Monday, May 25, 2009


If you want the area where the worlds of black and white diverge the furthest, I vote hair.

Hair is big business in both of these worlds and a big part of most people’s personal life. It takes time to groom, money to style, is a form of expression, and a part of how we tend to judge others. With this in mind, let’s talk a little bit about how race and hair intersect… or rather how they don’t…or both.

Most white people in general know nothing of the world of African-American Hair. To give you a small idea of the place hair has in African-American culture I should mention that the first women to become a millionaire by her own merits was a black woman (C.J. Walker) who started a company producing hair care products for African American’s. This was around 1908, a time when black people were discriminated against and excluded from most anything that could lead to success. It’s a big deal.
Now if you are new to interracial discussion, even if you are not so new, I would suggest that on the subject of hair it is best for most of us white people to simply listen, ask occasional questions, but avoid like the plague any exclamations or declarations.
The things you find out may surprise you but shouting out something is crazy or stupid will very likely end in violence. Like I said, hair is a big deal.
If you listen you will learn all about hot irons, weaves, microbraids, Koreans, relaxer, wigs, all sorts of things. Many white people are completely unaware that microbraids are hardly ever someone’s real hair. White people are clueless that so many black women, even younger ones, wear wigs. Just today I listened to a group of black women argue loudly over whether or not Oprah’s hair was weave.
These are mostly issues of style and preference and are interesting or even mildly amusing. But it can be much more than that.

Hair in the black community is loaded with extra judgments. All of us are judged by our looks, no matter our color, but it is deeper than that for African-Americans. Believe me when I say white people do not realize this. There is no equivalent in the white community, some of the terms may be the same, but the depth is no where near.

“Good hair,” does not simply mean well behaved tresses but carries an implication of a person’s heritage and worthiness in society. “Bad hair”, or any description like it, can become a despising of blackness itself. Imus knew this well enough to in essence call the Rutgers women’s basketball team a bunch of N@#$$ without actually saying the word.

Hair can be an expression of not just your style but your politics. Afro’s or “naturals” connection to the Black Panthers and the black power movement is well recognized. Less known across racial lines is the recently watered down expression behind dreadlocks. Popularized by Rastafarians who were rejecting Europeanized standards of straight hair were letting their hair grow and matte itself naturally. Dreadlocks were a symbol of returning to one’s African roots, mimicking the roots of a tree. White kids listening to reggae and celebrating drug culture missed all this meaning and have gone to great lengths to grow a hairstyle foreign to their own heads, all the while missing the rich irony.

I should mention here that dreadlocks are usually lengths of hair twisted or rolled together till they begin to grow that way, not braided. If I hear one more sports commentator call cornrows “dreadlocks” when talking about NBA players I may just gouge my own eyes out.

Black people don’t realize how little they know about white people and hair either.

We say “good hair” too, but there are no deeper meanings. It is just a description of hair, that’s all. Many, many, white women spend hours, many hours, styling their hair. There is no standard of whether curly or straight is better, or rather I should say there is no persisting notion other than those fluctuations dictated by style magazines and the fashion world. Many women with straight hair spend fortunes on perms. When white people say “perm” they are talking about making hair curly, not the other way around.
Most white women don’t have weave, and if they do, they will never admit it. Publicly accusing a white woman of wearing weave would be a social knife to her back.
What may seem like just plain old hair to a black person is very likely an actual style that took hours to accomplish. White people take great care to look as if they don’t try but keep in mind that they have to try and try EVERY day. There is no such thing in the white world, even a perm, as a hairstyle that last weeks. Every morning white folks start from scratch.

Most black people are generally unaware of the many variations in Caucasian hair types. We come in all sorts of colors and textures. Our hair does not smell like wet dog when wet and having curly hair does not indicate some sort of racial mixing in one’s genealogy. Blonde vs. brunette issues are well known among all, and most blondes are not naturally blonde. I, a lifelong white person, have still yet been able to accurately describe a hair color I simply call “hair color”. I have heard it called “dishwater blonde” or “dirty blonde”, I think it looks sort of grey, that mid tone between yellow and brown. I don’t know why I add this, other than to communicate that there is enough variation that we haven’t named it among ourselves.

It may be unfortunate, but we white people generally tease redheads. Red hair is not automatically cool, usually quite the opposite (most black people don’t know this). Despite this many white people with brown or blonde hair will call themselves red heads. They are not completely delusional, as many people have reddish highlights when the light is just so, yet having some way to uniquely describe yourself is of high importance, even if it means declaring oneself a red-head.

