This image has been all over Facebook recently. I love it probably because I have a deep unrequited love for Angela Davis and the struggle she encountered during the Black Panther movement and within the movement itself. For those who aren't aware, Angela Davis is an activist who was associated with the Communist Party and the Black Panther movement in the 1960s. As you can guess, this made her very popular at the time. I wasn’t born but images of her substantial (un)tamed afro still permeate the American psyche and thus the internet. As the poster suggest, I also care about the "Republican War" on women's rights.
So I relate on a personal level to the picture and the message. But it also made me think about something else that has happened recently. Lately people, even those who do not know me, have somehow began to relate to me and outright call me Angela Davis.
It all started since I fro-ed my hair (I like the use of "fro" as a verb. It seems to show an action, a progression almost...but I digress). Since cutting my hair off mid last year, it’s grown into a massive, dark round (and I assume) reminder of our past. Lately people notice and stare at me for seemingly no reason at all. And I cannot tell you how many times I have been walking down the street, or entering a store or doing nothing at all for that matter and someone called me “Angela Davis.” Well, it’s happen like five times, but that a significant number when it had never once happened before I got the fro.
Sometimes it seems to be an enduring term: “I like the Angela Davis thing you have going on,” stated by a dude at a restaurant who himself sported locks.
But more often not so much. In line at the grocery store a white man stood back from the cashier as if he wasn’t ready and when I tried to go around him, he held his hand out blocking my way and said, “Wait your turn….[mumble] Davis.” At first I thought he’d gotten me confused with someone he knew and called me Ms. Davis. Then I realized that I must have reminded him of the “militant” Angela Davis figure who had scared the American people and stolen America’s innocence (the way I tried to steal his spot in line) with her fight for equality all those many years ago.
But it all was because of my hair. People within this society see black women in very limited ways, but no matter what role we take within their minds, we make them uncomfortable. Of course there are ways that we can lessen this effect. Paul Mooney once said, “When your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. ‘Cause when your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.”
Though I’m not a fan of the term “nappy,” I certainly understand Mr. Mooney’s meaning.
To be “natural” for almost every other woman on the planet is not only completely acceptable, but it is expected. (Simply wanting your hair to be straight when it’s curly or vice versa is not an example of the systemic ideology that one’s hair is wrong and must be changed to be “normal,” even if it can never be pretty or “good.”) But to be natural and be a black woman, however, is a political statement. Simply by wearing my hair in its natural state, I am somehow calling out the mainstream society and they do not like it. Without even knowing it, I am making a comment on the society and its unfair treatment of my people and this hair seems to remind them of that. My hair and anyone’s hair that is not straightened (or an acceptably curly) is, by definition, challenging the status quo.
Davis took the stage and adorned her fro to the US populous many years ago and now, almost four decades later, it still feels as if it's an affront to the American way of life if I allow my hair free rein in public. There has been much discussion about blacks who have a difficult time finding employment if they have natural hair and this still an issue in 2012. There's also a lot of academic study on the subject and I even wrote a academic paper on it last year.
I understand, though, that natural hair for black women is more acceptable now than it has been in the past and I’m happy to see this happening. However, I think it’s important for us (all of us) to recognize that in many ways hair for some people is still political simply because of its presence and because of that not quite as freeing as many people would assume.
That said, I freaking love my Afro and I’m not going to change it any time soon, despite people who can’t accept it or me.