Oh Hay

Hi, I’m Michelle Joni. Welcome to my brain.*

I would love to hear from you.

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For those of you coming here wishing to know more about this crazy girl running around NYC in a fro, The Cut does a fairly good job at summarizing it. Also, there’s only so much I can type here and I’ve done a bunch of interviews now, but this one I think is especially thorough if you want to really get to know more about me and this journey. Or, if you only have seven minutes, you can check out this one on NPR.

Photography credits:

All photos on this blog have been taken by me with a Canon PowerShot Elph or iPhone unless otherwise noted.
If it’s not otherwise noted but the photo is of me and it’s not a self-portrait, that means I gave my camera to someone random.
If it’s a picture that I clearly didn’t take because that person died before I was born, that means I stole it from the internet.

*this page will always change and never be finished. I just decided.

19 thoughts on “Oh Hay

  1. Wearing an afro for black women means that every day they are walking through a white supremacist world looking a way that has been mocked and demonized for hundreds of years. There is something intangible about the black experience that wearing a false afro will never allow you to understand. I dont think you feel like more of yourself, I think you’re hiding yourself. I think that rather than using a caricature of a black woman’s hair to get a reaction out of the people you meet, you could do some work on who you are inside to erase the need to inflate your ego through insulting people by mitigating their struggle.

    Many black women were never given a choice as to whether or not they could perm or straighten their hair. Parents decide what grows out of your head is ugly and use harsh chemicals to make the way you look somewhat closer to what white people may find acceptable. When black women grace the cover of cosmo, glamour, vogue magazine etc on a consistent basis with their natural hair then by all means figure out how you can place horrible chemicals on your head to get closer to beauty, but until then–you should take it off and apologize. You wont, because white privilege dictates you can disrespect us without repercussion, but know in your heart, you should.

    • You do realize that there are white people born with natural afro’s. I hope you are not requesting that one person be more open minded when your POV is extremely single minded.

    • I just wanted to reply to this as it’s at the top and wanted to share my thoughts about afro hair. I once worked with a guy who happened to be African and who had the most amazing afro. It was nothing like any I had ever seen before and much like some straight hair quality is nicer than other straight hair so too was this afro, and in no small way could his afro be considered finer and of higher quality than 99.9% of even the most silky soft straight hair I had ever seen of touched. I asked him if I could touch his hair and he permitted me to do so and it was incredible. The hair was super tight coils of the finest silkiest and softest quality I could even imagine.

      If we think about hair and the reasons for it is clear that from an adaptation perspective coils of hair serve an important purpose which is the cooling of the head in hot environments and straighter hair blankets the head to keep warmth in.

      As a “white” person with wavy hair I guess a person could say that clearly I am the product of a mixture of heritages and know little to nothing about feelings of racism but I just wanted to share this in hopes that it may add some value to this discussion.

  2. I think you could really benefit from watching this video.

    One of the reasons I, as a person of color, am offended by your haphazard & wanton costume-wearing is that you, as a white person, have the option of removing that wig at the end of the day. As a person of color, there is no removing my afro or my skin color. I go into stores and get dirty & apprehensive looks and I’m watched closely by the clerks and cops because of my color and hair. Regardless of what post-racism ideals you hold, this is the reality of the life in the US, at least. So for me, these accusatory glances will never cease, just as my skin will never cease producing the same amount of melanin it always has, nor will my hair cease to grow in the same kinky-curly texture as your synthetic wig. However you have THE ELECTIVE CHOICE to return to a life where you aren’t made to feel like a criminal for inhabiting the skin you were born in, and that’s why it is insensitive and pompous to parade around mocking our culture and features. I’m sad that you’re so old and so terribly naive and insensitive to the emotions and plights of other cultures, but that in itself is the very definition of white privilege: living in a world where the standard for normality looks, thinks, and behaves just like you. I pity you.

  3. Given that the navigation title of this post is ‘Oh Hay’ – you’ve shown enough evidence to state that you feel as if you’re down enough to do this. It doesn’t matter really what I think – you’ve received your 15 minutes today on various sites talking about how misguided you are anyway.

    I’ll just make this my first and last comment on your site.

