Archive for April, 2012

Expectations

Posted in cats, curly/kinky hair on April 23, 2012 by Confessions of LadyV69

So, over the weekend, I took my cat Hazel to the vet for her annual checkup. Here’s a recent picture of her:

For the most part, everything checked out fine, although her teeth need to be cleaned and one of them is in danger of needing to be extracted, so I have to take her back later in the year. When she had her ear surgery last year, the vet tech at the specialty vet’s office told me that Hazel was likely much older than what I’d been told by the rescue group I got her from. At the time I got her nearly two years ago, I was told that she was a year old. So last year, she was supposedly two years old. The vet tech told me that her teeth didn’t look like that of a two year old cat and that she was really around five years old. The ear tumor she had is far more common in a pet around that age than in one as young as two. I was shocked. Boo Boo was actually closer to middle age (in cat years anyway)? The vet tech explained that it’s common practice for rescue groups to make pets younger than they really are because they know that the public prefers puppies and kittens and that the older the pet, the less likely they are to get adopted and the more likely they’ll be euthanized in a shelter. They’re caught between a rock and a hard place because if they start telling the truth, they’ll only end up exacerbating the problem of unwanted pets being killed needlessly. So I can’t really blame them for doing what they felt they had to do in order to keep Hazel out of the shelter.  Hazel’s regular vet confirmed that she’s not exactly a spring chicken. She’s actually around six years old now.  It doesn’t make me love her any less, but since she’s three years older than what I’d been led to believe, I have to adjust some of my expectations. The biggest one being that she may not be around as long as I’d want her to be, but hopefully I won’t have to cross that bridge for many years.

To make this analogy about hair, a lot of naturals have expectations about what their hair will look like after they cut off their processed ends. A number of them think their hair will look like this:

or this:

only to end up with hair like this:

or this:

and they wind up disappointed. A number of naturals have these kinds of expectations in the first place because many black women get perms as young children and have next to no memory of what their natural texture looks like. Personally, those that hope that they end up with Tracee Ellis Ross‘s curl pattern or Rachel True‘s hair texture are still clinging to that “good hair, bad hair” mentality where looser curls are viewed as more beautiful and the tight, pen spring coils or cotton cloud texture that they actually have is viewed as ugly. So they end up having to go through major changes in order to accept the kind of hair that they actually do have. Some even go back to relaxers because the hair they were actually born with wasn’t what they were expecting. Remember, going natural is more than just a physical transformation. It requires a mental transformation as well and your standard of beauty will need to change in order to be successful. The easiest thing in any situation in life is to have as few expectations as possible so that you’re not ever disappointed, but that’s easier said than done. Since I didn’t get a relaxer until high school and had some memory of what my natural texture was like, I didn’t have the same expectations that other naturals have of winding up with loose curls. I knew I wouldn’t have Tracee Ellis Ross like hair. If I had any expectations, I would’ve thought that I’d have denser hair than I actually do. I’d known for many years that I had fine hair. I couldn’t use the extra strength or super relaxers reserved for those with thick hair because from an unfortunate previous experience, they were too strong for my hair and they immediately took it out. I had to use the mild or kiddie ones and even those did some damage. I think I may have always had fine hair, but I recall having a lot more of it as a child. Years of damage from relaxers, braid extensions and weaves must have taken their toll. Whether my hair density will increase is uncertain.

The main takeaway from this is that each head of hair is unique. The hair of relaxed women tends to look alike, but that’s not the case with natural hair. Your coils and kinks won’t look exactly like anyone else’s, even if you’re wearing the same style. And going natural is about looking like YOU, not like someone else. Concentrate on your hair and your unique natural hair journey, not on wishing your hair looked like someone else’s. That only leads to frustration and disappointment.

Coily Manifesto: I Don’t Have The Time

Posted in curly/kinky hair, Natural hair care on April 20, 2012 by Confessions of LadyV69

Coily Manifesto: I Don’t Have The Time.

