Better and Better

Today is my birthday.

I have a deep love for birthdays. And not just because of the spontaneous phone calls, the cupcakes, the gifts, the wishes, the partying, the cards I’ll save forever (that’s what drawers are for)… but because I love getting older. Why would anyone want to stay forever twenty-one? That sounds miserable. Bring on the wrinkles – those are signs of LIVING! I find it thrilling to tuck another year of experience under my belt. To know that much more. To be able to love that much more. If you play it right, every single birthday should bring a year that’s better than the last.

Well! This year I’m starting off in some weird ass territory. I’m incredibly humbled by all of this. You may have noticed over the past few days I’ve taken a step back from blogging; a step back from this media maelstrom. Your comments and articles have kept me glued to my phone throughout a weekend of a friend’s wedding festivities. Whaaaaat in the world have I done? I have erupted a bizarre spring of blurry racial boundaries, hair self-esteem, white shame, American history and social status quo. Many people commend my fro-wearing ways, but comments fueled by anger and a history of oppression far outweigh them. Each comment and article is a stroke on the portrait of our world’s collective view on racial issues today. An eye-opening – and highly personalized – look at society as it currently stands.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the problem here (White girl wears fro, life changes, what’s the big whoop?), I wanted to share a piece of the very first comment that rolled in on my birthday at midnight; one that blaringly hits on the very core of the issue:

“The truth is that you can take the wig off and go back to white privilege. My hair is natural and more textured than any of the wigs in your pictures. I know that I have to wear a wig or straighten my hair for job interviews and in some corporate settings. I am judged negatively by society still in 2012 when I wear my God given natural hair. It’s a serious struggle for black women to deal with which is why the majority of us straighten our hair.”

It is comments like these that hurt the most. I am angry for her. I am angry at the system. I want to help, but fear I cannot. Dear reader, I am so sorry to have hurt you. See, when I started wearing the fro, I simply did not have the perception that an afro was in any way a subpar style to my own. After the original party, I never saw it as a costume – I dress in crazy outfits and make hand gestures all the time! (My Facebook photos are public if you don’t believe me.) Many of you have asked, what IS my new “enlightening” perception in the fro? When I wear it, people receive me with more even smiles than as a blonde. People are friendlier, strangers seem more at ease to strike up a conversation. I love the beauty of it and it makes me feel extra courageous and yes, BADASS – in photos and in real life. Freedom of expression – it’s as simple as that.

michelle joni fro

A photo from before this blog ever existed, enjoying myself at my roommate’s birthday party

I tell you all this not in defense, but in offense. I actively want each of you to know that I freakin’ love that fro from the bottom of my soul! And yes, I’d wear it to a job interview in a heartbeat. It’s fierce. And if I feel that way, I can’t help but think that others might too.

As one of the reporters who interviewed me put it, “I love the fro but I would never have the courage to wear one. I have too much white guilt.” And there it struck me – I had never felt such a thing before. Should I feel white guilt? My view of the world sets people as equals, but unfortunately in reality the system is fucked up. I feel guilty for hurting my fellow people, but the thought of feeling guilty for being white – to tiptoe around stereotypes like they’re grenade bombs – made me feel even guiltier. If I were to develop white guilt, that’d mean I’d be placing other races subconsciously below mine. My subconscious doesn’t roll like that.

So, I have a few dilemmas here.

ONE: Do I continue on with this blog? I have considered shuttering it altogether today and putting up a goodbye post. Extinguishing the problem and moving on. But then I remembered why I started this blog journey: With a promise to share my experiences of seeing life through new eyes, good or bad. And WHOAH cowboy, is this an experience. HELLO “new lens” through which to see life. I was never treated poorly when wearing the fro – but I sure am now, after being pegged as racist. Dude, this is a very real human experience that I sincerely hope YOU will never have. It would be unfair for me to run and hide and stop sharing my thoughts just because it went sour.

TWO: Do I continue on with wearing the fro? Knowing that simply by wearing it, I stir up feelings of injustice? How horrible. I understand the issue frighteningly well now. But if I stopped wearing it, the problem that concerns me and haunts this country most would not just go away. I will have still offended people, and little girls would still wake up worrying that their hair isn’t good enough. I actually haven’t even worn the blonde or the black one all week out of guilt and astonishment. But I can’t hide it: I miss my fro dearly! Life is not the same without it!

Hippy dippy white chick in a fro accidentally tries to save the world?

Oh lord. For this one day, let me have my delusional cake and eat it too!


PS. Tired of commenting? Call in, let’s talk! I’m honored that some journalists and radio hosts want to chat with me on air. I’ll be on Chocolate Cake Radio Wednesday night around 9:30 pm EST- I thank these lovely women for finding me, looking past the surface (AKA reading carefully and stalking me on the internetz) and realizing I may be crazy but I ain’t racist. Also, I’ll be on NPR’s Tell Me More with Michel Martin at some point soon. I’m humbled to be having a conversation with this Emmy-award winning journalist on Thursday. This is not any sort of journey I expected, but I am learning so much – SO MUCH – so I just need to go along for the ride.

