Resistance is a Full-Time Job

I am ashamed of how long it has been since I have written a piece for this blog.  I could sit here at my keyboard and list a litany of excuses as to why, but the truth of the matter is, I was avoiding it.  I was avoiding writing, I was avoiding facing the news, and I was avoiding the realities of our current sociopolitical climate.

In the beginning of this journey, I vowed to work continuously to be a voice for change, and while I have still been doing this privately, my public presence in this forum has waned.  I have thrown myself into my work and self-care routines while avoiding the abyss of white supremacy and Trump-isms that I had worked so tirelessly to previously expose.  I didn’t realize the impact this would have, though.  I didn’t realize the true value of this work until very recently, during a conversation with my uncle.

Last weekend, I worked with a few other wonderful women in my family to plan a housewarming for my cousin.  It was a surprise, which I am sure you can imagine was hard to pull off because a housewarming does require being in that person’s home.  Nonetheless, we did it and I found myself surrounded by the love — and the questions — of my family.

Towards the end of the evening, my uncle sat next to me and gently asked why my blog has been so quiet lately.  I responded as honestly as I could — stating that I needed a break.  After all, you can only spend so much time staring into the abyss of hatred and ignorance without feeling sick and/or hopeless. Right?

My uncle went quiet for a bit and then said, “but we needed your voice.  I’ve been looking here and there, waiting to see if you posted something new.  And there’s nothing.  You were speaking necessary truths and we needed that.”

I suddenly felt guilty and sad.  I found myself realizing that I had allowed the voices of dissent to silence me.  And I found myself feeling shame.

My uncle continued.

“Let me ask you something, a cop can walk up to me on the street and shoot me dead on the spot for no reason.  What do you think would happen to him?”

“Nothing…” I said with a twinge of nausea.

“That’s right,” he replied.  “Absolutely nothing.  And that’s not fair.  It’s not.  My life isn’t worth shit.  And it’s not fair, but it’s my reality.  And I don’t get to take a break from that.”

It settled inside me; I had once again allowed the privilege of whiteness to allow me to to “take a break” from a reality that is a daily truth for so many people that I care about.  I had allowed the voices of people who challenged my need to speak — my need to be a voice — to silence me.  I had allowed the abyss of ignorance and hatred to win because, in the end, I ended up needing a reprieve.

The truth is, though, that much of my family doesn’t get a reprieve.  They need to face this reality of ignorance and hatred every day, regardless of how tiring or sickening it gets.  I had lost sight of that and, while the voices of some family and former friends that work relentlessly to silence me are the loudest and most painful, I cannot forget that there are people in my family who are proud of me for standing up for what’s right.  I cannot forget that with the privilege of my seeming-whiteness comes responsibility.  Otherwise, I am just as bad as the rest of the white folks in this nation who sit silently at Thanksgiving dinner knowing full well that their uncle uses the n-word when he talks about NFL players and their aunt thinks all Mexicans are in MS13.

Moving forward, I will endeavor to be more consistent here.  It may not be every day.  It may not be every other day.  After all, the hate that was once in the dark corners of the internet is now mainstream and widely shared and doesn’t necessarily require my constant probing.  However, I will be here.  I will be working relentlessly on the front lines in my daily 9-5 work.  I will be writing truths and rallying against hatred.  I will be a voice of dissent amongst others who might look like me, but are not like me and do not think like me.  I am here to challenge white supremacy, in the most personal venues (like dinner tables) and the most public ones (like social media).  Resistance is a full-time job.  No days off.

July 8, 2016 Changed My Life. Here’s Why…

A year ago yesterday, I was sitting at my computer watching Philando Castile be murdered by a police officer in front of his girlfriend and her little girl.  I was horrified.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know that these things were happening.  It was just that I wasn’t ever faced with seeing them.  In living my life, for the most part, with privilege, I had never seen anyone be shot and murdered in cold blood.  I don’t even have words for what I felt.

After watching this video, I started scrolling through my news feed.  I was noticing more and more of my white friends/family calling for people of color to “get over it.”  They accused the communities of color who mourned the seemingly endless stream of losses of engaging in “race baiting,” “resisting,” and “pulling the race card.”  Again, I had seen this before.  I saw it with Trayvon Martin.  I saw it with Michael Brown.  I saw it with Eric Garner.  But something about this day, one year ago, sent me over the edge.  Something about watching a police officer open fire into the chest of an innocent man while a child sat directly behind him and then seeing white people act as if this man deserved it made me decide to confront them.  And in doing so, every single thing in my life changed.