I decided to share the link above because I agree with most of what it has to say. I often lead a fairly busy life which means that I don’t have the time or the inclination to spend hours on my hair. A lot of people think that I do though, because of all its coils and they think it’s thick, coarse and hard to handle, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It would be more difficult if I were to handle it as you would straight hair, which I’ve learned not to do. Let me breakdown the list of things that I won’t do that the link mentions, while adding a couple of more things:

Pre-pooing

I’ve never understood the point of this. Supposedly, some women do it so that their hair doesn’t get stripped as much when they shampoo. Pre-pooing for the uninitiated, involves applying some oil and/or honey and conditioner to your hair, letting the mixture sit for awhile, then rinsing and shampooing. Shampoos (particularly those containing sulfates) strip your hair of all its natural oils, leaving it extremely dry and prone to matting, which is why it’s recommended that those with curly and kinky hair don’t use them.  However, I view pre-pooing as a waste of resources and time because whatever oils get stripped away from shampooing can always be put back in by using, guess what? Conditioner. That’s why it was invented to begin with. I don’t see the point in prolonging the washing process a few minutes by pre-pooing when I can just let the conditioner soak in my hair while I do other things in the shower.   

Layering products

Some naturals slather on 7 different products in their hair in an attempt to keep it well moisturized. Yes, kinky hair is naturally dry, because the oils from our scalp have trouble traveling down the length of our hair due to all of its coils and bends. However, it doesn’t need 7 products either. Slathering on all those products just prolongs your styling session and extends the time it takes for your hair to dry. Also, all those products are more likely to lead to buildup. You really only need 2 or 3 products-a leave in or moisturizer that contains water as one of the first three ingredients, a styler and an oil or butter to seal in the moisture and prevent it from dissipating from your hair. That’s it. To avoid having to re-wet hair that has long since dried during a styling session, try to find products that are heavy enough to keep it moisturized so you don’t have to use multiple products in one sitting.

All Day (or overnight) Deep Conditioning 

There is a school of thought in the natural community where some people believe that deep conditioners are a waste of money altogether, but I’m not one of them. My hair certainly notices when I’ve gone too long without a deep treatment. However, I don’t believe in doing it for longer than 30 minutes either. The ingredients in many deep conditioners are designed to work within the first 5 or 10 minutes. Leaving it on your hair for another 8 hours during the day or overnight isn’t going to make it do anything extra. Personally, walking around with conditioner dripping from my neck or having my damp conditioning cap get my pillows wet would irritate me. Once the 30 odd minutes are up, my deep treatment gets rinsed out of my hair and I move on.

Not mentioned in the above link but another thing I refuse to do is:

Wash in twists or braids 

Some women wash their hair while in twists or braids to avoid having their hair retangle during the process, but I personally don’t see the point. I tried it one time early on in my journey and the 6 twists I had in my hair kept unraveling during the wash, which meant that I had to keep stopping to retwist them which only added to the time I spent washing it. Utter fail. Plus, my hair didn’t feel all that clean that time either. The conditioner and/or shampoo isn’t able to get to the entire length of your hair while it’s braided or twisted. Other naturals will twist or braid their hair up into 4, 6 or 8 twists or plaits, then undo the twist or braid, wash the section, retwist or rebraid, then move on to the next section. It’s time-consuming just reading about it. Imagine actually doing it. Personally, I found that as my hair got to shoulder length stretched that it wasn’t possible to continue washing it loose, as I had been. My hair retangled too much and I got too many single strand knots to my liking that way. So I had to start washing it in sections. I part my hair into four sections, secure them with duckbill clips, then wash each section before moving on to the next. I do not twist or braid in the shower at all. For some, what I do sounds time consuming but I have to wash my hair this way or else I won’t retain length. It is what it is.  

What I will do is:

Finger-detangle  

This is the only part in the above link that I don’t agree with. Since my hair is very fine and fragile, it’s easy for it to sustain breakage with combs and brushes alone. I’m not the most patient person so it’s only too easy for me to take out tangles by ripping out my hair with a comb when I’m rushing. Which isn’t the business when you want to retain length. I actually don’t use brushes at all now since they tend to snap my hair. However, I haven’t given up combs entirely. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m able to find all tangles with my fingers and I don’t usually have the time it would require to do finger detangling thoroughly, so what I do is I finger detangle first, then follow up with a comb. Detangling both ways ensures I detangle as thoroughly as possible.    