    If I see you in the streets – I would love to speak with you about this and hopefully break bread with you about your 2012 celebration of minstrelsy and how it’s steeped in a few issues of race and characterization.

    You don’t have to think about race in any fashion to get this point as a white woman – so I understand why this exists. Sadly for you it’s coming from a place of ignorance. James Baldwin talks about this – I hope you’re well read enough with African American culture to know which book I am referencing.

    Enjoy your fame homegirl – glad our hair gives you a sense of celebrity in the land of make believe.

  4. In one of your posts, you define racism as follows:

    Racist (Noun) – A person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others.

    That’s not what racism is. Racism is a system that privileges people with white skin, and oppresses people who are not white. Racism is not black people being mean to white people, or even white people being mean to black people. Racism is the fact that people of color are disproportionately incarcerated; the fact that children of color have less access to healthcare, quality food, and good schools than their white counterparts; the fact that “flesh” colored band-aids are made to match your skin because your skin color is the default, the neutral.

    If you do one thing today, read Peggy McIntosh’s article on the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

    If you do two things today, read this article on how to be an anti-racist ally: http://loveisntenough.com/2009/12/30/how-to-be-an-anti-racist-ally/

    Instead of using black women’s hair — an extremely fraught and sensitive subject for most black women, given how our hair is maligned, mistreated, and understood — maybe thing about what you can do for actual black people. Get involved in your community. Support local businesses, especially the ones that were there before you moved in. Don’t pat yourself on the back for not being “racist” — think about how you benefit from the system of racism, and work to change that.

  5. I think you may be able to delve deeper into your journey of self discovery if you changed your actual hair – by cutting it drastically short for instance – rather than wearing hair that is significant to another culture. I feel like the wig is in fact creating an alternate persona for you because you aren’t wearing it to spa day but rather to chicken festival. Just my opinion though.

  6. You have a platform to help heal the hurts of this country, to declare and embrace your (Ashkenazi?) Jewish heritage, and find a way to build a bridge between multiple cultures. So why don’t you take advantage of it? With so much positive work to be done, why persist when you know there’s such a negative result from these posts? my mother told me to judge a tree by its fruits – this tree doesn’t seem very sound, good intentions or not

  7. Calling Michelle a racist is the easy response. While readers are quick to judge Michelle on her background, the color of her skin, the appropriateness of a certain hair style, her flamboyant dress sense and her right to attend certain social events, you call HER a racist. Hypocrites. Shall we tell Black people they are not allowed to wear wigs which are straight-relaxed and blonde? Shall we tell Black people that they have to dress a certain way? Michelle is pushing the limits, testing the boundaries and sparking discussion. She doesn’t need an afro that ‘looks more real’ because she is not pretending to be Black or to have a Black background. If you weren’t so quick to judge, you would see that Michelle’s intentions are not malicious. If anything, she is already on her way to accomplishing her goal; to provide an opportunity for others to experience self-discovery, which includes identifying your own prejudice.

