Helen Atkins, age 25
Albuquerque, New Mexico
“Fuck White Supremacy”
Anyone who knows me knows I wear my hair up about 90% of the time.
I wish this were because I was too busy to style it in the morning, or I hated the way it felt as it brushed against my face throughout the day.
But it is not.
Each morning I enact the same ritual: I style my hair down and go along with the rest of my routine. Returning to the mirror I decide I should pin half of it up, then perhaps drink a cup of tea. One final time, I look at myself and submit to the inevitable. My hair goes up, tied in a way that contains the thick, stubborn, frizz.
In a way that appears normal.
On days that I actually wear my hair down I have given myself an internal pep talk.
Reassuring myself, not that I look pretty, but that I look normal…enough. It has taken me more than 20 years to fully recognize these thought patterns, and the societal seeds that have been planted in me that gave root to my fight with my hair. It is hard to recognize because we normalize female insecurities. It is accepted that we fight with ourselves; that we are in perpetual battle with our bodies. But this is more than that. This is a double-edged sword.
I am black. I am white.
And I have internalized that one part of me is more “normal” than the other.
My hair is a symbolic image of this internalization. It is a piece of me that I have wished away a thousand times. I’ve spent a lifetime taming, pulling, and pinning my hair, doing anything to change it from its natural state. It is a piece of me I contain, pulled into a bun, and into submission. Contained to adhere to white-patriarchal standards of beauty.
The fight with my black half is a subconscious one. It lives in the back of my mind, manifesting in habits I hardly notice. And it was carefully placed there.
It was placed there by a society that says black is bad.
Who views black women as disposable.
Who makes our leading ladies light eyed and white.
Who tells us our hair should be pressed and relaxed.
Who cuts up black bodies and re-purposes them on white women of fame.
Who tells us black hair, black skin, black noses, black eyes, are nothing to be desired.
Who sees our butts and not our brains.
It was placed there by a lifetime of problematic complements.
“Your hair is not that bad.”
“Your skin is so light for being black.”
“Your butt isn’t as big as most black girls, I’m not that into big butts.”
“I am surprised you’re as smart as your are.”
It was placed there, at times, by outright admission.
By an ex who called me the “n” word.
By another who said “I’m just not that into being in an interracial couple.”
By the anonymous person who left voicemails full of racial slurs on my first cell phone. When I was 14.
But mostly it was placed their insidiously.
By the extra effort it takes to get people to take me seriously.
By the slight difference in tone I received when going out with my mother than I did my father.
By the way, I can’t help but notice, men talk to me differently. Asking things like “so which half of your body is black?”
White supremacy is not just the white-cloaked man carrying pitchforks in towns too small to be bothered with. That white supremacy is propped up by his more finessed cousin. Who has sneaked his way into each corner of our culture.
Woven into our religion, our books, our films, our TV, our adds, our speech.
It is a small seed planted in all of us. Manifesting in ways that perhaps takes a magnifying glass to notice. It is a small seed with deep roots. Roots that have dug into our history, our subconscious, our government, not my president.
White supremacy is hoisted up by the patriarchy.
A system that reduces women to their parts.
A system that chops us up to make us feel inferior.
A system that tells us white parts are worth more than black ones.
I am black.
I am white.
I am female.
I am not inferior.
Fuck the patriarchy and fuck white supremacy.