For those that have the time to spend an entire day on their hair, more power to them. For me, one of the reasons why I went natural was so that I could avoid sitting in a salon for most of the day getting my hair done because they overbooked and the stylist had to tend to three other people’s heads before even touching mine. Doing the same thing while natural, albeit in the comfort of my own home, would kind of defeat the purpose of why I ditched chemicals in the first place.

Don’t stand so close to me

Posted in Racial/ethnic stereotyping on April 12, 2012 by Confessions of LadyV69

You may recognize the title of the post from the Police song, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Love that song. Actually, I love the group. However, I’m using the title to talk about an aspect of racial prejudice and stereotyping while the song was about something else entirely. 

Given my reflections on racism and prejudice of late, I really have to wonder what people are thinking when they see me. What do you think? Really? That I have 6 kids with 6 different men? That I’m on welfare? That I’m a typical “angry black woman?” That I’m militant because of my hair? A lesbian? A vegan? Bourgois? None of those stereotypes fit me but in order to easily process information about me, anyone could easily come up with any one of those labels that they think describe me. Which at times is hurtful. Because then, I’m not regarded as a unique human being in my own right but I get lumped in with others which is unfair to me. But given the way of the world, it is what it is.

There’s been outrage over the last few days over a National Review article where writer John Derbyshire urges white and Asian parents to tell their children to avoid contact with black Americans they don’t  know. He suggests that they don’t attend events where black Americans may be present in large numbers, avoid black neighbourhoods and do not be a “good Samaritan” to black people who appear in distress. I refuse to link to the original article as I don’t want to give the asshat or that site hits, but here’s a review of it by another site:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-news-blog/2012/apr/06/john-derbyshire-firestorm-race-column

Some black posters on couple of the boards I frequent have made the argument that whites already avoid blacks to some degree and cite examples where their white schoolmates or co-workers ignore them outside of school or work. There’s no way that I can disagree with their observations since I’ve had similar experiences. I grew up in a predominantly orthodox Jewish neighborhood that was fairly insular. The Jews would rarely say boo to me or my family while we were out and about. When my sister and I played in the playground near our house, there were instances where the Jewish mothers would yank their kids away from us. However, white kids who weren’t Orthodox Jews sometimes played with us. At the time, I didn’t see it for what it was but when I got to be an adult and reflected on it, it dawned on me that those Orthodox Jews either feared and/or hated my sister and I becaues of the color of our skin. They feared and hated us as innocent babies. The mere thought of it angers me to this day and will probably continue to for the rest of my natural life. What could my sister and I have possibly done to invoke such contempt? Nothing. Except being black. Another instance of whites avoiding me was when I was in high school and college and brought boyfriends home (who were black), there were times where whites would deliberately cross the street to avoid having to be in close contact with us. Unlike in childhood, I knew immediately what the deal was at the time it was happening. Usually when I relate these experiences with other whites, at least one person says, “Well, what about me? I’m (we’re) not (all) like that,” or “Maybe it had nothing to do with you. Maybe they just needed to get to the other side of the street, or those mothers wanted their kids to be somewhere else.” This is where the conversation usually breaks down, because these statements and others like it serve to invalidate my experience and similar experiences of other people of color and our history of interacting and dealing with the dominant society. It’s easy for whites  to think, “Oh, there they go again. They’re so sensitive to everything we say. Why do we even bother? Life was so much easier before all this PC crap” and so on. It’s not hard from them to come off as dismissive, because they have no clue what it’s like to be denied housing, jobs or whatever simply because of their skin color or to be regarded as less than human. The main reasons why a dominant group would be so defensive about instances as described above is because they don’t like being confronted about their privilege and they aren’t used to being spoken of collectively. They’re used to hearing “Black people do xyz…” or “Arabs do xyz…” They aren’t used to hearing, “White people do xyz,” because whites are viewed as unique individuals. Blacks aren’t. So it’s infuriating when at times, my experiences about being rendered invisible by whites or regarded as dangerous is dismissed as my being crazy or thought of as me being “too sensitive.” Just because a person may never have experienced prejudice doesn’t invalidate what I know and experienced.

