Black Privilege And The Luxury Of Awesome Hair

I’m so over the incessant echo chamber of white fashion. Straight hair, blonde hair, red hair, curled hair. White hair. Get over yourselves.

You don’t see a lot of African American hairstyles in the beauty magazines. Sure, sometimes you’ll see People magazine gush about whatever updo Beyonce is wearing at some red carpet event, but for the most part, it’s just set aside. It’s not deemed as important as the dresses and styles of white celebrity women. In the internet age, we do get a lot of blogs and information sites cultured for us, like Curly Pearl. I don’t suppose many white folks ever visit those pages.

Well forget them. They don’t know what they’re missing. You might hear a lot of black women complain about how difficult it is to manage their hair. You might hear that it gets very frizzy and nappy and a nightmare to deal with. And to be fair, it’s kind of true. But it’s also kind of wonderful.

As people of color, hair is something we all bond over. For black men, barber shops are a safe haven. It’s always been one of the most popular hangout spots, where the guys just chill, tell jokes, talk about sports, and talk about life. It’s a fraternity, one white men will never truly understand. It’s just not the same as the clubhouse at the local golf course. What a shame for them.

As for the ladies, our beauty salons are very similar, though they aren’t as infamous in popular culture. With longer hair, it’s even more of a struggle than it is for the men. But that gives us yet another avenue to compare styles, give each other tips, and compliment each other.

Anything easily attained isn’t worth having. The same is true of black hair. Though it requires a lot of work to maintain, black hair is unique and beautiful.

When I was a little girl, I used to feel alienated and different for many reasons, but one that sticks out the most in my mind is my hair. I used to be jealous of the white girls at school that so effortlessly threw their hair into pony tails or could just throw on a headband. Why didn’t I have cute hair like that? Why did I have to work so hard and spend so much time to make myself presentable?

I no longer feel that way. I’m proud of my fabulous hair. And the best thing is that the sky is the limit in terms of options. I can have an afro. I can have cornrows. I can have thousands of combinations of braids and updos and bobs. I can keep it natural, or I can use extensions. Oh lord, there are so many extensions to choose from. My head is a canvas on which I can paint freely with broad strokes or precise artistry. How many white women can honestly say that?

If anyone ever tells you that you are less than, rise above it and be your own person. I learned that the hard way, but as in all things in life, that’s the best way to learn anything.

Be confident. Be beautiful.

B.

I Babble About My Friend And Where I’ve Been

It’s been months since I’ve visited this space. I’ve attempted to start a post ultimately abandoning it in favor of short bursts of thought on Twitter or opting to just keep whatever it was I wanted to say to myself. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to be open and expressive but had also figured out a pretty adept method of feigning transparency. I would give up enough to appear as though I was sharing (and I was) but I was also keeping enough to myself to remain properly hidden. The last few months (maybe a year) has been no different. I’ve been thinking about coming back to this space but I didn’t know what I could say here without spilling everything. I have a tendency to talk too much and over share and then spend time worrying about who will read what and use it against me or who will read what and judge the punctuation or who will read what and read more to it than it is. The last few days, especially, I’ve had an urge to visit this place and talk as openly as I could without “hiding behind metaphors or similes”. I’ve put it off again in favor of short bursts of thought on Twitter and opting to just keep whatever it was I wanted to say to myself.

I started “blogging” before it was called blogging in 2001. I had a website whose domain was taken from me called www.basseyworld.com and there I had an online journal. On the journal, I would literally write pages and pages and pages every single day. Some of the posts were about the hilarious “only you Bassey” moments I faced while living in Brooklyn but a lot of those earlier posts, now lost forever, also were a window to my early struggles with bipolar II disorder. Before I was officially diagnosed, before I even understood what was happening to my mind and my body and to my emotions. I documented every waking moment hoping that at some point, it would all go away or at the very least, someone would read what I was writing and say, ‘Hey! That’s not that weird. It happens to me too.’ and I did get that. I was overwhelmed with the support and the “me too” I received in that space. But ultimately, as the years went on, I realized that maybe I didn’t want to be known as that person. I stopped using the word “bipolar” and started only saying “depressed”. I figured “depressed” made was easier for people to digest. I felt they wouldn’t be afraid of “sadness”. After I discovered I was pregnant with my son, I realized that the internet was really not a safe space for me to be as open as I had been. My fears that people would read my words and personal feelings and hold it against me in some way were founded. And I was terrified of being told I was unworthy of love or understanding because of this illness that people refused to understand. I didn’t want to be that girl so I paused and went back to creating distance. I started writing about mental illness for other websites but was very careful about how I spoke about it. I kept it safe. Even as I became known as an advocate for mental illness, I still wanted to own the rights to my story and my privacy so I was selective about what parts of the story I would tell. My writing has suffered for it. I’m not a woman who is comfortable with secrecy. I’ve never been good at keeping secrets. I’ve always wanted to share and be heard and understood.