Consider this intercultural hair 101. In course 201 we will discuss the social implications of facial hair between black and white. As homework, try to find a corporate professional white man with facial hair, then try to find a corporate professional black man without facial hair. You may find it interesting.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Story From 2002

There is something in my male ego that wouldn’t let me act afraid. I think the fact that I didn’t know Brooks that well kept me from saying “no”. Whatever it was, I found myself at the summit of Emigration Canyon prepared to ride a skateboard into the night. I had planned to spend the evening watching T.V.

I had sweaty palms and weak knees but still, there I was, prepared to push off down a canyon road at nine p.m. simply because I didn’t want to look like a punk in front of some new friends.
The plan was that two of us would board while the third would follow in the car to both provide light with the headlights, and warn oncoming traffic of our approach. These guys hadn’t done this before either but had heard the idea is to keep your speed in check by turning as much as possible and just before you get going too fast you simply jump off the board and hit the ground running as the board coasts into the embankment. They didn’t question the plan, so I kept my mouth shut about any doubts.

I began weaving back and forth crossing both lanes, using as much of the road as possible. I could feel the vibrations in my feet as rough asphalt passed under the wheels. The wind was cold on my face as I began leaning harder into the turns. My heart beat faster, adrenaline was flowing, and an uncontrollable grin spread across my face. I loved it. As the road got steeper I picked up more speed.

I was at the point where I should be jumping off. I didn’t. I wanted to see how far I could push it. With my pulse racing I began to eye the snow banks along the side of the road, planning to use one to break my eventual fall. With an escape route in mind I let gravity take its course. I began to put real distance between me and the other rider. I left him, the car, and the headlights behind. I took comfort in the ever present piles of snow that seamed to glow in the night, and went just a little faster.

I had to lean hard as the turns got tighter, the fall was coming. I watched in horror as the reflective snow gave way to a steel guardrail. Guardrails mean steep drop offs and I briefly cursed myself for being brave. I had no choice but to take this one last turn and try to stay upright. I crouched low and leaned hard.

That was about two months ago. My hands have healed nicely barely leaving any scars. I never did go get my wrist checked out; I can finally put enough pressure on it to do a push-up. The guys called me again the other night but I had already proved myself. The pressure to protect my manhood was gone. This time I went because I wanted to.

My wife bought me my own longboard for my 27th birthday.


Monday, May 18, 2009

What do I call "them"?

I have had many well meaning white people ask me how African-Americans prefer to be addressed. To which I respond, “depends on the person. You should ask them.”

While this is true, I’m not authorized to speak for anyone else, that answer ignores what the questioner really wanted to know. In the name of being helpful here are a few easy tips.

Start with African-American. This is the most PC, is generally safe, and where you should start if you have any doubts. The term can be seen as a bit too formal or official, or someone may just not like the term, but it is not offensive.
If someone wants to be called something else, they will let you know.

My wife describes herself as “black”. There is nothing wrong with a white person saying the word black. I once watched an inexperienced white person try to describe another person who was black. We all knew the one being described was black and I chuckled as the describer used every description he could think of, except the color of his skin, to describe him. Once this awkward profile was given I asked the guy being described if he was black. “Yup”, he replied. “You cool with that?” I asked. “Of course,” was his reply. The original describer looked at me in horror as I asked these questions. He was obviously not comfortable even mentioning race in mixed company. He is not alone.

Now between black and African-American, the latter is safer. It’s an easy rule, now relax.

But don’t relax so much that you turn off your brain and do something regrettable.
Remember black is an adjective, not a noun. My wife is a black woman, not a black. She is a person not a color and if you call her something that describes her as less than a person don’t expect to be friends. I’m sure you wish to be considered human as well.

Just because someone else says it doesn’t mean you can too.

Your Mom tried to teach you this about all sorts of things while you were young. Where most of us go wrong in bringing this early life lesson to racial names is we tend to think of the “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff would you want to do that too?” speech. Jumping off cliffs is stupid and no one should do it. What we should recall is the “Just because I do (A) doesn’t mean you can too. You are too (young, small, whatever)”.
In other words, just because you hear a black person use a certain “N” word, does not make it O.K. for you. EVER!
You can have your opinion on if black people should say that word, but keep it to yourself. A white person telling a black person their opinion on black people using the “N” word would be like me telling some strange woman what underwear she should wear; its none of my business, has nothing to do with me, and is just generally inappropriate.

Now I know most of you black people don’t need my help in addressing white people but let me add my two cents.
Stop using displays of stereotypical behavior as proof of whiteness and stating it out loud in mixed company. As in, “look at him dance, you know he’s white.”

