Coffee Rhetoric: soapbox
Showing posts with label soapbox. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soapbox. Show all posts

January 04, 2011

Hair Raising Tale: The Beauty Supply Store

Warning: Gratuitous use of personal pics showing the versatility of my natural hair. Deal.
Anyone who reads Coffee Rhetoric or who knows me personally, understands that I am vigorously passionate about issues having to do with women of the African diaspora; Especially how we're portrayed, exploited, "fetishized", oppressed, suppressed, trivialized, marginalized, and perceived. Image, body types, and of course hair. The struggle will never get old with me. I won't ever stop negating the stereotypes and foolery continuously projected onto Black women. Whether media pundits sans a clue (with Steve Harvey's help) continuously resurrect a dead corpse, struggling to analyze the reasons why they think we're ALL hopelessly single to being told our brand of beauty doesn't suffice unless a bunch of prerequisites come before it, or it be someone staring at us with their mouth agape when they realize our features are in fact diverse and not as homogeneous as they think... And so this story goes... 
About a month 1/2 ago, my best friend The Notorious C.A.T. came for a long overdue visit. Of course lots of fun and foolishness ensued. Anything less wouldn't make sense. I introduced her to haunts new to her since her last foray into Hartford... we visited some old, familiar ones. Per usual, Cat insisted on making her annual pilgrimage to a certain beauty supply store downtown to stock up on the must-haves lacking in her adopted northern New York town of Plattsburgh. 
As the Korean woman behind the counter rang her purchases, I noticed her animatedly speaking in Korean to her daughter, who was also behind the counter reading. The conversation seemed to be directed toward Cat, whose unrelaxed, curly hair was pulled back at the nape of her neck, in a puffy ponytail. We both looked at the woman and her daughter quizzically. 
"Oh, we were just talking about your hair." The daughter said to Cat. "It looks really nice. Is is real?" She asked. 
While I struggled to not express a serious case of WTF-face, Cat, in an amused voice, answered, "Oh! Yes. It's real!" 
"Oh wow! Okay." The girl answered incredulously as she and her mother nodded their shocked approval. 
Cat and I exchanged looks, smirked, and thanked the inquisitive Korean woman for ringing our purchases and went back out into the cold... laughing that all-knowing laugh. We reflected for a brief moment outside the store... 
I told Cat what'd just transpired reminded me of the scene from Chris Rock's eponymous documentary 'Good Hair,' where he visits several Korean-owned beauty supply stores, afro-textured wigs in-tow in a humorous attempt to sell it to them and measure its worth against the more popular and preferred 100% Indian Remy brand, beloved by Black women who get their hair weaved. "They don't wanna look... Africa... like this! They wanna look the style!" one heavily accented Korean store owner exclaimed, stretching his hands out on each side of his head for emphasis. "Nobody walks around with nappy hair nomore!" his Black employee sneered. Other beauty supply stores had similar reactions. Alas, Chris Rock concluded that our afro-textured hair wasn't worth a damn, apparently. 
I presume to think that Korean-owned beauty supply owners are probably so accustomed to seeing Black women walk in, with their need-to-be-done hair wrapped up in scarves, to purchase Indian Remy- (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that)- that the mere idea that one or two would walk in with derring-do, their natural, neatly styled kinky/curly hair on display on a mission to buy Cholesterol conditioner to lovingly maintain and care for it, came as a complete shock to them. 
Perhaps the store owner (and many other shocked and awed of the like) couldn't ever fathom soft, healthy, thick hair sprouting from the scalp of a Black woman scalp or grasp the fact that many of us would rather wear it instead of what's sprung from an Indian woman's... or that, quite possibly, a head of healthy hair lay protected underneath the weaved heads of many Black women, who're merely giving their own hair a breather from styling and maintenance. 
On a few occasions, I've been asked if my own pulled back, 70's inspired natural hair was a textured ponytail piece or bun pinned atop my head. 
While I maintain that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a Black woman experimenting with her hair and wearing it however she sees fit, our hair and bodies along with our dating and sex lives seem to pique the curiosity of many and becomes a topic of debate amongst those not in the know or who think they do. However, I'm left to wonder if the minority of us who aren't merely just trying a different look and who do truly despise our features and resent the texture and depth of our hair, don't shoulder some of the responsibility for the reactions of those outside our community.
The hair issue is a perpetually complicated one.. and there are a number of beleaguered Black women who are downright indignant about the texture of their hair, as illustrated by the beauty supply clerk in the 'Good Hair' clip, who co-signed her employer's disdain for "Africa hair."  I'd be remiss if I also didn't call out so-called natural hair wearers who follow rigid, multi-layered hair regimens and live by that blasted hair typing chart popularized by Oprah Winfrey's long-time hairdresser, Andre Walker, in an attempt to monitor and alter the texture of their natural hair... perhaps to mimic a Bi/Multi-racial woman's hair type
Black women undoubtedly seem to be under a constant microscope. Other people outside our community pick up on the conflict that rages within the minority of my sistren who dislike themselves, and they run long-distance marathons with it... formulating these grandiose ideas about our appearance, particularly that somehow we all want to mimic a uniform look based on a euro centric aesthetic
I'm often quite dumbfounded and somewhat disgusted when other Black women, who aren't attuned to the actual texture of their own hair, express the same type of surprise at the versatility of my natural hair. As if they, themselves came out of the womb relaxed or be-weaved. It's akin to a clear case of mental conditioning (read: brainwashing).  
Listen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with experimenting with hair as a personal form of expression, but once Black women become that far removed from themselves that it extends beyond a personal aesthetic and simple vanity in a way that causes them to disconnect from what and who they really are, then it's damaging and it perpetuates the growing list of ignorant rhetoric about us. 
Be mindful. Why on earth would you co-sign someone else's virtual (read: distorted) sketch of your image and allow them to wage a totalitarian ideology of how they think you should look? 
That is all. 