    • Two-side Suzie and Michelle, one of the points being made here is to say that there is a power differential between Black and white women in U.S. culture. When a black woman straightens her hair, this is not automatically ‘equal’ to Michelle wearing an Afro wig. African-American woman often have to do this to get or keep a job! A Black woman’s Afro, no matter how stylish, beautiful, and elegant, can prevent her from getting that job or from being equally protected by law enforcement today. African-American people were and are abused in America solely based on the fact of racial attributes such as African hair. These beautiful attributes, such as nappy hair texture and brown skin were, and are, used as a marker to excuse and sanction this abuse, oppression, and exploitation which has continued for centuries – right up to the present day. Being Afro-centric is still seen, in too many (woefully ignorant,) quarters as a threat, and is suppressed and maligned. In the recent past, the entire Jim Crow system, which institutionalized many types of profound injustice against Black citizens in the south, was based, again, on victimizing people because of their race, pure and simple. It did not target white women, or poor white people in general, for example, even if those people were abused in other ways. That dangerous, life-threatening harshness was reserved for African-American people. (Though other Brown and Native people were also caught in the net.) So, we don’t have an ‘equal opportunity’ hair thing going on in America, do you see? Just because Black women may have gotten creative about straightening or dying their hair, does not erase this history of inequality, though It is a tribute to the creativity and resiliency of Black women’s culture! History is here with us. It is alive. We cannot pretend it is not, however painful that might be to all of us, for our different reasons. Black women don’t have the privilege of forgetting that their ancestors were hurt because of racism in the past, nor do they have the pleasure of living in a racist-free country now. Yes, it can be said that blonde women are stereotyped and treated with disrespect in this culture. We are used to sell cars, booze, cigarettes, clothes. Our bodies are violated, dehumanized, used and abused as either bullshit status symbols or as punching bags, while we as people are treated like whores, idiots, bitches, witches, and cunts. Unfortunately, some of us are so internally oppressed that we buy into this stuff, too. This situation has indeed been insulting, demoralizing, degrading, and despair-inducing for blond women. No wonder you want to wear some other kind of hair! Girl, I dye mine red to get away from that non-stop, perpetual shit! But even THAT wretched, woman-hating scene is not the SAME thing as being prevented from protecting your family or from entering places of business without harassment or from freely and safely voting–just as a few examples–all privileges which white people, including the despised and vilified blond, have enjoyed. These human rights, and more, have systematically been withheld from Black citizens based on skin color and that beautiful Afro. Nobody burns a cross on your front lawn because of blond hair. Police don’t shoot your son in the street when he reaches for his wallet because of blond hair. etc., etc. The same can not be said for an Afro. So you see the difference? That ‘different’ treatment African-American people get started with slavery, ‘advanced’ to Jim Crow, and moved on to the prison industrial complex we have RIGHT NOW TODAY, which incarcerates Black people at a chillingly terrifying rate (for the same crimes which white people get lesser sentences)–AND ALL FOR PROFIT! This situation guts entire communities, destroys families, and traumatizes children… And that viciousness is happening RIGHT NOW as we argue about your wig! (More prisoners than giant China or totalitarian Iran.) And this is only PART of the picture of the terrible damage racism does! Racism hurts and harms people of color, damages the intelligence of white people, and destroys our country entirely. So you see, there are many kinds of intense dynamics dancing around your wig! Racism is not over. We all need to FIGHT IT AND END IT. There is no ‘equal opportunity costuming’ available to Black people, and thus it is not available to white people. We’re not there yet. Black women I know have been harassed and fired at the work place for wearing their hair the way God made it. Our first lady and her children have been harassed about their choice of hair styles. Do you see what I’m saying? Let’s all fight for freedom for all our brothers and sisters in America, NOW. And when your sisters cry out to you that they are hurting because of your actions, please listen. I’m not saying you have to do something different – but I AM saying listen very hard and very well, LEARN with an open mind and heart. We all need to be listening to one another with deep respect and love. Doing that, we can change this country, and finally heal some of these deep, festering wounds out here. An example–let’s all get up in arms right NOW TODAY about the voter suppression being perpetrated in Black communities RIGHT NOW THIS MINUTE. You have the freedom to fight back against that injustice as YOURSELF, a smart, articulate woman. If you want to do it in that wig, then get your analysis together. Be a smart and informed lightening rod. Above all, take your freedoms and privileges in hand and use them to change the world so that EVERYBODY can live with joy, safety, and respect in the skin they have been given.

      Excellent reading material to help you on your journey:
      Dear White America by Tim Wise (very male-centered, but still good.)
      Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston – a great read & informative
      Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon
      The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander

      • Wow, I am speechless, Anny. Thank you so much for sharing all this. And to EVERYONE who sees this comment since I cannot reply to everyone – thank you for sharing your thoughts. All of you are wonderful and powerful and beautiful! I am humbled.

  8. I’ve given some thought to this, and I think I have come up with an analogy that might be helpful (should you ever choose to read this comment): there’s blackface, and then there’s a spray-on tan. One is largely considered to be offensive and racially insensitive, and the other is not. Why? At the end of the day, both are essentially a light skinned person painting themselves so that they can appear to be darker.

