Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Tale of Two Grandmas & My Journey to Cultural Awareness

Until recently, I never compared and contrasted my two grandmas.  Each one was special and dearly loved so I never saw anything more or less than that.  Now, with all the talk of "good" hair and "bad" hair and light complexion and dark complexion, I'm beginning to realize that my grandmothers were on opposite ends of each spectrum.

My father's mother (Mattie), who passed in 2003, had a very dark complexion and short "nappy" hair.  My short and "nappy" hair was often compared to hers.  My mother's mother (Lizzie), still alive at 100 years old, had a very light complexion and long silky hair.  She even has blue eyes that have now turned gray due to age.  I remember brushing Grandma Lizzie's hair and wishing my hair looked more like hers and I remember being fascinated by her sparking blue eyes.  I don't remember ever having any thoughts about either one of their complexions although I used to secretly blame my father for me not having the coveted light complexion I felt I would have had if he hadn't been so dark.

Fast forward many years . . . I'm recalling stories Grandma Lizzie told of working on the field, picking cotton and plowing the land.  She was a favored child (possibly due to her appearance), so she often got to play in the house with the daughter of the plantation owner, but as she got older, she had to work the fields.  She recalls how hard the work was, but she said it didn't kill them because she's 100 years old and still here.  Leave it to Grandma Lizzie to say something wise ;-)  I was fortunate enough to see a picture of my grandma when she was a teen-ager.  She was pictured with her siblings, her parents (my great grand-parents) and her grandmother (my great-great grandmother).  Although it was never confirmed and never discussed within the family, it seems quite apparent that my great grandma (definitely) and my grandma (highly probable) were the products of the plantation owner or some other empowered individual taking liberties that were not theirs (if you know what I mean).  What makes this apparent? Skin complexion, hair texture and in my grandma's case, her sparkling blue eyes.
With Grandma Lizzie. Her hair is pulled back
so you can't see it.  It's not as thick as it used to be,
but is still comes to the middle of her back.

Why does that matter? From a family perspective, it doesn't - both of my grandmas have had positive influences on me and are dearly loved.  From a cultural perspective, I have to question why we view black beauty as being black with the presence of white (i.e. light complexion, long silky or wavy hair, light colored eyes,etc.) and why the absence of white or far away distance of it's presence is considered ugly or unattractive?  Could the very thing that I grew up envying have been the product of a traumatic experience for my great-great grandmother and my great grandmother?

To take it a step further, why is it that some women who wear their hair naturally seem to be so offended if people assume that they now have a level of cultural awareness?  Now, I understand that those two things do not necessarily go hand in hand and some women are wearing their hair naturally for various reasons, but is the assumption of cultural awareness really an insult?  Where would we be if we had stronger cultural awareness and a stronger sense of cultural responsibility?   Would we have put an end to the good hair vs. bad hair and light skin vs. dark skin complexion issues long ago?  Would we have stop promoting cultural ignorance instead of cultural awareness?  Would we have lifted each other up rather than continuing the cycle of tearing each other down?

And my final thought on this topic is I spent so many years wishing I had "good" hair and I spent at least 20 years straightening and relaxing my hair so that it could be beautiful and acceptable, according to society's standards, and now I'm being appreciated and respected for having mounds of the hair type that was once considered ugly.  Additionally, the picture that has gotten the most positive comments and appears to be popping up everywhere (without my knowledge - please don't do that!) is the one above showing my hair in its kinkiest state - not stretched, not combed, not even brushed. Who knew???

My journey to cultural awareness continues . . .

~Loving Me Naturally


  1. We have all been plugged into the Matrix for too long and brain washed to believe that anything black is ugly, vile and unworthy of appreciation but if you add a little white (or any other race) then it's beautiful. In the words of Malcom X - We've been bamboozled. I just recently unplugged myself from the Matrix and I'm able to see things a lot differently.

  2. Thanks for the comment - I am definitely there with you! What was never even a passing thought before is crystal clear to me now. There's no turning back now!