January 18, 2010

Hair Today, Hair Tomorrow

People who know me personally-- those that've read posts here, on Coffee Rhetoric, realize or have come to realize how passionate I am about Black women's issues. Specifically those having to do with our unique brand of beauty, our image, and our hair. A little more than 10 years ago, I opted to stop using chemicals to straighten my hair. I wear my hair "natural" if you will. That's a personal choice I maintain til this day. I love my hair in its natural state and tend to not care what anyone else thinks of my hair's type and texture. Natural hair does NOT a militant make... nor is it me trying to make a political statement. It's me, being at peace with myself. I did not come out of my mother's womb with a chemical relaxer. And I don't answer to or flinch over the negative connotations of the phrase "nappy."

While I don't subscribe to altering the state of my hair via relaxers, weaves, lace-front wigs or what have you... I don't begrudge any other Black woman the right to do what she sees fit to do with her hair regimen. To each her own. I am only concerned with my own hair routine. And while I would LOVE to shrug and say, "It's just hair," and move on... unfortunately for Black women... it isn't that simple. Women of color will always be embattled over the texture of our hair and skin shade. Unfortunate. Multi-layered. Complicated. And rooted in a painful history. And lately, I'm discovering it's not as cut and dry as relaxed hair vs natural hair vs hair that's beweaved vs that which is bewigged.
For the past 2-3 years or so, there has been a huge influx of natural hair care products, YouTube tutorial videos, online forums, and websites celebrating the beauty and versatility of afro-textured hair. But even within the natural hair community, there is a lot of controversy.
There are "naturals" who are obsessed with texture and so will swear by a hair system/chart to determine their "hair type" -- or to aspire to a 3C hair type, most commonly associated with mixed race people. Some naturals are more concerned with length and so will find ways to stretch the hair to its maximum- (preferably "bra strap long" some women on various forums will brag).
I've come across blogs where there is petty squabbling in the comments section over which natural hair care method is the best and only way to treat afro-textured hair or whether or not the blog's host features enough women with kinkier textured hair, versus women with "mixed race" hair.
It's maddening. While I do enjoy discovering new ideas, products, and recipes for my own hair, I've made a conscious decision not to concern myself with dictatorial methods of natural hair care. I run my hands through my hair everyday, and so know what does and does not work.