It was a small thing that started it, really.  I posted the following message on my Facebook wall:

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Pretty straightforward.  Not offensive.  Or so I thought.  Then I saw this response:

 

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That person is my cousin.  The single like on her comment?  Another cousin.  I was trembling after I read this.  The shock and rage combination was unlike anything I had ever felt before.  I sat down in a coffee shop to carefully pen my reply, only to start over three times.  I finally posted it before dinner and edited it well into the wee hours of the next morning.

In the hours and days after this, I received multiple phone calls.  Black family? Supportive. White family? Pissed.  And while it was not the first time that I felt the true division I existed between, it was certainly the most impactful.  People told me they were ashamed of me.  People told me I was lucky to have even been taken care of so well by my white family.  People claimed that this post showed how ungrateful I am, how disrespectful I am.  According to one person, I was behaving in an egregiously “immature” manner and shouldn’t use social media to post politics “because that’s not what it’s for.”  (Tell that to the folks who planned the Women’s March, right?)

People sent me bible verses and long harangues about behaving in a way that is appropriate for a young woman.  Family chose not to talk to me for weeks.  And of course, the villain at the center of the entire feud was me.  Not the racist cousin.  Not the uncomfortable white folks who can’t deal with their mixed race family pointing out their flaws.  Nope.  It was me.

And the fact is, it got to me.  I really did spend a lot of time questioning myself.  I was trying to figure out where I went wrong.  I was trying to figure out what I should have said differently.  I was, instead of holding people accountable for their biases and the ways in which those biases contribute to their reactions, allowing myself to be gaslit in precisely the way communities of color have always been gaslit when they shine any light on racism.  The “well saying that makes you just as bad,” and the “reverse racism,” and the “all lives matter,” and the “how dare you” crew came out in full force to police my language and my truth because it made them uncomfortable.  I was the bad guy for pointing out their bad behavior.  I was “race baiting” by “making this about skin color.”  I was “wrong.” And I almost fell for it.

If not for the constant and unwavering support of my friends and family of color (+ some white allies) and my husband, I probably would have fallen for it completely.  I would have let the guilt and the tears silence me.  But instead, my support system rallied around me and held me up as I evolved into the woman I am today.  I no longer fear speaking out.  I learned that people are listening and that when they get mad, they are showing me more about them than me.  I learned that many of my white friends and family members were not who they claimed to be.  I learned that much of the safety/belonging I had found for myself was contingent on my more melanin-laced roots remaining unseen.  And I learned that I wasn’t OK with that.

So the truth is, while it was one of the hardest times of my life, the trials of last summer awakened the activist in me.  I knew that if my own family and friends could turn on me over the words “Dear White People,” then there was a whole lot of work that I needed to do.  Nothing has been the same since that day.  Nothing will be the same ever again.  And I am OK with that knowing that I am doing and saying what is necessary.  I am OK with knowing that I am doing my part in promoting racial justice, even if it means creating waves and, in turn, space between me and people I thought I knew.  Off White as she stands today exists because of July 8, 2016.  And I am grateful for the pain.

 

NRA, where you at? Asking for a friend.

The last week or so was hard for those of us who were hoping that for once, we would see communities of color receive justice for the murders of their sons and daughters.  Less than a year ago, millions of people watched a Facebook Live video where a young black man was murdered in front of his girlfriend and her little girl.  A man, legally carrying his firearm and notifying the cop of his exact movements, was shot to death while sitting in the car with a child.  And his murderer was recently acquitted. 

Philando Castile’s death was another on a long and ever growing list of black and brown lives taken at the hands of the police.  With the very graphic, very real video of his murder, we all hoped that we would finally see justice.  The American justice system had different ideas, though.  They must have a melanin threshold because it certainly doesn’t seem like they give a shit about anyone who isn’t white.

There are a couple of pieces of this story, outside of the heinous and obvious injustice of it all, that I think are important to draw attention to.

