Dear Rachel, I Am Not My Hair, But I Am A Black Woman

06/16/2015 03:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016
Calvalyn Day

Dear Rachel,

When I talked to my husband about your story -- you know, that one that set Black Twitter on fire -- he wasn't nearly as disgusted as I was.

It shocked me a little bit, particularly because after last week, when he saw that infamous Texas pool party tape of a white police officer dragging a young black girl by her hair and then sitting on her, my husband and I have had several conversations about race in America. However, as we discussed it further, it dawned on me what the real difference between his anger and mine.


Note that I didn't use quotations. There is no, "I consider myself," in front of that statement; it just is what it is.


Not only am I a black woman, I am a black mother of four black daughters. Four black daughters with brown skin and kinky hair. Four daughters who can never find enough black Barbie dolls. Four daughters who sometimes struggle with the expectations that society and even people of our own race place upon black women. You know the ones I'm talking about, don't you, Rachel? Be strong, but gentle. Be loving, but not weak. Be sexy, but not too sexy, because you will quickly be seen as cheap. Be smart, but not too smart; you don't want to make anyone uncomfortable. You know, THOSE expectations.

Oh wait, maybe you don't know what I mean.

Now let me be really clear. I find no fault in your loving African-American culture. I love it my darn self. Every year of my life that I live and learn more about the history and heritage that has largely been hidden from mainstream society, I love myself and my ancestors even more. So I do understand why you would be in love with the culture too. I think it's great that you have made a living of researching and immersing yourself in the culture. To be honest, I could care less whether you rock every curly wig that you can find or if you single-handedly keep the corner hair store in business by buying enough Kanekalon to choke a mule. I don't mind that you tan your skin or even bake sweet potato pies for fun. And truly, I couldn't care less about your being married to a black man or claiming one as a father.

What I take issue with, Rachel, is that your dishonesty and trivialization of so-called black culture is exactly the type of narrow-mindedness that continues to oppress black women like myself. By choosing to falsely "go natural," you insult the women who are expected to wear a freshly-relaxed bob in order to keep their jobs. You make a mockery of little black girls with short hair dreaming of beautiful long flowing locks. You've clearly never had your 3-year-old cut her hair off and say she wants "flat hair." And you've certainly never had the top of your ear burned to a crisp by an old-fashioned greasy hot comb and then prayed that you wouldn't sweat your new 'do out.

I wonder, as you "consider" yourself to be black, and yet not African-American, what exactly do you base that off of? Have you been accused of being aggressive or threatening just because of your brown skin and confidence, as I have? At what point did you wake up and realize that you were black? While I never had such an epiphany myself, I do recall many times when the world made sure that I remembered, yes, I am never allowed to forget that I am a black woman. I can recall distinctly sitting in gifted and talented classrooms, being the ONLY black girl, and being expected to speak for my ENTIRE race every time a "black" topic came up. When I watched Clare Huxtable on "The Cosby Show" be told that she should only speak when black topics came up, I understood that to my core. As I have worked my way up professional circles and find myself being one of few black women in those roles, I still have those same conversations. Have you had that too, Rachel?

Do you have to seamlessly practice in the art of switching like the rest of us professional black women, Rachel? No, you say. You're not expected to live and love your black culture and be able to assimilate to mainstream cultures as well? Hmm, interesting.

But the big question, the one that I really would like to ask you to your face is, if wearing the hair and clothes of black culture makes you black, if sweet potato pies and Kente cloth gives you a black card, if loving a black man or raising black children make you black, if I choose to dress more conservatively, does that make me white? If I prefer pumpkin pie, should I be checking a different box on my applications? When we reduce culture to superficial outward expressions of style, we undermine the true value in each culture and each individual. When India Arie wrote "I Am Not My Hair," I don't think she had you in mind, but you might want to take a listen and see if you get anything out of it.

Now that there are questions being raised about you suing Howard University for being discriminated against as a white woman, I have much deeper questions about your true intentions. Your voice, as a white woman, could have been just as strong, if not stronger, as a catalyst for social justice and equality. Your choice to assume a label -- and then pick and choose à la carte style which characteristics you want -- is insulting, because as a black woman, I don't have that choice. I've never wanted to give up my culture, but even if I did, it's not an option. I might want to give up the foul looks when I'm in an upscale store or being expected to work twice as hard for half the pay while still wearing a smile, but again, not an option.

With all respect to your lovely W.E.B DuBois reference, whenever you get ready to slip back into the anonymity of white privilege you can do so, but I will still be a black woman.