I find it most unfortunate that even while Black women reach their epiphany and "free" themselves from eurocentric hair and beauty expectations, many still can't make peace with themselves, even within the confines of the natural hair community. When will this "Good Hair/Bad Hair/Not Good Enough Natural Hair conflict end? These natural hair mandates are exhausting. I've read debates over whether or not First Lady Michelle Obama "presses" or relaxes her hair straight.  Or whether EVERY natural will experience major consequences if some of us choose to blow out our afro-textured hair using minimal amounts of heat. If we'll experience major growth if we take this vitamin, or that vitamin. If our White co-workers and dating prospects will like or accept us if we style our natural hair a specific way. All hell broke loose on the Black (and some predominantly White) celebrity blogs, when Solange Knowles stopped wearing wigs and cut her hair closely to her scalp. Listen, who cares? I would LOVE to see and for us to seize the day when hair will just be considered that. Hair. And when we can truly and really, for real, be happy in our own skin and with the depth of our hair's texture, without this seemingly constant need for validation.

January 06, 2008


... Rent it. Manderlay is a foreign director's take on American slavery in the South. Conceived by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier the film is a sequel to von Trier's Dogville (which stars Nicole Kidman as Grace), and is part of his USA: Land of Opportunities trilogy. It continues the tale of Grace (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard), who is traveling through the south with her gangster father (Willem Defoe) and his merry band of fellow thugs during the early 1930s, after having fled Dogville. En route to whereverville they stop outside a plantation (Manderlay), in bumf*ck Alabama to take a breather, when a black woman in full "slave regalia" taps on the car window and implores them for help, because a fellow slave is about to be whipped for stealing. Grace inquires within and discovers that slavery (quarters and all) is still alive and well, 70 years AFTER its abolishment. After a confrontation with the plantation's ruthless mistress Mam (played by Lauren Bacall), who's hemmed up on her death bed and who eventually dies, Grace decides to stay (along with a few of her father's best thugs, including a lawyer) to teach Manderlay's ignorant breed the fundamentals of freedom and how to be civilized and self sufficient... much to her father's chagrin. Dad bids grace farewell and burns rubber, leaving Grace to her own devices, but not before discouraging her from ever trying to locate his whereabouts. Grace is also made privy to a notebook called "Mam's Law." Its contents is basically a meticulously documented and comprehensive code of conduct for all the slaves, and what Mam has used to gain psychological power over them all. Each Manderlay inhabitant is divided up as follows:
  • Group 1: Proudy Nigger
  • Group 2: Talkin' Nigger
  • Group 3: Weepin' Nigger
  • Group 4: Hittin' Nigger
  • Group 5: Clownin' Nigger
  • Group 6: Loser Nigger
  • Group 7: Pleasing Nigger (also known as a chameleon, a person of the kind who can transform himself into exactly the type beholder would like to see)