  1.  This asshole shot into a car with a CHILD in the backseat.  Not only did he have zero regard for the life of the man who pumped full of bullets, but he clearly couldn’t care less about the life of the little girl in the backseat.
  2. Yes, Yanez is Latino.  However, that doesn’t mean that race isn’t a factor here.  Yanez’s murder of Castile is a direct result of Latinx’s sentiment of anti-blackness.  We can’t look away from that piece.
  3. Castile was legally carrying his gun.  He was cooperating with authorities.  If he were white, the NRA would be all over this.  So where are they now?

Seriously, though.  Where is the NRA?  They retweeted a Congressman who stated that he now wants to carry a gun, given that he feels unsafe after last week’s mass shooting.

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They are encourage schools to ensure that their staff is armed after Sandy Hook.

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But they are notably silent about Philando Castile.  They are notably silent about the obvious need for black men and women need to arm themselves as the country continues to arm itself against them.  When the Black Panther Party encouraged people of color to arm themselves to defend themselves, the NRA was, notably, pro-gun control.  So why should a congressman “ought to be able to defend [himself] anywhere [he has] a legal right to be,” but a black citizen should not?

This question is not rhetorical.  I am very serious.  Just this week, a pregnant black woman named Charleena Lyles was murdered in her own home after calling the police for help.  Kouren Thomas was murdered for hanging out with his friends.  Black men and women are murdered at an incredibly alarming rate. Why are you not on board with encouraging them to arm themselves, NRA?  Do you have a melanin threshold too?  Asking for a friend.  Asking for my brothers. And my daddy.  And my cousins.  And my uncles.  And those of every other person of color in this nation.  Standing by for your response.  Thanks.

 

They Keep Interrupting Kamala Harris-And That Matters.

Yesterday, Jeff Sessions testified in front of the senate.  I could spend this whole post on him, the lies he told, the concerning difficulty he has with his memory, and his visible discomfort on the stand.  But the reality is, you can read all about that here, and here, and here, and preferably not here.  Honestly, I don’t think that this is the real story.  I don’t think that anything worth listening to is going to come from the mouths of anyone directly enmeshed with Trump and his administration.  Given the frequency with which they directly lie, we should all be wary of trusting any damn thing they say.

So if the real story isn’t the continuous lie, then what is it? It’s this.  Kamala Harris has been interrupted while speaking more than once, now, as she stands her ground during what have proven to be pretty tumultuous hearings.  And frankly, that matters.

kamala_harris-1280x960-1Kamala Harris is a woman with power.  Kamala Harris is a woman of color with power.  The fact that her voice has been publicly silenced by white men on two separate occasions is something worth noting.  It is an example of a devastating trend.  Women of color are ready and willing to go to bat for us, to ask the hard questions, to fight with consistency and yet, their male counterparts are regularly undermining them.

And while women of color endure this (and so much more) on a grander scale than any other group (which is why feminism is either intersectional or bullshit), ALL women have to contend with this sexist trend.  Hillary Clinton endured it during the 2016 presidential election cycle. Elizabeth Warren endured it as she tried to read Coretta Scott King’s letter.  And odds are, if you’re a woman, you’ve endured it too.

This matters because these women – Kamala, and Hillary, and Elizabeth, and Coretta – are all of us.  I can’t tell you how many times (white) men (and women – which always stings a little more) have tried to silence me.  I have received phone calls pleading with me to be less provocative. I have been sent text messages accusing me of looking for a “scapegoat” and admonishing my behavior as “unreasonable.” I have even been sent bible verses expressing all of the ways in which I am a bad Christian for my “wrathful” ways.  All of these are attempts at silencing me.  All of these are attempts at shaming me.  And I know I am among great company, as all powerful women face negativity like this.

 

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Source: Slate ( <– READ THIS!)

Women are leading this resistance.  Women are at the head of the difficult and completely terrifying work that needs to be done to dismantle the system of white, patriarchal oppression that elevated Donald Trump.  And so every time our voices are silenced, it is a devastating blow to our cause.  Kamala Harris was interrupted by John McCain, who loves talking about how horrid this administration is, but allowed Sessions to talk in circles after cutting Ms. Harris off in her attempts to redirect him.  Elizabeth Warren was interrupted by Mitch McConnell for trying to share the warning written by a powerful woman of color regarding our now Attorney General.