PPS. I’ve dedicated this birthday to the It Gets Better campaign, something I decided weeks ago that now holds a bit of an amplified meaning. If you are in the place to give or are able to create a video, that is my birthday wish. It’s a gay organization, but the concept applies to everyone. No matter how dim things look, no matter what you are going through, no matter who stands against you… just know: IT GETS BETTER AND BETTER.

25 thoughts on “Better and Better

  1. “As one of the reporters who interviewed me put it, “I love the fro but I would never have the courage to wear one. I have too much white guilt.””

    First of all, it’s not about courage. It’s about respect and not appropriating a culture through a fetishized lens of privilege. Additionally, your statement “If I were to develop white guilt, that’d mean I’d be placing other races subconsciously below mine.” No offence, but if you decide to keep wearing the fro despite HUNDREDS of WOC/POC telling you that it is offensive, you have put your desire to culturally appropriate above those you have offended. In other words, you’ve already but WOC needs and desires below yours. It’s not a statement of “if I were to do A, I’d achieve B” – you have already achieved B.

    As for continuing the blog, I think you should keep it, but rename it. The name is offensive to those you have hurt. I think if you were to continue the blog because you want to become more enlightened (so to speak), you should focus it on checking, rechecking, and evaluating white privilege and the system that upholds it. What better way to learn from your mistakes than to take this experience and move forward with it?

    Like HUNDREDS of POC/WOC have already told you – definitely get rid of the fro. The problems won’t go away if us, as white privileged people, keep reinforcing privileged attitudes via our actions. You say you believe in equality, but your actions say otherwise. Like others have said, if you want to keep wearing the fro “because you miss it”, that says that you do not consider those that you have offended as equals. Yes you “will have still offended people”, but you are being infinitely more offensive by continuing to wear it. Before you were just ignorant – if you continue to wear it, you’re being racist and disrespectful. And at that point, you should feel guilt. Guilt comes when you have done something that’s morally wrong. Take the guilt, make a FULL apology (followed by not wearing the fro – for good), and move forward to ensure your actions make you a better person.

    People have been very nice to you on here – people are probably tired of commenting because you’re not listening to those you are hurting and keep trying to justify your actions. The same message has been repeated over and over again to you – ditch the fro because you are being offensive. I still don’t see why you are asking if you should keep it or not.

    • I should also clarify my comment about keeping the blog – only keep the blog if you’re going to REALLY check your privilege. Which means not justifying your actions, which come from a historically racist system. Just because you do not consider yourself racist does not exempt you from committing racist acts.

  2. And so you finally got the PR and attention that you were seeking… all on the premise of offending people. You are a hot mess all around. I am not believing any of these faux apologies and pleas to understand that you are not trying to be a racist. This is clearly what you wanted and that is why you blatantly ignored the overwhelming—yes, overwhelming, majority of commenters requests to just let this foolishness go. You are not fooling anyone, that plastic afro can’t cover up your desperate attempt to be “somebody”. How about you ‘get better’?

  3. You still haven’t really gotten the point of what anyone is saying. It’s truly remarkable. You love “the fro” because you can take it off. You call it “the fro” and not “my fro” cause it isn’t yours. Your language, your self esteem is a reflection of those who STILL fight for the respect to be themselves. It isn’t over, you aren’t discovering something, you are appropriating it, STILL. You aren’t changing the world you are a parody of the condition, or “the system”, the one at which you are so angry. Look up native appropriation too, or shall we witness water being turned to wine when you get a headress? You have been afforded to much access to education and reality to be this air headed. Let it go. It was never yours.

  4. A few things:

    “After the original party, I never saw it as a costume – I dress in crazy outfits and make hand gestures all the time! (My Facebook photos are public if you don’t believe me.)”

    I looked at your Facebook pics, and yes, you dress in a zany fashion regularly. But in the afro wig you dress like a blacksploitation character/Erykah Badu; which you didn’t seem to do before. Also, you may have the odd photo where you flash gang signs(This is generically obnoxious; since the joke is look at this cute White girl being gangsta’), but what people were angered by was that when you decided to juxtapose you with your natural blond hair, with you in the afro wig, you posed stereotypically more Black in the wig. The way you dress and pose is influenced by the wig, and betrays what you believe you should act like if you have that hair. It would be like wearing a straight black bowl cut wig, and then dressing in a school girl’s outfit while flashing a peace sign, and pretending this was just a reflection of your personal style. No it’s a costume that relies heavily on fetishizing and pigeon holing women of a certain culture.

