Hair Myths, False Idols & Battling Complexion: Reflecting On Marsha Ambrosius’ Diary Of A Black Girl

Marsha Ambrosius
wrote an interesting blog today [quoted at the bottom of this article] initially explaining that she didn’t appear in Wale’s “Diary” video simply due to “scheduling issues” and – sparked by the song’s subject – goes on to share her thoughts and experiences of “the on-going, deep rooted battle with complexion”.

Personally, I went to a predominantly white school – being one of the few children ‘of colour’ in all of my classes – and don’t remember experiencing any racism. Ever. Aside from my own coveting of the pretty girls’ straight hair. And one boy who called me a Black something-or-other — I kicked him in response. [Very hard, as was my specialism in primary school.]

Perhaps it was always there. Behind my back. Or in my face, unnoticed. Eitherway, it was never an issue for me. My parents would tell you a different story about their experiences of raising a mixed raced child, but that’s theirs to tell.

Now of course, in adulthood, I’m far more aware of institutional racism. Like the high school that suspended black boys for having their hair cut “too short”. For some reason, it didn’t click for me at the time how ridiculous that policy was. I wish I could go back eight years and really do something about that.

But I was pretty oblivious to racial complexities throughout my childhood – particularly pre-teens – aside from a strange memory of walking to the swimming pool [aged about seven] with my Dad and telling him I wished I was white, “so I could have nice hair”. He thought I was off my rocker – I always have been, a little. That must have been how I felt, to say it aloud – but my feelings would surely have been different had there been a figure in my life with the patience or interest to show me what could be done with my hair. The possibilities. The choices.

Things would also be different had the magazines I read at the time ever mentioned that the flowing, bouncy locks of the black singers and actresses we idolised in our youth were not actually their own hair. Perhaps I’d have saved myself several frustrated hours with the blow-dryer. One thing lead to another until, eventually, sitting in the salon seat at 14 years-old to get that “creamy crack” brushed into my lengthy curls was the moment I had looked forward to for years.

I’ll eventually write at length about my thoughts and observations on the impact of hair. We’re all thinking and talking about it anyway since Chris Rock’s documentary, but it’s always been an important subject. It contributes to the way we see and feel about ourselves as women – AND MEN. Remember when it was actually trendy for black men to perm their hair? Now that they have stopped doing so, a black man without relaxed hair is regarded as: Normal. Not “afrocentric”. Humm…

Externally, we are judged by our hair. I look forward to the day when a black woman wearing her hair naturally is seen as exactly that: Natural – rather than assumed to be making some sociopolitical “pro-black” statement.

When I started SoulCulture a few years ago [paired with my life-long tendency not to post many pictures of myself online] people who read my work but didn’t know what I looked like would eventually meet me and say, “Wow, I thought you’d be some afro-centric looking chic with a headwrap.” Ha…. No.

Coincidentally, I just stopped relaxing my hair a few months ago simply because I realised I love curls. There isn’t always a fist in the air.

Either way, what we do with our hair and appearance is a choice – I just wish it had felt like one at 14, rather than a need. Sometimes we are making a statement about ourselves with our styling – but we’re not all raging race campaigners. I look forward to a future where women can simply present themselves as they are; without being judged and pigeon-holed for it.

Women aside, that’s what we all want. Isn’t it?

–Marsha Gosho Oakes, signing out. [Diary of a mixed chick?]

From one Marsha to another, here’s Marsha Ambrosius‘ blog on the subject:

So… many have asked as to why I didn’t appear in the Wale video for “Diary”. A song which my voice is featured on and so you’d expect to see me in the video. If they shot the video a day before or a day after, I may have been able to have made it to the set. Simply scheduling issues.

I made mention of this on my UStream broadcast last night and it sparked off an enlightening convo regarding the battles many have with complexions. I know the song may just be a song to many, but for others who can identify with its content, it would be easy for the message to be lost due to the harsh realities of color complex. A lot of people made comments regarding another video Wale released entitled “Pretty Girls” which didn’t depict beauty in the way they perceived it to be. I’m sure a majority of you have experienced the on-going, deep rooted battle with complexion in one way or another.

Growing up in Liverpool, I had the luxury of not having to be “light-skinned”. I was black. My parents, black. Back then, I didn’t know there were versions of the color. The innocence of childhood let me know no better. I didn’t know what complexion meant. I recall myself around 8 or 9 years old at school in my music class and all the kids would stand in a circle holding hands singing a song called “Brown girl in the ring”. Each class member would take turns standing in the middle while the rest of the class sang the song. A white girl in the class was ahead of me and the class sang the song as is. It gets to my turn and all of a sudden, there’s a remix… “There’s a light skinned girl with green eyes in the ring, TRA LA LA LA LA…” Sung by all of the “black” students. I still feel that embarrassment sometimes. I felt so secluded. Up until that point, I hadn’t even noticed. What that made me that day was different from “black”. I would experience many situations growing up that forced me to understand that difference.

Everyone has a story to tell and many will empathize or sympathize according to how relative it is to them. We tend to place judgement based on our experiences, emotions, insecurities, etc. The story of a girl who wonders if the tears will stop falling, if her heart will ever mend, if she’ll ever get over is every one’s story. No race, creed, color or gender. The song rings true to all.

Diary of this black girl.

Marsha Ambrosius

Source: Marsha Ambrosius’ Blog

Photography by Tamar Nussbacher for SoulCulture.

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