move was the suicide. Now that I think about it, I was probably really wack. In the early 80s, my brother used to import records from the East Coast. I can even remember getting the latest Roxanne diss album (why was there so many Roxannes), to BDP, Run DMC, and Rakim. I saw the evolution of hip hop to rap, bass music, and knew all the West Coast flavors. Sometimes when we’d travel to New Jersey we’d visit friends and family from New York.

In the early 90s, I was back at it when breaking made its come back. I remember growing up in Cali and my Filipino classmate saying that Filipinos break better than black people. And of course, I was floored. I could never understand how they could beat out in their Honda Civics, but never bob their head. Me, we wer always bobbin, good music always moves me. Another time, I went to a hip hop show and the artists noted I was the only black girl in the crowd. It was eerie… There weren’t any dance crews in the area that seemed black girl friendly. So, it would be me in the garage with my neighbor Levar on some cardboard. But it was kind of hard to pop and lock while everyone stared at my breasts (even though I wore the baggiest clothes and turtle necks).

For years, I lived hip hop. I was that hip hop Muslim girl in the South Bay. I wore my Adidas with dresses and full hijab. From working on college radio, freestyling, writing, even demonstrating to the music production class the old school 808 and 626 beat machines. It was hot with the boom-clap-boom boom boom-clap. But eventually I felt let down by the whole scene and the way it was co-opted. Years later I still feel hip hop and those hold school joints still move me.
As I write, I hear the women of hip hop play in my head (Miss Melody, One of the many Roxannes, McLyte, JJFad,…) Every once in a while I’ll dance. And I have been known to break fools off. But I forego floor manuevers and acrobatics because I’m way too old and am likely to hurt myself.

The discussion of hip hop reminds me of this MTV True Life documentary that had the nerve to air during Black History Month. Half the documentary was about a Latina sorority breaking into the Black stepping world. Even though the young woman’s attitude was emblematic of the ways non-blacks feel about any of our cultural productions, I’m not going to talk about stepping. I’m going to talk about one for of Black music, dance, language, and style–that cultural complex that we know was hip hop. I want to begin my analysis of culture vultures and critique this pattern of mimicking the cultural expression of subaltern groups. I think that they are particularly detrimental because they co-opt of the arts and culture of a dispossessed people. There are people who wish to control the discourse on black music and culture rendering it something that is no longer Black culture, but more of an urban style or something that they can consume.

I have a serious problem with those who wish to divorce the black cultural production of black from its social/political/cutural/economic context. In the name of a trend, they then adopt it as their own. And often they profess to be better at producing given culture better than the members of the original community that created it. Sometimes they even create their own sub-culture, while maintaining their privilege as members of the dominant culture. The culture that they have adopted is more like an accessory, a way of enhancing their individuality because they see their own culture as homogenous and bland.

I’m not really mad at culture vultures. You see, the co-optation of Black culture for various reasons is not anything new. But rather, it is a pattern that is repeated where ever people of the African Diaspora exist: South America, North Africa, the Carribbean, Central America, and even parts of the African continent that is dominated by Europeans or those of Mediterranean descent.

Here is one example of the problems with such forms:
Black South Americans started Tango, which began with the Buenos Aires, Argentina and Uraguay. Oh yeah, you didn’t know there were black people in Argentina.To me that is the biggest historical mystery: what happened to the tens of thousands of Africans? Well, predominately European dominant group co-opted Tango from the black Argentinians before they tried to eliminate the black population and make Argentina the little Europe of South America (by importing Spanish Basques, Italians, and Germans to the country).

My list of other musical and dance forms that began with African slaves or exlaves that have been co-opted by the dominant groups of a given society:
Samba
Merengue
Rumba
Salsa
Swing
Capoeira

As in Latin America, these cultural forms become national cultures and part of the national pride. The suffering of the people who invented these cultural forms, and the creative ways that they came up with to assert their humanity, find relief, build community, and celebrate life becomes lost. Instead, those who co-opt these expressions often misunderstand the experiences of the people they are imitating.
In a discussion about Jazz, an astute author wrote:

The “white Negroes” of the 1920s projected their own desires onto black Americans, most frequently through music.