I’m babbling because I don’t know how to get to the point and the reason why I’m sitting here tossing poorly punctuated run on sentences at whoever in the world still visits me here.

My dear friend, Erica Kennedy is dead. I wish I had more sugar for it but they’ve melted with my tears. Erica Kennedy is dead. I “met” Erica about 5 years ago via Facebook. She sent me a friend request one day out of the sheer blue and having known her name and that beautiful face of hers in this small online writing word, I was immediately starstruck. She was everything I hoped to be she was funny and intelligent and snarky and sarcastic and talented and aloof and beautiful and well liked. She reminded me of the older sister I’d always wanted but was also scared to death of not measuring up to. Over the first few tentative exchanges, I would come to learn that Erica and I had far more in common that I would have liked. I’m not here to tell her story because she was fiercely guarded and private and I will honor that forever. But in sharing with me her story and her journey, I was encouraged to face mine. Erica Kennedy is the reason that my work and my writing and my life with bipolar II disorder was taken off this little blog and put on The Root and My Brown Baby and Ebony and Huffington Post and all the other places you’ve seen it in writing. Her ability to tap into your fear and then allow you no excuses to shy from doing “it” (whatever “it” was) was a gift. She was a visionary. She was revolutionary in the way she approached life and work and friendships and networking. Erica and I would have long conversations about everything under the sun. We would laugh until our sides hurt and then with one word she would have my heart aching so furiously that I wouldn’t be able to see the sun if it asked for me. Then out of nowhere, just a quick turn of phrase and I’d be back to laughter. She knew how to motivate and encourage and challenge. She asked the tough questions and dared you to avoid answering them. She was abrasive. She was distant. She had a way of appearing and changing everything you knew to be true about how you liked to live your life and then disappear without a word. But she’d be watching. And every once in awhile, you would get a message of encouragement or pride or a suggestion that made that thing you were working on sit up just a bit higher. And she always knew someone to connect you with. I remember a conversation that started with just a g-chat message, “Bass. You’re so freaking funny. Why are you wasting it on Facebook. You need to be on TV.” and then she was gone. Until the next time she’d hit me up in some other forum. She encouraged me to write about illness. She shared with me alternatives to the medication that was taxing my pockets and my spirit (www.omegabright.com). She was the first to make writing a book something that could actually happen. I protested and all I got from Erica was, “I don’t get it. Why not? You’re a writer. Write.”. She had no room for excuses or reasons why not. “Just do that stuff.” And can we talk about the network of fly and talented women she looped me into? She created a secret group and invited these dynamic women who on the surface had very little in common with each other. All she knew is that she thought they were amazing and wanted to know what would happen if she let us loose with each other. And boy did we happen. I won’t get into that because we be on some YaYa SiSTARhood math but all I say is that, “Erica be knowing”.

Erica knew.

When I finally met her face to face in Miami. I was struck by how incredibly beautiful she was. We sat on the beach for hours one day talking about life and love and everything we could. She was trying to figure some things out. When we went to her tiny apartment near the beach, she reached into her closet and handed me a dress. “Here. This would look nice on you.” I’ve never worn that dress. It was far too long for my 5’3 frame but at this point, I might never take it off.

I’ve been vacillating between disbelief and tears and rage and tears all day. I watched as the news started to trickle out slowly over the social networks. I saw how far her reach was and the impact she had on so many people. The girl was loved. We might not have known her as intimately as we would have liked, she was like a butterfly or hummingbird that way but her importance to this world is undeniable. I’m sorry she couldn’t feel that when she was here. I have stories of her sadness and her quiet moments but as I said earlier, that’s her story. What I will say is that I hate this thing. I hate it with everything I own. And I will fight it until there is no air left. Forget shame. Forget stigma. Forget you for judging anyone who lives with this terrible thing. You have no idea. None. I’ve said it before, anyone who judges anyone for treating or dealing with illness has never done a brave thing.