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So, as in Mitch McConnell’s attempted-scolding-turned-slogan, we must persist.   And we must support one another <3.  Strong women empower one another and, given that we have to do most of the heavy lifting here, we can’t waste any time playing into the hands of the men who want to see the perpetuation of the status quo. So get with it ladies.  Or get out of the way.

 

Modern Day Lynchings in Trump’s America

It has been a long time since you have heard from me.  If I’m honest, it’s because the pain of all of this consumes me in a way that takes me away from myself.  It renders me completely unable to engage in conversations about things that I love or things that I miss or want or would like to do.  It’s completely soul-altering and sometimes, I need to step back.

I hate myself for it these breaks most of the time.  I recognize that my privilege is what allows me to do take them.  Michael Brown’s sister can’t take breaks from the reality of her brother’s slaying.  Philando Castille’s girlfriend can never unsee her partner dying right in front of her and their child.  Trayvon Martin’s mother doesn’t get to pretend her son wasn’t murdered simply for being black.  These women don’t get to just pretend the world is what it was before the horror took over.  And while I recognize the need for self-care, I took a break for too long.

This past week has been a complete whirlwind of terrifying truths.  From Manchester to Trump’s most recent budget proposal, the people of this nation and of the world are left reeling yet again.  But neither of those events concern me today.  Yes, they are horrific.  Yes, they deserve attention.  But there is a deeper issue I want to discuss that people are looking away from: the modern day lynchings that American media is avoiding talking about.


I will never forget being a little kid and watching some old movie with my family that involved a lynching.  They dragged the father away from his wife and family, tied him to a tree, and burned him alive in front of his children.  The screaming, the crying, the woman running to her husbands charred body to try and comfort him, despite the fact that he was gone… it was horrific.  It was a nightmare.  And I felt a sickness and a fear as I looked around me at the men that I love.

Lynchings were social events only decades ago.  The “get over it” crew seems to forget that, but it’s true.  It’s also true that, while we are taught that lynchings are part of the same distant history where slavery and Jim Crow also live, they are very much a modern issue – especially in Trump’s America.

The first event of this nature that got my attention was the lynching of Ben Keita.  This young Muslim teen was found hanging from a tree in Seattle, Washington.  While authorities initially tried to brand it as a suicide, the medical examiner later changed the cause of death to undetermined, triggering an FBI investigation into what is now believed to be a lynching.

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Ben Keita

The next was Timothy Caughman.  I wrote a piece on his murder a few months ago.  His devastating slaying is another example of the contemporary lynchings we face with a newly emboldened White Supremacist force that backs men like James Harris Jackson.

And then, this week, we lost Richard Collins III.  This 23-year-old second lieutenant in the army and Bowie State student was murdered just days before his graduation. Sean Christopher Urbanski, a University of Maryland student with extensive ties to the alt-right (which forms a large portion of Trump’s support base), has been charged with his murder.  In his honor, his graduation robes were laid in his seat during the commencement ceremonies.  This photo shattered me.  This story shattered me.

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I can’t look at these young men and not see my brothers.  I can’t look at them and not see my daddy, my cousins, my uncles, or my friends.  But the reality is, it doesn’t take that kind of personal connection to this for anyone to know that it’s horrific.  And the fact that we, as a nation, have been turning away from the continuous accumulation of black bodies (this list is 98 pages long) as they have been murdered by White Nationalist/Supremacist Terrorists is disgraceful.  It is disgraceful that it took us this long to start calling the modern murders of unarmed, innocent, young black people “lynchings” again, period. Philando Castille was lynched.  Freddie Gray was lynched.  Trayvon Martin was lynched.  Eric Garner was lynched.  Michael Brown was lynched.  It doesn’t matter if a cop did it, if a lone offender did it,  or if a group of white terrorist monsters did it.  It is happening.  It is being done on what seems to be a constant basis.  And here we are praying for other nations while wearing blinders when looking at our own.