Essentially, after Mam's death, Grace designate herself as bearer of great news and alerts Manderlay's slaves to the fact that slavery was abolished some time ago and that she will stay on to make sure they transition accordingly and sans minimal incident. They are however, mortified at the prospect of living "another way of life" for Manderlay and the comforts its strict system are all they're familiar with. Needless to say, without relaying too many details, Grace assumes her position, punishes Manderlay's white overseers via role reversal- (she makes them serve Manderlay's slaves dinner, in Black Face in one scene)- and eventually discovers that the inhabitants of Manderlay are indeed clever and aren't as ignorant as she initially thought and that it is she, in all her idealistic and liberal, forward thinking, and at times pretentious grandeur, who is ignorant.
The film is interesting in its approach. It tells the tale of Manderlay in 8 chapters. The Film's aesthetic and discourse unfolds just like a live stage play. It may not appeal to particular film tastes because of this... but it's worth a look-see anyway. It also stars Isaach de Bankole (one of my favorite actors) and Danny Glover (as the "talking nigger").
I, of course, am always mildly amused by how Europeans view race relations in the United States. While racism isn't as cut and dried or overt there, as it is in America, it does exist despite rumblings to the contrary. At times, it's an even more complex and multilayered system, because there was never nor is there currently a Civil Rights Movement or minority leaders who are as vocal as some of ours are and were (Farrakhan, Malcolm, M.L. King, Panthers, Davis, umm Jackson, err, Sharpton?). There aren't any organizations that really champion that particular cause in Europe, or at least none that I'm aware of. Unfortunately many countries refuse to acknowledge the role racism plays in their country, but there have been noble attempts to bring immigration and the history of slavery to the forefront and half-assed, reluctant ones, because particular countries refuse to acknowledge the reality of growing multiculturalism and bigotry in their sphere. They'd prefer their immigrants to become naturalized only if the shuck their ethnic pride out the window **cough-cough France**
Xenophobia runs just as deep if not more, in Europe than it does here, in some instances. Especially in countries like Germany (see the film Otomo, also starring Isaach de Bankole). I'm a fan of much of von Trier's work, but I suspect that his approach was a little pretentious and self-aggrandizing. His attempt to describe the system of slavery in the U.S. was underwhelming and fell short of whatever his intention may well have been. It also shows just how little the world knows about the history of slavery, in the United States and especially in the deep south particularly if you've never stepped foot there. Manderlay still deviates from the norm, is darkly comedic, seemingly anti-American/anti-U.S.'s foreign policy, and will definitely prompt discussion if not annoyance. For those reasons alone, it's worth renting and watching. I'd go ahead and rent Dogville too...