As for me, one thing I will take from this and remember is that I will tell my story while I’m here. My silence serves no one. I started The Siwe Project because of Siwe Monsanto. I continue it for women like Erica Kennedy. For Phyllis Hyman. These are my inspirations. For the nameless and the faceless. For everyone who suffers in silence. For those who are often accused of strength. For you. For me.

Forget fear. Love anyway.

B.

PS. I apologize for the rambling and how poorly written this was but whatever. My friend is dead and I don’t care about judgments right now. I care about life and love and living it and loving it. And doing the very best we can to be okay in this world that constantly threatens are happiness.

Thank you, Erica, for all you’ve done for me. I will honor your life and your legacy by yelling from the center of the universe, “I REFUSE TO LET THIS THING TAKE ANOTHER FREAKING LIFE!”

Naija World Live: Reality Sets In

The floor of my bedroom is a mess. A few days ago, using my UFYH App, I went through the process of organizing and straightening up. I wanted things to be orderly when I got back from my trip. At this point though, I hadn’t even begun to pack so why I thought I could clean a week before I went anywhere, I’m not sure.

So now, the floor of my bedroom is a mess. The same suitcase that traveled with me to South Africa lies on my bedroom floor filled with clothes and shoes; asking the same question, “What else?” I filled with every shoe I think I might need. A few pairs of jeans. Dresses and dresses. underwear. Toiletries. Jewelry. Still it lies, there, mouth wide and endless, “What else?”

I respond, workout clothes. A Jacket. Another sweater. More underwear. Perfume. Lotion.
She accepts these quietly, even making room for them. I stand over her certain I’ve packed it all but equally certain I’ve forgotten something important.

She knows, she whispers this time, “What else?”

Courage. Strength. Reassurance. The unconditional and inescapable love of my baby. Hope. Whatever the opposite of fear is. Confirmation. Faith. Laughter. Peace. Calm. Whatever the opposite of worry is. Support. Encouragement. Whatever the opposite of failure is.

Is any of that TSA approved? I don’t know if it will fit in my carry on. I just need to it with me.

My bedroom floor is a mess. As I sit on my bed, writing this and surveying what’s been packed and what needs to be packed. The very 730 AM of this startles me. I’ve been awake for 2 hours. Lately, my dreams have been come more vivid and the push me awake at 5:30 certain that they are real. And I guess they are real somewhere. I’m just not sure why they’ve built themselves into 3-D image and sound now.

This trip to Nigeria is as much about connecting with my past as it is about building a future for myself and for my family. The last time I was there, I was 18 and newly graduated from high school. I was a few months from starting college and the world was prepped and ready for me. Then, I was innocent and young and naive. Never been kissed and unaware of the illness that would eventually cut my college career short. Now, I’m 36, a single mother. I’ve seen a career skyrocket and then eventually stopped short by an illness that I am now treating and managing successfully. I have my good days and bad days but I’m just grateful I’ve had days. I’m worried about how I will be received. I’m worried that my extended family will see me as a failure and not the success story they predicted for me. I know this is all in my head but some of it is real. My life turned out nothing like I wanted for myself let alone the expectations of others. I’ve been doing a lot of work to push those feelings aside and affirm what I have done and who I am.

My therapist tells me constantly with exasperation and concern, “You are entirely too hard on yourself.” She says this every week and every week, I shrug and say, “I don’t think I’m hard enough on myself.” She’s right, of course. This journey is part of that. Trying to feel like I deserve the good stuff and stop being afraid that with the good immediately comes the bad. I’m not a pessimistic person by nature. I picked up this annoying habit around 6 years ago. It was on it’s way 3 years before that.
I don’t know where I’m going with this and I’m riffing right now but what I do know is that I’m ready. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m anxious. I’m not sure what the next few weeks holds for me but I’m ready.

I’m going to miss my boy but he has school while I’m gone. My sister will be here to take him. My family, as always, where he is concerns steps right in and fills the gaps. The other day, he offered me half of his UNO cards. He said, “I’ll keep the other half so we can still play when you’re in Nigeria.” He then reminded me to keep my laptop and iPad charged so I wouldn’t be bored on the trip. “It’s a long, long, long trip”, He says, “I know you get bored sometimes.” That’s my kid. He’s annoying and talkative and can’t sit still but he’s a good person. He’s a kind, thoughtful, empathetic and compassionate person. And he deserves the best of everything and everybody he encounters. I’m doing this for him so that he will have everything he needs.