Then there were these black idiots who robbed and stripped a white man a few weeks ago and somebody was stupid enough to videotape it and put it on You Tube:

http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_c2#/video/crime/2012/04/09/tsr-sylvester-man-beaten-baltimore.cnn

In no way do I condone this act whatsoever. One black poster on a board I frequent stated, “Blacks are just reacting to Trayvon,” and many people shut that person down (Note: The majortity of this post was written yesterday before the announcement that Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second degree murder).  Two wrongs don’t make a right, I don’t care what skin color you are. Those clowns deserve everything they get. However, a number of black posters are wringing their hands going, “Dang, some of our people have to act the fool again. This doesn’t help our cause at all.” I understand that a number of black people do get tired of some of us acting a damn fool,  giving “others” affirmation as to why they believe all black people are uncivilized animals. And I know a number of  black people are tired of being made to feel that behavior reflects on them, myself included. Do white people sit around and wring their hands over some white serial killer, going, “Dang, my people?” No. They don’t need to. Because of their privilege, anything negative that whites do is regarded as an anomaly. They don’t have to carry the burden of the “one bad means all bad” label. It’s one of the benefits of white privilege. They can kill their kids, kill their classmates, steal from investors…and they’re just deemed anomalies. But when they go to apply for jobs, mortgages, business loans, move into certain neighborhoods, they don’t have to think much about their “whiteness” being an issue because of negative stereotypes that racist decision makers will use against them. Ultimately, how I see it is that it doesn’t matter if that video helps our cause or not. Certain people will still believe we’re uncivilized subhumans no matter what we say or do. Is it fair? No. But it is what it is. Some folks are just a lost cause and we have to accept that, no matter how much we may wish otherwise.

I’m sure that there are people that will be uncomfortable with this post, but part of this blog’s name is “confessions.” I’m writing what I feel and think. If you’re uncomfortable by it, it means it did its job by challenging you to think about race and stereotyping in ways you may not have thought about before. Think about the perceptions, stereotypes and prejudices you may have about certain groups of people and those that other people may have about you. Many people aren’t really overtly racist or prejudiced. The messages about certain groups of people are often sent subtly and non-verbally so we may not even realize that we have received and learned them. I’m considered very open-minded among my friends but even I hold a couple of perceptions about certain groups of people that aren’t favorable. I usually check myself and attempt to see people as unique individuals, not as stereotypes. Wishing that everyone else did the same is probably too much to ask for, is it?

Aggravation

Posted in Cervical cancer screening, coping with HPV on April 9, 2012 by Confessions of LadyV69

Remember this post where I stated that I recently went for a repeat Pap smear? I ended up calling the doctor’s office today to get the results because they hadn’t called me by the end of last week like they said they would. It’s a little annoying that I had to follow up with them in order for them to do their job, but that’s probably a whole other post altogether. Anyhoo, the virus is still active, though the pap was normal, meaning no cell changes were detected in the cervix. So I’m aggravated by that. I also stumbled upon this post the other day where a study was done that indicated that black women take longer to clear HPV. Since I do happen to be black, it would stand to reason that the study was particularly relevant to me. Initially, I wasn’t going to take that study at face value mainly due to the fact that the sample size between the white and black women was fairly small and uneven. Also, researchers at times have manipulated data so that the results can show what they want them to show, not necessarily what they show naturally. Blacks in general have a long history of distrust of the medical establishment, due to performing studies and experiments without our full knowledge or consent (Tuskegee is a prime example) as well as espousing theories that served to perpetuate racism and inequality. However, after thinking about it some more, I became infuriated. Given all the racial stuff that’s been going on of late, I was like, “Wonderful. Yet another indication on how blacks are inferior.” A professor I had in college used to put stuff like this in these terms: “Anything that is deemed positive, blacks have less of it. Anything deemed negative, blacks have more of it.” So yeah, the racists out there can see a study like this and think that it proves that all black women are ‘hos, that we have defective genes or whatever. Never mind that there are plenty of diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, that primarily affect whites and rarely affect blacks at all, but then, anything negative concerning whites are an anomaly and anything negative concerning blacks are considered normative. Given the relatively small sample size, the results could be an anomaly and the article states follow up studies are needed to see if the results are validated. Some people will offer the following arguments for the possible explanations for the measured effect:
- the effect is due to the type of HPV most common in that population, not in how black people respond to HPV
- the students measured were not typical of the general population
- the effect is correlated more with economic status than race