In much the same way, individuals who co-opt hip hop project their own desires, insecurities, constructions onto black Americans. There is a strange relationship of power: one of admiration and envy. In their mind, they struggle for authenticity and seek for others to validate their experience of the black sub-culture. Most black people, including myself, are happy that people enjoy our cultural forms. But there are many people of AFrican descent who want to feel as if they have their own culture without it being co-opted and commodified.

So now that I have spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on how these musical forms were so much part of my life and the way I was raised. I want to providea brief timeline of non-black folks imitating and co-oting Black cultural exprssion in North America:

Early 19th century-mid 20th century
Minstrel Shows
Black Face Minstrelsy

1920s-30s
Jazz
Jazz in Black and White


1950s and 1960s
The Blues

White Blues Artists

1950s-
Rock n roll

Rock n Roll Timeline

And now Hip hop….

The history of Hip Hop
Davy D’s Short History of Hip Hop

I still have more reflecting to do on this topic. This is by no means comprehensive. And I’m sure that there are many people who will be pissed off by my analysis. I suggest you study some cultural theory, the history of black cultural expression, black history, and then get back at me. Make sure your intellectual game is tight though…

What To Do When Muslims Behave Badly

By behaving badly, I don’t mean Muslims not praying or transgressing personal morality. I mean things that violate someone else’s humanity and dignity. You know, things like genocide, terrorism, enslavement, child abuse, and violence against women. How do Muslims come to terms with the atrocities committed by other Muslims?

Should their actions cause a crisis of faith? Should we reflect upon our core beliefs to understand why the trans-Saharan slave trade occurred, why genocide is going on in Darfur, why there is still the enslavement of blacks in Mauritania, why female genital mutilation is praticed in many parts of the Muslim world inluding Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, and in some parts of the Levant and Iraq? Or should we Muslims try to defend our faith and seek the core spiritual truths. Do we explain that these actions were due to cultural practices, even though the perpetrators may sincerely believe that they are doing some actions in the name of the faith? How do we come to terms with the fact that religious ideology is used to justify all sorts of brutality?

My understanding of these issues have been shaped by my training as a Western scholar. But there is the part of me whose identity is tied up with the cultural religious complex called Islam. Although I try not to let my faith blind me from seeing historical realities, my identity shapes how I understand those realities. I have read several articles that make broad generalizations in their critiques of Muslim/African encounters and Arab/African encounters. Often Arab and Muslim are depicted as synonomous. Right now, Arabs are the only ethnic group that it seems generally okay to say vehemently racist things abou them. Many Arabs are Muslim, but clearly not all Muslims are Arabs. In fact the majority of Muslims come from Indonesia. Few people have bad things to say about Indonesians. But I digress.

I am in a society that is largely hostile to both my race and my religious beliefs and practices. Our communities tend to circle their wagons and in this defensive position we are less likely to be introspective or reform driven. Instead, any criticism from outsiders is taken as an attempt invalidate our beliefs and identity. But this does not mean that we should focus on defending our beliefs and cultural practices against important critiques. The truth of the matter is that Muslim women are still not able to secure the rights accorded them in the Shariah. There is a huge difference between High Culture, popular culture. Doctrine and ideology does not determine the actions of individuals. Instead, a full range of overlapping and conflicting interests can drive why individuals and groups choose to do certain things. What I think is important is to expose how individuals manipulate the naivete of their followers. It is important to look at the political economy of any movement. It is essential to look at the material motivations, as well as consider whether or not spiritual beliefs were sincere. And just because someone is sincere in their beliefs, that does not mean that they are not misguided. This is why it is important to move beyond the Us/Them mentality. The Us/Them mentality is really the thing that allows us to behave badly against other human beings. Anyways, that’s my thoughts for now. This meditation will continue…

Khabr Aswad

Khabr Aswad- Black News
Current mood: chipper
Category: Writing and Poetry

I carry with me the khabr Aswad
That dark secret of a dusky Venus
With kinky tendencies
I am a raven bringing omens
An ink blot stain revealing dark visions.
I am the one who is tangled and
Treading murky waters
That dark cloud following you
Reminding you of the blackness from which you came.