My bedroom floor is still a mess. My suitcase still wide and inquisitive asks me again, “What else?”

Nothing. I’ve got this.

and maybe another pair of shoes.

In Which I Attempt to Understand And Remember How This Is Done

I don’t do disappointment well. When someone I care about takes a trust or a belief or an understanding and either crushes or dismisses it, the hurt from that feels like a thousand pin pricks and then a thousand more and then a thousand more. I often don’t know what to do with it. I’m emotional and impulsive and a Leo so I lash out. Show claws and teeth before the hurt gets any closer.

The hurt comes anyway. Never the same way. I’m too tired to list. Too numb to care.

When it hurts so much that the brain that protects you tells your heart, “No. We can not feel this. If we feel this, then we will break into two and there is no room for that here. No space for it. So think of nothing. Own that nothing and wear it around your neck like a talism.  It will protect you. This numbness. This nothing. This ‘don’t think about it’ will protect you… for a little bit. When it stops, then find something else. Something that feels like a screaming. Something that sinks deep into your chest. Something that awakes the dead with your song. Let it bellow. Let it moan. Let it live in your bones like a reckoning. Let it stand there and stare into the middle distance. Let this hurt do whatever the fuck it wants to do. This is how you stay alive. this is how you facilitate a healing. This is how you own yourself when it feels like the world was removed from beneath your feet. You find a way to stand despite it. And because of it. And without it.

You just do.

I go through stages: 1 The anger comes first. My lack of impulse controls gaurantees that this anger will find a home in some writing. Some email inbox will glow with the embers of my words. 2. I will apologize for the anger. For how the words must have felt when the entered you. I will apologize for the barbed wire tongue and the glass shard sentence. I will not apologize for being angry. I will not apologize for being hurt.  That is your job. 3. I will feel it. It comes slowly. There will be a choice between paper or plastic at the grocery story that will encourage a tear to escape down a sunken cheek.  4. The other tear will fall when you realize that you’ve missed the green light in traffic. By the time you get to the corner, by the time the car has made it’s way into driveway or parking lot or highway shoulder, your body will be wracked with sobs and you will feel it. Every barbed wire and glass sharred everything. You will feel it and you will hold it and you will tell yourself that crying does nothing and you will cry anyway. You will pull yourself together find tissue or napkin to dab at the face, blow the nose. You will check your face in the driver’s side mirror. You will allow lipgloss. Something to say that you are okay. Your heart will still beat in ill timed metronome. Your stomach will still leap and rush. Your hands will still shake. Your heart will still be broken and laying in pieces on the floor.

You will deal. You will heal.

But today, tonight, you have my permission to be irrational. To call him or her names. To be petty. To be hurtful. To be angry. To say terrible things about his girl, his mom, his ex, his favorite cap. Laugh, if you can manage it. It if you can’t, pray, that you will manage it.

One day, when the sun promises you a tomorrow you can handle, you will feel nothing. This time it will not be a numbness. It will be a nothing. A reminder that sometimes it ends. And this is when the  you will get over it begins

For my sake and yours, may it soon begin.

B.

Who You?

My name is Bassey pronounced “ahhh” like a sigh.  Libyan born, Arkansas bred, Chambers County fed, Queens led writer/poet/neurotic. I’m half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius… the left over bit is a caramel creme center. I’m also really bad at math. I’m a stubborn pushover and an underachieving overachiever. I’ve been on TV. I’ve been in magazines. I’ve been on the couch watching VH1 reality shows. Sometimes I travel the country spreading my message of hope and plots to take over the world… I mean cupcakes. I’m contemplating a career change. How to combine my writing and performance with my love of reality shows about drag queens, I’m not sure. I love shoes, boys and candy in that order.

Oh right… I’m also the founder and creator of a non-profit organization called The You Project. We deal with mental health awareness in the global black community.  I’m also writing a book about living with bipolar II disorder and depression. The title kicks so much butt, I should just publish that and then drop the mic and moonwalk the hell off stage.

RIP Michael Jackson.