    “When I wear it, people receive me with more even smiles than as a blonde. People are friendlier, strangers seem more at ease to strike up a conversation. I love the beauty of it and it makes me feel extra courageous and yes, BADASS – in photos and in real life. Freedom of expression – it’s as simple as that.”

    You have said some form of this before, and it is always annoying. What you need to understand is that even though you can’t help being White, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of that; the fact that you get love and empowerment (from a wig- eyeroll) can only happen because of your intense levels of White Privilege. When a White woman does something that Black women do, it is all of a sudden regarded as something that is worthwhile and interesting by society… You brag about this without understanding that if you were Black in that Afro, the reaction would not be the same. My real Black afro is sometimes met with hostility. White models get put in Saris, headdresses, African cloths, all of the time, for the very same reason. Ethnic stuff is all of a sudden very worthwhile when you take the Ethnic person out of it.

    “If I were to develop white guilt, that’d mean I’d be placing other races subconsciously below mine. My subconscious doesn’t roll like that.”

    You shouldn’t walk around lamenting your luck at being born White(and Blonde for that matter). But not minimizing the feelings and experiences of others so that you can continue to play dress up with people’s race is not acting on White guilt; it is common human decency.

    Not sure if you have noticed, but the pictures you have posted on this site and Facebook have betrayed a few things about you(Other than an unhealthy obsession with yourself):
    1. You don’t post pics on this site of you posing with the approving Black women you encounter.
    2. You do post pics of you posing with the approving Black men you encounter.
    3. Your Facebook Pics before your epiphany suggest a limited/non-existent relationship with Black folks; or even interest in Black folk things.

    That last observation actually explains a lot; from your dated perception of Black style; to your almost proud lack of awareness(of self and others).

    “I was never treated poorly when wearing the fro – but I sure am now, after being pegged as racist. ”

    You are not being treated poorly; you are rightfully being straightened out; because of your own actions. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Had you adopted this style choice in a way that was respectful; and not in a look at how crazy and forward thinking I am way, it would have been more embraced. Had you also not bragged about all of the love you get, and instead spoken on the subjects of privilege, oppression and beauty intelligently and thoughtfully, you would perhaps have a significant Black fanbase.

    I think everybody has a certain level of prejudice; so while I don’t think you are a racist, I do think you have a stunning lack of awareness combined with entitlement. Which may be as a result of never having to confront the truths you are now facing… so maybe there’s hope for you.

    There was a way to do this; and fried chicken and defensiveness was not the way to go. Goodluck!

  5. I say keep your blog and keep wearing your Afro. At this point if people don’t like it, they should simply stop following your blog. If I could offer a little advice… you should find one that one closer to your natural hair color (or even a light brown) and you should take it somewhere to get it shaped better to enhance the beauty of your wig. I only ask that you do it because you truly love the style and not because you are seeking attention.

  6. You may have not set out to offend, but you certainly have. I think that the curls of your afro may be covering your eyes and leaving you blind to reality.

    I don’t doubt one bit that when you wear the afro people smiled at you more and were more apt to talk with you and be friendly. This to me has nothing to do with the afro. It has more to do with your attitude while wearing the afro. You were hiding the real you and were more open to talk and be approached. This is the same reason that so many people enjoy dress up parties or Halloween. You aren’t being you. You are being someone else. You could have had the same personal effect had you decided to dress up as anything and write a blog— maybe a mime would be nice— you know someone who talks a whole lot less but says a lot more?

    You are a new yorker— you know that a-hole that stands in Time Square in his underwear and plays a guitar? You know, the naked cowboy? Yeah he did the EXACT same thing as you, only 15 years prior. He is a street performer. What you are doing is PERFORMING as a character. When you have your afro on you are NOT Michelle, you are a character. Unfortunately your character is, to be frank, racist.

    Please just concede that you are being racist. Just put on your big girl panties and admit it. And don’t “admit it” and then spend 6 paragraphs telling us why it isn’t racist. Don’t apologize and then tell us why you shouldn’t have to apologize.

  7. Let me begin by saying that I am deeply familiar with white guilt. I am a neurotic, white male, raised Catholic, politically progressive, who holds a B.A. in Black Studies. I think about race issues every day and the guilt is always there. It’s almost unbelievable that you’re just now becoming familiar with the concept of white guilt, but I suppose that’s not your fault. So I’m here to let you know that your definition of white guilt (“placing other races subconsciously below mine”) is way off. Like, wayyyyyyy off. What you’re describing there is racism, and it’s troubling that you can confuse the two.