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Richard Collins III

The 2016 election cycle and the rise of DJT has inspired an incredible number of hate crimes.  A 20% uptick is not one that can be ignored.  And regardless of what his followers try to say (“Racism was here before Trump!  How is he even racist?”), the lynchings since his victory are alarming and they deserve your attention.  Even our Congresspeople of color are not immune to the blatant threats from Trump’s support base.  White Nationalist/Supremacist Terrorism is still terrorism.  I know Fox News isn’t going to cover it, but you have a responsibility to remain informed and to pay attention.  Do not let them claim that they were in fear for their lives.  Do not let them claim that it was a suicide.  Do not let them claim they thought the glue gun was a weapon.  As the body count rises, do not let them continue to make excuses and get away with this.  Every single one of us should be creating a noise so loud and so constant that it shakes the GOP and their anti-political-correctness, white supremacist bullshit to its core.  Because they enabled and empowered this.  They have elevated Trump and Trump has elevated this.

 

Checking My Own Privilege: The Answer to “Where Have You Been?”

I spend a lot of my time challenging white people in my life (and sometimes just those I pass on the street) to check their privilege and take a look at the world using a different, more empathetic lens.    I am actually beginning to realize that, the more I do this, the more I will do this.  I hope that makes sense.  I simply mean that with each time I put myself out there and stand up to injustice, I see twice as many opportunities to do it AGAIN than I did before.  It has been an incredible, eye-opening, and deeply challenging journey.  I have been doing this my whole life, but only in Trump’s America have I begun to understand the true complexity that is the tapestry of hatred adorning every wall in this country.  And yes, I mean EVERY wall.

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Want to buy this? Me too.

Sometimes, though, I lose sight of my own role in all of this outside of  Social Justice Warrior Princess.  It’s not that  I don’t recognize my own privilege, it’s not that I don’t know how to use it, it’s just that I don’t always notice it immediately when it shows up.  That’s an area of failing for me and a space where I really need to grow.

What has catalyzed this immense and, frankly, kind of refreshing moment ion introspection was the choice I made over the last 3 weeks to kind of pull back from the blog a little bit.  I was blogging daily for a while.  I was wading through the dark corners of the internet in search of white supremacists with whom to engage and browsing scores of news articles for the latest ways in which racism and Trump’s America has reared its ugly, fused excuse for a head.  And then, one day about 3 weeks ago, I messaged a good friend (who has made an appearance here a few times) and told him I was tired.  I told him I felt overwhelmed and stressed and broken.  I told him I didn’t understand how to balance this blog and my finals with any semblance of success.  And he told me to take a break.  So I did.  

But here’s the thing: once I took that break, it became harder and harder for me to come back to this.  I kind of liked not having to face it.  I kind of liked taking a breather and avoiding the truth regarding the dire and terrifying state of this country.  I kind of liked just pretending, for a minute, like things were OK.  And that makes me kind of upset at myself.  

The only reason that I was able to take this break is my privilege.  The only reason I was able to take some space from staring oppression and hatred and racism in the face is because of my privilege.  The only reason I was able to, even for a second, get comfortable in today’s America (or any America of any era ever) is because of my privilege.  And for me to lose sight of that?  Not OK.privilege_becomingaware-388x600.jpg

So, while it doesn’t have to be a hurricane of rage (which is my general MO), I cannot look away.  I cannot look away because the reality of this world is that there are people who have to face this on a daily basis with zero breaks.  They have to face this in a very real, visceral, and often violent way.  They have to face this as their children, brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends are murdered.  They have to face this trauma, along with the trauma endured by their parents and grandparents+, regardless of whether they have finals or a deadline to meet.  And so if I am to be an ally, I cannot take advantage of luxuries that are not afforded to people who don’t have the privilege of whiteness or passing whiteness.  I cannot look away when things get to be too much.  

And with that, I will say this: I will keep fighting.  I might not write daily, but I will always be fighting.  I will not look away and I will not get comfortable.  Because none of this is OK.  None of this is normal.  And we can’t LET it be.  Resist with persistence.  Do. Not. Stop. 

The Line Between Appropriation and Appreciation: Natural Beauty Brands as a Form of Resistance

The United States has spent centuries building a nation at the expense of women of color. What do I mean when I say this?  Exactly that.  This nation has never valued women of color the way that we should, especially since they are the very backbone from which every rib of our history has grown.

There are so many deep and difficult valleys to explore if we delve into the ways that women of color have been devalued and exploited in this nation, but there is one in particular I want to focus on today.  I want to focus on what everyone else seems to be focused on: beauty, haircare, and appropriation.