November 10, 2007

The Disintegration of Sexy Times

I've always been indifferent toward porn. It has never prompted any deep desire in me, during my precocious pre and late teen years to watch out of curiosity, amid all the salacious buzz. Sneaking a peek at the erotica on Cinemax after 11pm, finding and then reading Jackie Collins's titillating plots, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, and the illustrated educative wonderment of The Joy of Sex was it for me. I didn't watch hardcore porn until I was in college... with my best friend. We watched out of sheer boredom. We walked down to the town's local video store and picked something from the late seventies/early eighties, much to the cashier's amusement. It featured an interracial raunch fest. Basic man on woman boning. Nothing too shocking or sexy and void of anything particularly depraved and disgusting. The usual cheesy fare, in fact. Neither of us found the antics sexy or arousing. We laughed raucously and critiqued the clownery of it all. Pure comedy. We decided perhaps we were too intellectual and snotty to get it. Other then a porn clip online here and a legitimate art house flick there- (most recently the movie Short Bus, which featured unsimulated sex)- it hasn't interested or enticed me since. Despite the rash of filmed celebrity sexploits being "leaked" online. Over the years... after having watched and read a great deal of "behind the scenes" documentary style films and books, I've came to the conclusion that porn is not erotic, is silly, quite frankly, ridiculous. Most of the pornographic material being released is filmed and produced by men. Men and their distorted visions of how women should look, what ridiculous sexual positions we should be bent in, and how we should act. Despite rumblings to the contrary, I doubt any of the women acting in these films have any actual orgasms. Hair flinging, head whipping, and high pitched 'O' and fuck yeaaah sounds, I'm sorry but the orgasm is fake. All in all, it's harmless fun for the lonely, lecherous, and in some cases... the socially inept. I've never been one of the protesters screaming for the industry to be banned. That being said, a lot has changed with the porn industry. The ever increasing advances in technology, the internet, video cameras, webcams, and the like have made porn more accessible and more achievable for aspiring porn mongers. Any amateur can film their sexual exploits and upload them onto Xtube or Pornotube with relative ease. In turn, the industry has become a virtual free for all. College fraternity houses host parties where group sex and orgies abound, while their peers (men and women spectators) stand off to the side, cheering the guerrilla fuckfests... clutching beers, fists pumping in the air. All in front of the camera and easy to view over the internet. These "gonzo" type films have raised the stakes... and the stakes have become even more disturbing and depraved in their delivery. The acts women subject themselves too is enough to make the most hardened, difficult to offend person cringe. And it takes a lot to make me want to gag and then vomit in my mouth or turn away with disgust. Some of it is downright perplexing. Such as the compelling documentary Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, which documents- Grace Quek's (Annabel is her porn name)- rise, exploitation, and eventual retirement from the porn industry. Annabel allegedly pioneered the whole "gang bang" trend in the industry. Nothing was too graphic or hardcore for Annabel. She performed a diverse array of hardcore sex acts, including "triple penetration." Annabel's motives for starring in The World's Biggest Gangbang were troubling as the documentary delved into her past. Needless to say, this current wave of pornography breeds misogyny and encourages violence toward women. Spat on, slapped, pissed and defecated on, penetrated and fisted in every orifice by several different men at once... It's sickening. And it's distressing. Particularly the gonzo films featuring Black, Brazilian, and Latino women. Men take trips to urban areas (usually scouting in a van of some sort) in search of "Black ghetto sluts" willing to oil up, shake, and then spread their cheeks in a seedy looking hotel room, on film. The perpetuation of sexual stereotypes frustrate the hell out of me. Two steps lower and more debased than the garbage shown in rap videos. And those in and of themselves are bad. I'm open and believe in people having the right to engage in whatever consensual sexual act they desire... but some of this stuff is troubling, notwithstanding my liberal stance. And it's not behind closed door. I think challenging what's wrong with the porn industry as it depicts itself today, does not a prude or anti-sex type make. I do believe there's something wrong with people who don't challenge this sort of behavior, the women who willingly subject themselves to this sort of humiliation, and the men who encourage them to do it or who are sitting at home with their hand down their boxers watching it and then thinking it's okay to go out and mistreat women, outside the realm of that business. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that the behavior in these gritty porn movies- the degradation, the abuse, the spitting, skull f*cking, quadruple penetration, crude talk, choking etc. are anti-sex. Here's a small snippet from Robert Jensen's book, Getting Off:

It hurts to know that no matter who you are as a woman you can be reduced to a thing to be penetrated, and that men will buy movies about that, and that in many of those movies your humiliation will be the central theme. It hurts to know that so much of the pornography that men are buying fuses sexual desire with cruelty.

It hurts women, and men like it, and it hurts just to know that.

Donkey punched, penises rammed down their throats until they puke, heads dunked in toilet bowls while they're being reamed from behind, faces saturated with semen and pee, wanting to jizz on a woman's face... Is this the type of sexual interaction men are craving to have with women?? Do you all secretly fantasize about making some woman vomit, while you force your penis down her throat? If so perhaps I should get my delicates stitched closed and look into becoming a nun.
Read a more substantial excerpt from Jensen's book here.
Also read this Money Shot entry, from October 29 blogged by Girl with a One Track Mind.

October 06, 2007

Please sir, Can I have some more?