Be that as it may, I still feel a little uneasy about it, but until more research is done, we won’t know if there really are racial differences in reference to the virus since it may affect treatment strategies down the road. They can’t come soon enough to help me.

Why you shouldn’t always assume

Posted in HPV, illness, life, Racial/ethnic stereotyping on April 4, 2012 by Confessions of LadyV69

Just recently, I finished reading  “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”

That’s her picture on the top of this post. She was a black woman who worked as a sharecropper who died at the extremely young age of 32 in 1951 of cervical cancer. Granted, cervical cancer was more common in those days as they didn’t know what caused it and the Pap smear, the test that detects changes in the cervix and is used as a preventive measure for the disease, was just being developed at that time. Her life span was probably cut short due to the fact that she had limited access to health care, an indignity that still goes on today. Anyhoo, what was most remarkable about her was that a doctor excised some of her cancer cells prior to her treatment and they were extremely unusual in that they continuously multiplied, unlike most cells. They were so extraordinary, they were studied by scientists and doctors who used the information gathered from those cells to develop the polio vaccine, numerous cancer drugs and various other drugs and treatments. In fact, during the 1980′s, some scientists studied her cells in order to find out what caused her cervical cancer, which they determined was the Human Papilloma virus-or HPV. The cells were excised without her knowledge and her family knew nothing about her cells contribution to science and medical advances until over 20 years after her death. Her cells are still around over 60 years later and researchers are still  studying them in order to develop new drugs and treatments as we speak.

I had never heard of the woman before I read the book and I’m sure most of you haven’t either. And frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that cells from a black woman were studied in the development of the polio vaccine and various other treatments and drugs disturbs some of you. In fact, it was at least 10 years before some scientists in the field were even aware that the cells that they were studying and using for medical advances were from a black woman. I’m sure that there are a number of scientists today that still aren’t aware that some of the cells they’re studying are from a black woman. This isn’t something that many schools would be willing to teach. Why? Because we are conditioned from the cradle to believe that anything that white people do and achieve are normative and are the acceptable standard. Blacks, in political and social terms, are usually considered the bottom rung of the racial and ethnic ladder and therefore, we are ignored or denigrated. We are “other.” We are “abnormal.”

As far as the book itself, even though the subject matter is scientific in nature, the author does a good job of balancing dry clinical material with the human side of the story-namely the systemic racism within the medical establishment and the exploitation of  blacks in general. There is also material that details the family’s struggle to come to terms with what happened to Henrietta.  Honestly, I was hesitant to read the book at first, because, since the author is white, I wasn’t sure that she would be able to convincingly convey the systemic racism that the family dealt with and I feared that the book would come off as exploitative in nature. A number of black readers may still have that impression after reading it, but for me, it’s tempered by the fact that the author didn’t just Google some information, interview some of the scientists involved, then interview the family and go on about her merry way, without any emotional connection to the material. She became close with Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah and was willing and able to aid Deborah’s quest in finding out detailed information about her mother. Also, sales from the book are planned to go into a scholorship fund for Henrietta’s descendants, so the family wasn’t just a means to further the author’s career.   