I recently had a conversation with a white friend about the line between appropriation and appreciation.  I spent a good, long time thinking about this and realized that, as long as the media continues to misrepresent and whitewash black women and/or other women of color, white women’s attempts at achieving the same look will always be appropriation.  I have re-had this conversation a few times recently, namely in response to Katy Perry‘s most recent gaffe in this arena.

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Please note, the woman who responded was not a white woman, but a woman of Pakistani descent.  She spent the rest of the conversation stating how appropriation isn’t a real thing and that because she hasn’t experienced racism, black women are probably just making a big deal out of nothing.  This conversation just served as further evidence (for me) that sometimes oppressed people oppress people.

Anyway, for centuries, black women have been told that in order to be considered beautiful, they must whitewash themselves.  They must straighten their hair.  They must stay out of the sun.  These were things I heard in my own friend circles, in my own family, and then, as I grew older, saw perpetuated in the schools I worked in and social media communities.  Women of color are not, under most circumstances, encouraged to celebrate their natural beauty in the way white women are.  Women of color are instead sold bleaching creams, relaxers, straighteners, and a myriad of other appearance altering and chemically toxic things that society tells them they need so that they can look more like white women.  Meanwhile, white women appropriate the exact same hairstyles, makeup trends, and even skin tones (or attempts at it… hello tanning beds) and are celebrated for it.  This disconnect in the American standard of beauty is deeply damaging for young girls of color.  And we need to do something about it.

Portia.jpgSo, of course, some people are.  And, of course, like most (if not all) progressive movements, this movement towards appreciating your natural beauty not in spite of but BECAUSE of your race is being lead by women of color. One such woman is the woman I would like to highlight in today’s piece.  Portia Ingram has created LoveAbenaa Naturals as a company that creates products that encourage young women of color to embrace their natural beauty, regardless of how society tells them to feel about it.  When I spoke to Portia about what inspired her to create LoveAbenaa Naturals, she sent me this:

A Love Note To My Younger Self

You were so beautiful in your braids and beads,

Clanking as you road your bike til the sun went down

Running through sprinklers and dancing with fireflies.

There came a time when your hair became “unruly”

When grandma said

“It was going back home”

In a tone that stung

And left you silent and wondering..

Those hot combs on picture day left their scars for the cameras

And that relaxer you endured

Left your crown tarnished.

But your hair flowed like girls on primetime,

Even the girls that were your shade of chocolate

Left their beads in a box and traded it for boxed hair

And you asked..

Can I be

Real?

And you masked your crown in relaxers,

Dependent on flatirons

And constant trims.

Your crown grew smaller

As the burns grew deeper

But the hair stayed straighter

Until everyone wanted braids but the

Black girl with the

Flowy hair..

But along the way,

Strangers helped you remember

And you left that relaxer on the shelf.

You cut off your tarnished ends

And one-by-one

 heard your hair breathe for the first time

In a lifetime

With new life you promised to

Nurture & nourish it

Protect it

And love all reflections of it.

You

Created LoveAbenaa Naturals.

Your reparations & your food.

Thank you. ❤

I was at a loss for words when I read this.  It was easily one of the most beautiful, most empowering, most uplifting pieces I have ever read.  But it also made me deeply sad.  It made me think of those times where I watched my mom with the hot comb in my kitchen, straightening my cousin’s hair.  It made me remember the burns on her ears and the toothpaste salve we swore would help.  It also made me remember the tiny rods my mother wrapped into my hair to create the very same coils she had burned out of my cousin’s.  It made me feel an ache and a pain that it isn’t fair for me to feel… because I never endured the worst of this.  But to know that the women I love, the women who raised me, spent their lives trying to change something so natural and beautiful in themselves while trying to create it for me?  That broke my heart.

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So, in all, I am grateful for companies like LoveAbenaa Naturals who are standing as a voice to encourage young women of color to be their true and incredibly beautiful selves.  I am grateful to women like Alicia Keys for using their platforms to change the mainstream image of beauty in this country.

So, be a part of the movement and check out LoveAbenaa Naturals for yourself. Share it with your friends. Let’s empower those who empower and lift those who lift.  That is the most powerful way to resist and persist.

YouTube Link: http://goo.gl/MKej3P

Twitter & Instagram: @loveabenaa

Facebook & Place to shop: LoveAbenaa Naturals