Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

Dreadlocks, Privilege, and Questions

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I believe there is beauty in an untouched thing. — Khadijah Queen

I believe that, too. The poppy left swaying alone on the bank below the farmhouse.   3769037680

A six-day-old girl with her face draped over an afghan.  I can imagine the waffle imprint that will rest on her cheek without lifting her head.

But I believe there is beauty, too, in touching, peeling back, rending open the sleek things, those perfected without natural perfection. The facades, posturing, arguments tested only against my own tongue, never reaching anyone else’s ears.

I find those slick places – where rot festers – when I come against the rough arm of dissonance, when I read an experience that challenges my own, when I force myself (for no one can force me) to question the teachings that wove around my lungs and girded me against any other idea of truth.

***

If I ever have a son, I will take him when he is very young to Washington Square Park for a day.  His four-year-old hand in mine, we will talk to everyone, and his innocence will help parry defenses built from daily walks on hard sidewalks.  We will talk to street performers – the Jamaican tumblers and the balloon man Keith or their descendants.  We will shake the hands of drag queens and ask the skater kids if he can try out their boards.  We will sit with the old men playing chess and the men with dreadlocks asking if we need anything.

We will make this journey because it will – I pray – open him up, set him steady with the faces of people whose lives are not mirrored entire by his own.  We will make this journey because I will need to try to save him from any tiny sliver of pain caused by his own prejudice, racism, and fear.  Because I will hope he will cause less pain, too.

We will make this journey because I will still need it.

***

I was raised in communities that lived and looked almost entirely like me.  White, middle-class, Christian, conservative.  Those communities are still my safe zones, the places where I “get it” without effort.

***

This morning I looked up “white people with dreadlocks” to read about cultural appropriation and identity and Anne Lamott.  I read to inform my choice – eventual, perhaps – to have them myself.  I do not know what to do. I may never know.

But I take hope in this – now, I at least know to read, to listen, to think carefully before I make this choice.

I did not always pause in this way, and perhaps, then, I am roughing up those sleek facades just a bit. Perhaps I am – in the smallest of ways – coming to know my own white, middle-class, Christian, able-bodied, American privilege and trying to peer behind it and tear it down.

What have you been taught about your own identity in the world that you’ve had to challenge when you meet people with different experiences?

 

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Author: Andi

I am a writer, editor, and writing teacher whose most recent book, The Slaves Have Names, tells the story of the people who were enslaved on the plantation where I was raised. When I'm not working, my husband and I are working to make our small farm - God's Whisper Farm - a retreat here at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • http://broussardgregorysledgewilliams.wordpress.com Tara

    Nobody has a license on dreadlocks. Hair is individualistic. If you identify with dreadlocks and want them for yourself, wear them with pride. I’ve learned from life’s experiences that people don’t define me, I do. And because of that, I try not to judge others’ lifestyles and choices.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Thanks for your note, Tara. Hair certainly is about the individual and expression in so many ways, and I really appreciate that. Still, I want to be aware of the larger context, too, of appropriation and privilege, so I’m still thinking. Thanks for your support of any choice I make though. I really appreciate that.

  • http://carmenmccain.com CM

    Andi, to be perfectly honest with you, I generally roll my eyes when I see a white person sporting dreadlocks, but it’s really nice to see someone being so thoughtful about it.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      I hear you, Carmen, and you – more than many Americans – know the significance of the hairstyle – and hair in general for people of African descent. I appreciate hearing from you. Thanks.