I was reading Rupert Murdoch's newly acquired baby, The Wall Street Journal this afternoon and apparently bloggers are not only making waves in the realm of politics and celebrity gossip, but in food critiquing as well. The paper's Weekend Journal section and its featured article The Price of A Four Star Rating penned by Katy McLaughlin investigates the relationship between restaurateurs (many of whom have newly established eateries) and food bloggers/food forum commenters. It seems as if some popular food bloggers are heaping praise on certain restaurants, after having had their gastronomic experiences gratuitement. Restaurant owners seem to value the written opinions of the average joe restaurant patron just as much as an accredited food critic's, and so will champ at the bit to make sure their dining experience is superior. And if that means hosting a four course meal complete with free open bar privileges or a special invitation to dine gratis (the case with one restaurant patron and his family after he blogged a negative experience at Le Cirque)- so be it. One woman suggested that her free experience during an event at Chicago restaurant Dine (it spent $1,500 feeding members of one popular food site where people post reviews and ratings )-- wouldn't have been as enjoyable had she had to pick up the tab. I'm all for a free meal, a free drink, a free make-out session or a free anything for that matter. In fact, one of my favorite words is free. But can a blogger or a self-appointed online foodie offer an objective review, if their meals are being comped 80 percent of the time at the restaurant they're seeking to write about? Anybody can have an enjoyable dining experience if they don't have to pay for their Roasted halibut with walnut crust, dressed with a side of melon relish, non? Hell, if I got a bland chocolate torte at a fancy restaurant for FREE, I'd probably blog about how great the service was too. I've shared my sexy times experiences with certain products on this humble blog on numerous occasions. But these were products I purchased and thoroughly (and genuinely) enjoyed. No one offered them to me for free, in exchange for a 4-star review (hint-hint). I've also shared pictures and fun times I've had at different local eateries as well as ones I've enjoyed off-site. Because the food and service were excellent. I can understand why food critics (who are known for using discretion and a certain level of anonymity when patronizing new restaurants) -- and top chefs are put out by this sudden explosion of food blogs being the word on certain eateries. What if a popular food blogger hates Bobby Flay's guts for whatever reason (maybe he doesn't like his on-air wardrobe), and decides to post a bunch of garbage about Flay's restaurants and personal life? That can have a negative influence on other people's experience, because they may patronize any one of his establishments looking for trouble. According to the article, Celebrity chef Mario Batali posted a rant of his own, in response to a scathing blog entry, that detailed an alleged dispute he was having with one of his restaurant's landlords. He opined--
Many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant their snarky vituperatives from behind the smoky curtain of the web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere. Unfortunately, this also allows untruths, lies and malicious and personally driven dreck to be quoted as fact. Even a savvy blog like the one you are reading now has strangely superseded truly responsible journalism. It is much more immediate and can skip a lot of the ponderous setup necessary in a news article. It cuts right to the heart of a matter, often disputing it as though real research has taken place.
I tend to stay away from celebrity gossip (thousands of those blogs saturating the web already) and being a self-described expert on anything, other than my own personal tastes, likes and dislikes. I keep things self-involved and narcissistic. The internet, the blogosphere in particular, is a powerful forum that carries enough force to humiliate, defame, and hurt. People look to bloggers as authoritative voices on politics, celebrity, popular culture, movies, hot spots to be seen at, and most other types of fodder. While bloggers have gained some semblance of legitimacy, I think we are still looked at with some level of skepticism. At this juncture in BlogLand, I think we owe it to ourselves and the public to keep shit genuine, and to proceed with stealth by being thorough in researching what we say-- (unless it pertains to our own personal lives or opinions on such matters)- or to relay information as any real journalist or bastion of information would do. If you genuinely hate someplace or someone, then cite specific reasons why you do, detail your own personal and HONEST experiences, and leave it at that. When you write for shock value or to generate a high volume of readers, well the subpar sucky and fug of the writing shines through, like a rainbow does at a gay pride parade (I actually saw a real rainbow during Connecticut's Gay Pride parade this year, no lie), and peoples' bullshit-o-meter (with the fake cough, thank you very much) goes off. If a restaurant owner happens to read the ways in which you found his establishment deplorable and wants to invite you back, on the house, for a better dining experience so be it. As it should unfold... If a place sucks hard, like a prostitute on a john (free meal or not) go the route of legitimate food critics, and just be honest about it. It's the only way to authenticate your voice, your opinion, your writing in the blogosphere and beyond.