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White Privilege and the Black Wall

We’ve all heard it. ‘White privilege”. Panels of white people discussing how they do or do not believe it exists. Panels of Black people discussing how they do or do not think it’s important that White people do or do not think it exists. The simple definition of White privilege is the set of advantages White people in society typically experience that are not experienced by non-White people.

Just like oxygen, believing White privilege doesn’t exist because you do not see it does not change the fact that not only does it exist, but Whites benefit from its existence. And benefit from it every day. But it has become such a deeply woven thread throughout the entire fabric of the life of White people, its existence for them has disappeared. That is, until it’s pulled.

It wasn’t always this way. Africa was the cradle of civilization. African people spread out and populated the planet, spreading their African knowledge, crafts, beliefs, sciences, religions, spices, medicines farming and societies along the way. African knowledge was appropriated and melded with other emerging societies across the planet, creating the beautiful tapestry of human civilization we see today.

But… somewhere along the way, European colonialists declared themselves superior to everyone else and embarked of a campaign of invasion, destruction, dehumanization, kidnapping and enslavement of the people of Africa, reclassified people as property to be traded and sold like animals, for the benefit and consolidation of European power. To do this, African land was stolen, their mineral wealth looted, their societies fragmented, their monuments destroyed, their accomplishments erased.

And here we are. Their descendants. Blacks and Whites and mixes thereof, fumbling our way through the remnants and ramifications of past atrocities.

You will find dozens of websites giving examples of White privilege – driving while Black, BBQ-ing while Black, the disparate treatment of Black killers and White killers. I’m not going to repeat them here. I have another take: I believe that the way we have been caused to feel about our own natural features over generations, is also an example of White privilege. But I call it the Black Wall.

Let’s Talk Hair

Our hair is the second most apparent feature (after our skin) that sets us apart in the world. It is unique to us and it is vilified. Our hair is a miracle of nature. It is our temperature regulator, our insulator, our UV defense. It repels contaminants and keeps dust and dirt and insects away from our scalps. It can be twisted, knotted, curled and bumped – and returns to its afro state. It is a crown. We should be rejoicing in it.

But we’re not. Because our hair is a Black Wall we hit when we encounter White privilege.

White privilege is as a Black woman, not having the freedom as a White woman is, to wear her natural hair without question / criticism / ridicule / curiosity / comment.

Black women are denied this freedom at a fundamental level. And in its most basic definition, White privilege is the explicit denial of Black people the same freedoms enjoyed by White people.

We internalized our dilemma and tried like hell to adapt our hair to being more aesthetically pleasing and acceptable, to either a) avoid the pain of criticism or b) un-Black ourselves – all so we can ingratiate ourselves to get ahead and make better lives for ourselves and our families in a world that does not accept us. Before we know it, we’re brainwashed, and it’s normal.

Now some will not want to hear this. There will be claims of de-texturing because “manageability” or “too thick” or “big head” or “my husband” or “difficult” or “African women historically altered their hair…”  and I get it. There is truth in all of that.

For me, de-texturing was due to fear. FEAR of not being accepted. FEAR of ridicule. FEAR of being called ugly. FEAR of overstating and asserting my Blackness in a sea of White. I was afraid of what wearing my own hair would do to me and my prospects.

I am asking you to THINK about how you feel / felt ABOUT YOUR REAL HAIR. And why you felt that way? Who made you feel that way? And what did you do about it.

That’s the festering corrosion and corruption of White privilege and what it has done to our cultural self-acceptance and self-esteem.

They can wear theirs, but we can’t wear ours.


Patricia Gaines aka Deecoily is the founder and creator of Nappturality in 2002, the beginning of the natural hair movement. Since 2000 she has been blogging on all things natural hair, Black culture and politics.

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