    Here’s the difference, though: the former is a costume used to mimic and degrade an entire group of people, while the latter is a cosmetic treatment that people use to “enhance” their personal appearance. Blackface is not meant to look natural, but spray tans are (although they often fail to do so). While the goal of a spray tan may not be “to appear to be black/brown,” the spray tan is used to give the wearer the appearance of naturally having darker skin. Most spray tans also last a few days to a couple of weeks. Getting a spray tan before prom, a wedding, a vacation, or some other special occasion is not uncommon. People get spray tans because they think that a tan is beautiful; people wear blackface as a caricature.

    Maybe you think your wig is much closer to “spray tan” than it is to “blackface,” but I am telling you right now that it isn’t. It could be, but it isn’t. One major reason for this is that you are wearing cheap, costume wigs…so it looks blatantly unnatural (even the blond one, honey). If you were to invest in a wig that looked more natural (ie, one that was closer to your hair color, was a higher quality synthetic hair, OR was made out of human hair), people would feel a lot better about this project. People think you are wearing our hair as a costume because you are ACTUALLY wearing a part of a costume. (Sidenote: if you were to get an afro weave, that would also change things. Having it woven into your natural hair would mean that you would have to live with afro hair 24/7 for a month or two, and for me, that changes it from “costume” to “hairstyle.”)

    Another way to make this project less “minstrelsy” and more “genuine appreciation of afro-textured hair” is to STOP POSING AS A CARICATURE OF BLACK PEOPLE EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU WEAR THE AFRO. I know that people have complained about this several times on the website, and you always respond with something along the lines of “I always dress and act like this, you guys! This is just my crazy personality!” <——–That right there is BS. You may have a crazy personality, and you may always dress in wild, vibrant colors, but the fact of the matter is that every picture that you have posted of yourself sans afro is a picture of you being normal and smiley, while the picture with the afros feature you in poses that are overtly sexual, "gangsta," or "spiritually enlightened." I also HIGHLY DOUBT that you walked around taking pictures of and with black people to post on the internet "before afro." You have created an alter ego for yourself based on that afro, and that alter ego is a sad caricature of black women (whether you want to admit to this or not).

    I think we should be able to wear our hair however the hell we want to. If that means you rocking an afro, okay. But please, please understand that you are not wearing this as a hairstyle. You are wearing it as a costume that allows you to "act black." You're hurting people, but you already know that. Because I (for some reason) still have hope that you MIGHT actually be a decent person underneath all of this ignorance, I am assuming that you still don't understand why people are being hurt. It's not because black people believe that we own the afro; it's not because we're jealous of the fact that you can take your afro off and we can't; it's not because we're hypersensitive about hair. This is hurting us because you have been dressing up as a black person for a month, and you refuse to acknowledge that this is what you are doing. As least be upfront about it.

    Finally, please, please stop using the word "tranny." That is just as offensive as the word "nigger." You have enough sense not to say something as stupid as, "I'm just a big ol' nigger at heart," but replace the word "nigger" with "tranny," and that is a direct quote from one of your posts. It is horrifying that you have made it to your age with such a profound insensitivity to the feelings of others. I get it: you're "different." Whatever. Be whoever you want to be, but stop doing it at the expense of others. Our identities are not crazy costumes for you to put on when you're celebrating your birthday.

  9. Hi, I’m as a black woman (Nigerian to be exact) I can gladly say that I’m not offended by you wearing your Afro. I can name QUITE a few naturally black women who choose to wear silky straight long hair and claim it is more ‘them’ yet they don’t seem to be receiving the same type of criticize. I’m a strong believer that you are what you choose to be. Although since you are Caucasian you cannot truly choose to be white, you can still choose to embrace a culture that was not originally your own. Also I love the photography of your site.

  10. Oh Hay! You’re a complete and utter racist. And you know it! Just how blissful is your ignorance? Taking the complete and utter p*ss out of our beautiful manes. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Stop it!

  11. I adore hair, of all textures and lengths, I adore people who wish to change this about themselves as I have been an extension creator for eleven years (legally). I understand there have been many evil humans that have existed and most of them were oppressive and brutal forces. I believe in being proud of things you choose in life and race gender and wealth are not things anyone chooses, yet we all suffer innately being humans regardless of the hand we are dealt. I just want to say Im very proud of you as a human being miss michelle and you have my undying support, maybee sometime I can come to your town and we can do some extensions in that mane of yours. keep being weird its not gonna killl ya.

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