The book brings up some other issues that I won’t get into here, since they are outside the scope of what I most wanted to discuss. I probably owe my life to Henrietta, because without her, it’s possible that I may not have been alive today to write this post. Although there are still some things that are unknown about HPV, the research that led to the discovery that some strains of it are linked to cervical cancer is a major step toward stemming the disease. That, along with the Pap test and the medical establishment’s insistance that women are screened regularly are the reasons why cervical cancer has gone from being the leading cause of death in women to only the 12th most common cancer. I wouldn’t be surprised if the HPV vaccine was developed from some information gathered from her cells.  

There’s still a way to go toward stemming the virus itself, but for my sake, I’m grateful that we’ve come this far. When it comes to matters of life and death, race shouldn’t matter.

Guess the joke’s on me

Posted in Cervical cancer screening, coping with HPV, Racial/ethnic stereotyping on April 1, 2012 by Confessions of LadyV69

I went for my repeat pap smear the other day, in reference to the HPV. I won’t know the results until the end of this week, but as I have a particularly stubborn strain that’s one of the hardest to clear, I won’t be surprised to hear that the virus is still active four and a half years later. As I stated in an earlier post, since HPV really isn’t discussed that much, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding it. I’m sure a number of people think that I deserve it because let’s face it, “everybody knows black women are all ‘hos anyway.” See, there’s that qualifying word again- all. Which is infuriating because I’m being painted with the exact same brush as all other black women which only serves to diminish my uniqueness. Because I’m extremely sensitive and hyperaware about stereotypes of late as well as the fact that I’m royally pissed off, my attitude right now is fuck it. Many of you that are bothering to read this wouldn’t know me from a hole in the wall. There’s absolutely nothing I can tell you about me that can possibly dissuade you if you harbor that sentiment. So I know that it’s possible that you could give two shits if I tell you that I wasn’t promiscuous at all and that I could count the amount of sexual partners I’ve ever had in my life on two hands with a toe thrown in. Or that it’s likely that I had the virus for many years but it was inactive until four and a half years ago and that there’s no way for me to trace exactly who gave it to me. I take sex fairly seriously and I rarely engage in it unless I feel some sort of emotional connection with the person and if I feel the relationship is serious. Never mind that up to 80% of the population gets the virus at one time or another which includes plenty of white people. No. Because I happen to be black, I must be inherently hypersexual. Only white person are sexually pure. People are really starting to make me violently ill with their damn stereotypes. And the stigma surrounding STI’s and STD’s can be damaging because it can cause people to avoid treatment for fear of proving some damn ignoramuses right. Which can lead to infertility for some infections and diseases and if taken to the extreme, can lead to an early and needless death in the case of HPV.

I guess the joke’s on me because I usually like to believe the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt, but lately, I haven’t been able to do that. Right now, I’ve been doubting that people are being sincere when they smile and chat with me at the water cooler or on the grocery store line, because, let’s face it, I’m not naive enough to think that people don’t harbor stereotypes about me, whether its about my hair or my gender or my skin color. In fact, I’m not naive enough to think that nobody harbors stereotypes about somebody, because, hey, we need some kind of way to group all the vast information we receive about the world around us. I won’t lie and say that I haven’t harbored any stereotypes about certain groups of people but I usually check myself and I know enough about the world to know that not everyone fits them all the time. A number of other people out there don’t do the same, however. So, I wonder if the relaxed woman at the bar wonders if I’m vegan or if I don’t bathe. Then I wonder if the white person in front of me at the supermarket checkout line thinks I’m some typical loud and bossy black woman, or if I have 7 kids with 7 different men and receiving welfare. All of this is maddening because in general, we don’t fucking talk to each other. Not about things that really matter anyway, such as racism and misogyny. Sure, if you’re black, you might have no qualms about discussing racism with other blacks or if you’re woman, you might have no qualms about discussing sexism with other women. But we often don’t discuss these things with people who are different from ourselves and therein, is the heart of the issue because these stereotypes only get perpetuated and sometimes, they blow up as in the Martin case. Until we actually speak to each other, we’ll never solve any of the real problems.

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