The word white is not synonymous with: nerd, slow, smart, rich, rhythmically challenged, lame, uptight, lack of jumping ability, racist, or even Republican. Using it as such, even when being funny, only confuses white people and deepens the wedge between our groups.

Just realize that no matter how different you think “they” are, you are talking to a person. Treat them like one.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Put Me In Coach!

A little something for baseball season.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Sorry Mom. I love you but...

I love my wife.

She is my favorite person.

My daughters are lucky to have her.

I am even luckier.

Luck is the only answer,

unless you consider

I love you Kahalia.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Message to the NAACP, Jesse, Al, and anyone else who says they care

check out Brohammas guest blogging at

I learned a few things while broken down in traffic the other day.
When I say “broken down” I mean broken. One of the front wheels fell off the car. As if this wasn’t fun enough it was downtown right at the start of rush hour. I called a tow truck and then spent the next three hours standing in the road about 50 yards behind the immobile vehicle trying to direct traffic into the other lane. I may need to remind some people that I live in Philadelphia. This is the land of the car horn and I’m pretty sure the term “curses like a sailor” should be updated to “curses like a Philly motorist”. When I told the mechanic what I had done he looked at me in horror and said, “I woulda ran and hid around the corner telling folks, that aint my car.”
With that as a backdrop, here is what I learned:

Men like to diagnose problems.
When I got to the mechanic I brought with me 7 votes for a broken rocker arm, 5 votes for broken axle, and 9 votes for busted ball joint. It was the ball joint.

Women like to empathize. “Ohhhh honey,” was the most common phrase.

You cannot tell the race of a person by what they drive. I saw plenty of black people in trucks with big tires and white folks with shiny rims. There was no pattern, no trend.
Here is the big lesson…

Most people are very cooperative if they understand what is going on.

I had broken down right in front of an intersection, thankfully not in the intersection, on a two lane, one way city street. Traffic was backing up. I was standing in the middle of the lane trying to make eye contact with drivers and motioning them over into the open lane. I was clearly not a traffic cop, they don’t wear seersucker ties with tan pin striped pants (that’s another story). Occasionally I got the middle finger or an earful as people approached, followed by an apology as they saw the state of the vehicle ahead. A bunch of people offered to help me push the car up on the sidewalk, till they saw the wheel and then usually exclaimed “Holy ---- !” followed by condolences.
Most people, the vast majority of people, simply nodded, put on their blinker, and tried to get in the other lane. Usually, someone would let them.
Every now and then someone would be on a cell phone, or be impatient, and would nearly run me over as they sped right up behind the immobile vehicle. They would then be forced to try and go around, without enough room to clear the back bumper. Watching someone have to make a three point turn in the middle of rush hour traffic is painful. This would back the line of cars up even further and tempers would boil. In these situations I would walk around talking with motorists explaining what happened and they would shake their heads knowingly and wait.
But over and over again it was obvious; people were O.K. once they understood.

I wish the NAACP, Jesse, Al, or anyone else who claims to be invested in equality could have been there. Here is the lesson.

There are still race issues that should be addressed in this country. Racism still exists and discrimination still has affects. The biggest difference between today and 40 years ago is less people understand. There are no fire hoses and police dogs. No one is standing in the doors of the school house and few are kicked out of restaurants. The battle lines are hard to see. Many, if not most, white Americans don’t even know these battles still need fighting.

There is no one standing and directing traffic, explaining the situation, and people are getting mad. White people are sitting in a long line of traffic and have no idea that up ahead, the wheels have come off. We are all speeding ahead and will soon find ourselves staring at emergency flashers with no room to get in the other lane. Then what?

Today in the world of race relations there are those, individuals and institutions, who are trying to fight the fight. Lawyers, watch dog groups, campaigners, philanthropists, social workers, the list goes on. Some quietly go about business trying to do good, others scream loudly about injustice but rare is the one who explains what it’s all about.
The issues facing race and the affects of racism (both today’s and yesterday’s) have so much to do with people’s hearts and minds that it would make sense that these should be the targets. But they aren’t.

Sadly most are fighting today’s war with the weapons of days past. Looking for legislation, or filing a lawsuit. To the white person 20 cars back, it looks like black people are just tying up traffic. They don’t know why, they can’t see what’s going on, and all they know is they are trying to get somewhere. No one is walking back informing people that the lane ahead has a broken car in it.

Most of us have run around the corner saying “that aint my car.”