(c) Khabr Aswad yadda yadda and all that legal stuff 2006

Intelligence and Hair in the UK

I’m back home and I feel kind of dizzy. Maybe it is the jet lag. To took a shower and washed the travels right off me. I have a swollen ankle from nearly busting my ass on the cobble stone streets in Durham. I got to London Friday afternoon an did the 2 hour bus tour. I stayed at a hostel, first time ever. It was called the Generator. It was full of drunk Australians and New Zealanders. They were singing Oasis songs, remember them? Wonder Wall, back in the 90s? Those t two brothers with unibrow who spoke incomprehensible English, didn’t get a long and sang alternative-poppy British songs. The garage is a happening place, I guess. Hostels aren’t so cheap any more 17GBP per night. Times that by two, and you will see why I think a 8 person room and communal shower is ridiculously expensive. Saturday morning, I headed to the airport at a responsible hour. But there was an adventure waiting for me as I caught the Underground to get to the airport. It normally takes an hour to get from Heathrow to The line to the airport was stopped, which meant that I had to make several exchanges. Long story, I’ll get back to that. I was so tired, I have never worked so hard to lift, carry pull climb, drag, stand run, roll, push.. Luckily Londoners are more friendly than New Yorkers and a family helped me carry my luggage on a few of the exchanges. I was stopped by an officer/agent/official after I checked in. He asked where I was going, I said back to the United States. First he said that I was late for my flight, but perhaps it was delayed He then me what was I doing in the UK. I said I was doing research at the University of Sudan. He then took my passport, and I waited to find out how long would the questioning be. I was a little concerned about being held up, I’ve heard some people were held for four hours. When he returned, same line of questions, a barrage of them. He asked me what was I studying. I said at the Sudan archive. He asked what was I studying. I said interwar period Sudan. He didn’t know what that was, I said Sudanese history after World War I and before World War II. He then asked if I had plans to travel to Sudan. I said, if my dissertation topic will be Sudan. He asked if I had plans on traveling to the Middle East. I said I am a student of Middle East history, so I plan to. He asked if I work for any companies. I said no, I am a Ph.D. student at Stanford University. He asked what do I study there. I said study Nigerians in the Middle East. Do I just study? I said I also teach classes. He told me he was interested in people like me, people who travel to conflict areas, hot spots. He works for intelligence and he is interested in information on people like me, you know people like me. Long story, he couldn’t say at the moment. I was allowed to leave and he said, “I don’t know how you do your hair.”

I have had a lot of hair comments since I went natural. So, it wasn’t surprising to get comments from Europeans. “Amazing Hair” on the train. “Big Hair” “How do you do your hair” at the air port “I love your hair” and “Is it all yours?” at the hostel. One woman asked to touch my hair. It is weird, like it is some type of anomaly. Maybe we should gather all the brown women with curly hair and make a petting zoo. We could get young multi-racial children, brown and black babies and the people can gawk and talk about how cute they all are. But I don’t want to blame just our European sisters and brothers. When my hair was straightened, I’ve had African American sistas reach into my hair, asking “Is that all yours?” while feeling for tracks. As if they were going to catch me in a lie. I used to get made fun of for having big hair. They used to call me “Bush!” I have been called a liar about my hair, criticized for bad hair, made fun of for having “fake” hair, I have had girls beef with me over hair, people compliment my hair. I should start singing India Irie, “I am not my hair.” Women’s hair is a crazy powerful thing. Mashallah there is definitely hikmah in hijab.