    White guilt, on the other hand, is a mental mechanism that attempts to rectify one’s ideal view of the world (which in your case, commendably “sets people as equals”) with a real world that clearly does not follow such utopian guidelines. The guilt comes from knowing that you are a direct beneficiary of systemic racism, whose vast reach we still don’t fully understand, and which we still don’t really know how to combat. It comes from knowing that, even though you didn’t ask for the myriad advantages that accompany being white in the world, and certainly did nothing to earn them, they are there. And it comes from knowing that these advantages exist to the immediate disadvantage of other people – millions of innocent people, against whom you harbor no grudge, who have a harder time of it all, and only because they don’t have your light skin or, on topic, your blonde hair.

    Of course, white guilt is not really the issue ultimately. But white guilt does require recognizing the privileges that you have, which I’m really not sure you do, and which I think is the heart of the matter here. I implore you to look deeper, not into yourself, but into some books. Some historical perspective may show you that though you entered the world innocent, you also entered it at a time when racism still exists, still exercises its evils, and even still gets preached by some among us. Of course, I’m not asking you to be guilty about it. Clearly, your wearing of this wig has affected a lot of people, and it’s a good opportunity for conversation. However, I suspect that you still have no concept of the power you have just by virtue of your skin color. The fact that a white woman wearing a simple wig can cause so much hurt should give you some idea of the immense power that white people still wield in this world.

      • Michelle, as obnoxious as your behavior has been I have seriously worried about you a bit the last 24 hrs. I can put myself in your shoes as I am the first to admit I am imperfect and have hurt others with ignorant behavior in the past, and I can sympathize with feeling hated on. But this last post…the only person (out of the deeply articulate and largely very respectful and PATIENT individuals commenting) you reply to was someone who barely knows you stroking your ego. And the tone in which you wrote shows me you have learned NOTHING here. Wow. I want to thank you for helping me see how this kind of “ghetto speak” and ebonics are embarrassing for the speaker and wholly offensive. It’s immature and just not funny. I will be using your example of false pride and ego, internalizing the lesson, and correcting my own behavior. Best of luck with any sort of genuine intimacy, least of all with yourself. This is sad…

      • Hey Rebecca, I want to thank you for your comment and for putting yourself in my shoes to think about all this, and for your concern. This has all been a crazy but enlightening experience, and not easy at all. I have been reading and approving every comment you see here, giving no small amount of thought to each and every one. Feeling the emotion in all your comments has actually been the most meaningful experience in all of this. I am very humbled by everyone who has taken time out of their day to share their thoughts here. To respond to each one individually would be impossible, so instead I have been letting them live for all to see, and taking all feelings and thoughts and perspective into consideration, as they sink into my psyche, to compose my next post and figure out how to move forward. In this case, I was just really hoping this lovely woman I met last night would get in touch with me, because we wanted to hang out again. And she did! But I’m glad you pointed this out – it did feel strange to reply to this one publicly and frivolously while not responding directly to the others that hit on such poignant topics. Ah, yes, imperfection certainly applies here. xx

  8. Go On Girl!!!

    As an AFRICAN woman, it pisses me off to see how territorial African Americans are about all things Black!!!
    For years they have been trying to have what they have been brainwashed into believing is the better deal – soft long hair, lighter (whiter) skins, whiter teeth etc. That is why every 1.5 of 2 Aftican American women is wearing some kind of weave/wig 90% of the year.
    The colours vary – from black to complete white – and hey; a good percentage of them are blonde!
    That someone has found joy in something that is such a bane to their existance ie; nappy hair, all the little green gnomes come hopping out in droves. How dare white people have the best of two worlds: great natural hair and rock a ‘fro!
    GROW UP AA’s!!!!! Learn to embrace the other races. It definately not always about you!

    • Hi Michelle,

      Michelle, I truly believe no one seriously wants to see you jump of a bridge. It’s a really good thing people take time and emotional energy to communicate with you. That’s whats beautiful about the human race- we want to be connected and help each other. I appreciate you responding, and yes, it’s a step in the right direction to acknowledge and post the thoughtful responses of others, despite the ego-deflation. I will say that I used to own a shiny lilac-colored shag wig. I can relate to the feeling of boldness, of acting extemporaneously, of the excitement one feels for being slightly anonymous and joy of being silly. I believe that you probably felt a release from the pressure of having to be coiffed and thin and all the things society says we have to be, as women, to be lovable, when you wore this afro wig. And imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery. But the stark facts of this choice you made to wear this specific type and color of wig without recognizing the insensitivity around it…that is what is worrisome. Sensitivity is required as THIS IS A WOUND THAT HAS NOT HEALED. It is raw, festering and open. Racism, prejudice and it’s ilk are all over the world. But you are hear in this country, with our unique and nauseating history and you must listen to the wisdom of the tribe here if you want to be connected and close with others. And bless you for helping me think about this on a deeper level.

  9. The Afro is not owned by one race!!! All race’s, ethnicities, and cultures have people who are born naturally with an Afro. Do not stop because your skin tone is not dark enough for some people.

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