Saturday before last, I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge anticipating what I’d hoped would be an interstellar crossing into the future of ancient Black galaxies on the wings of Ms. Erykah Badu. What I love about Erykah is that I never know where or how far homegrrrl is going to transport me, but I know that she gets off beaming her peoples up.
After a rollercoaster ride of a morning and afternoon where a Black girl was making history in France and another Black girl was setting us back in history in NYC, I needed some Baduism to get my Black grrrl shit straight. And if anybody could do it, Ms. Badu was that person. Erykah is a touchstone. She’s a mirror and a portal. Yeah, I know some folks have grown weary of waiting for her late ass to show up on time for performances and even more folk are still side-eyeing and sucking their teeth at the mention of that god-awful “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” song and video. But through it all I’ve never had to ask her or myself, “Ain’t I Woman?” When it comes to power, Blackness and being a woman, Erykah is a wonderful reminder that the world ain’t even seen the half! Our capabilities are endless and our contours, boundless. So that Saturday night when Twitter’s 140 queen @fatbellybella took the stage with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra at BAM for their “You’re Causing Quite A Disturbance” collaboration, it brought me back to center. Reminded me of my Self.
Just 5 hours before that I was holding up a sign in Union Square Park that read, “You Cannot Touch My Hair.” Sounds so bizarro. Like who does this shit? Oh yeah, Black women do. Anyway this blogger, just another reason why I hate referring to myself as one, thought it would be a cool social experiment to hire three Black women (models) to stand in the park with signs saying, “You Can Touch My Hair.” She felt that this “exhibit” would somehow untangle the messy politics of race, privilege and stereotype by inviting strangers to run their fingers through our kinks. A throwback to Hottentot Venus, but even then, folks looked, err gawked and didn’t touch. I didn’t care that this may have been a “conversation starter” (FYI– it wasn’t. Can’t start something that’s never stopped. People just yabble-gabbing about Willow Smith just last week).
I also don’t care about educating strangers on the nature of my kinks. Ok, so you touch my hair. Yes, it’s soft. No, I do not have a razor hidden in my afro puffs. Yes, I shampoo my hair weekly. No, I don’t use Afro-sheen (anymore). Yes, my hair feels very different than yours. Yes, you can clutch your pearls now. This convo is not going to change how someone feels (or doesn’t feel) about Black women. It’s not going to stop the intra-community biases that Black women have toward each other for wearing weaves or for going natural. It will not change mainstream society’s sense of entitlement or ignorance around race and gender and it’s not going to convince Hollywood to replace Zoe Saldana with Viola Davis! This was nothing more to me than a glorified, albeit a very well publicized, petting zoo. But ain’t I a woman though? I am not your personal pony show. We are not fuzzy-haired llamas here to satisfy the fetishes and fantasies of others. I can’t believe in 2013 I even have to say this! I so wish that the women in the park were holding up signs that questioned rather than acquiesced. Like have Black women ask others, “Why Do You Want To Touch My Hair?” or “How Does My Hair Make You Feel?” I’m talking about agency and in this case these women were losing it by having to answer everyone’s questions about why they are happy to be nappy.
To make this hair touching moment even more odd and untimely, it came on the heels of Serena Williams winning the French Open. Not only was Rena the first American to win the Open in 11 years (when she last won), but homegrrrl gave her victory speech in superb French. Serena’s game was so ill, I couldn’t help, but strut and pop my own pajama collar. I was jumping up and down and didn’t understand very much of what she was saying, but that didn’t keep me from shouting “That’s right!” and “Alright now!” Ain’t seen the half. Endless. Boundless.
Serena, a Black girl from Compton who played on concrete long before she played on clay, was holding a majestic silver trophy in her arms and speaking fluent French, in Paris, and the fact that this was all going down not too far away from the Musee de l’Homme where Saartjie Baartman’s (the Hottentot Venus’s) “preserved” genitalia remained in storage until 1997 did not escape me. Meanwhile, at that moment on that same Saturday, in some young Black woman’s NYC apartment, she was fixing her hair and make-up preparing herself to be touched, gawked at and investigated by strangers for a “You Can Touch My Hair” exhibit. Seriously, I felt like I was moving through wormholes to the future and then back in time. I had to do something, but by inserting myself into the madness of time travel, objectification and supreme athleticism, I think my chakras got knocked off. I was thrilled to find that I wasn’t the only woman who went to protest “You Can Touch My Hair,” but even as a trio of resistance against the hair-touchers, my vectors were off. I needed to recalibrate and Baduism was the medicine I ached for.
To an outsider it may look like a reckless sense of abandon, but for her part Erykah serves up reinvention the way Rihanna serves up sex. It’s her calling card and we all want to be dialed-in. I love EB because even though she was surrounded by timpanis, violins and clarinets, she managed to keep the reworked version of New Amerykah street and soulful. It’s reassuring to see her dip into a pot she’s never brewed before and watch her confidently mix in a lil Southern hot sauce. And even when she mixes in a little too much she lets us know by laughing at herself, which makes us in the audience laugh with her. We were beaming up Scotty. Black women laughing at ourselves goes way back to Zora and it’s so necessary for ALL women to laugh at ourselves. Between leaning-in, glass ceilings, unhealthy bras, and the ticking of our biological clocks, saying my bad and laughing at our silly, flawed selves will do a gender good.
In these days following the Touch My Hair exhibit, I thought, hoped that the woman behind the spectacle would laugh at herself and publically admit that she went too far. That she didn’t put enough spice in her brew and her experiment wasn’t the socio-political success she had hoped for. But no such thing has happened. The politics around our hair are probably more fraught than ever and ain’t no one laughing. Well thanks to my favorite Analog Girl, I’m cool. Her show got me amped. I am a woman or, as Sojourner actually said during her famed speech, “I am woman’s rights!” I am that possibility and that equality. Endless. Boundless.