I believe freedom is overrated. The First Amendment is…nice. So is the rest of that red, white, and blue freedom talk in the Bill of Rights. But the F-word is starting to lose its sting. Understandable. It’s been used and abused over 200 years. And the way we gift-wrap it for the neo-colonized world—in- AND outside our borders? What does it truly mean to be greater than free?
The summer before trailing off to college, my mother asked, “What are you doing with your hair?” My yarn twists—yes, twists made of yarn—had grown out, and my thick, significantly browner roots were threatening to take over. “I’ll just get it done again,” I told her. That would buy me some time before I had to face another box of TCB permanent relaxer. If you’ve ever seen them, these beautiful Black women are smiling back at you through hair so full of body; so sleek, long, and STRAIGHT. Or they grin from beneath some short, sassy cut that took all manner of patience and pain to achieve.
I was proud. I had gone five whole months without falling for this chemical setting of fire to my scalp. Now, there was an alternative to this, but my mother didn’t want to hear it. Imus can’t say “nappy” like the women I know. Nappy can’t get you a job, a man, or a pillow in your own mama’s house!
But when my first semester ended, I had a 3.9 AND my first, real African-American Studies course under my belt. Not to mention, there was plenty of new growth under these kinky twists.
I figured I would fight that good fight again:
“Mommy, I’m 18!”
“But Mommy, it’s my head!”
“Ma, I don’t care what they say at church!”
“What if I already made the appointment?”
“Chaunté thinks it would be cute.”
Best friend confirmation works sometimes. But in my valiant efforts to convince my mother, I discovered I was losing confidence myself.
“Well…if I don’t like it, I’ll just get a perm…” I was in too deep to turn back now. And on January 4, 2006, as India.Arie sang “I Am Not My Hair” on the radio—no lie—I did it.
It wasn’t until the next semester in an African American Literature class that I learned about rememory. Time and experience have worn freedom down in my book. I can’t explain it. But oh, baby, I can. There are forces tied up in these dead skin cells. A remembering I don’t know with my mind’s eye, but there’s something familiar to me about the process of being colonized—and at long last unshackled.
The liberation I experienced that January afternoon was like 1863. It was like Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics. Mandela in 1990. My self-worth had still been colonized until that moment. What was mine—broad nose, thick lips, tightly coiled hair from an Africa I’ve never seen—felt new and familiar. For once, I felt at home inside my skin—even in a Top Model world.
So yeah, I think freedom is stale, and overrated. But I think everyone could use a little liberating.