Thursday, April 29, 2010


Yesterday I was at a book launch in London.  Overall it was a good event, the two books being released dealt with transnational families and lone mothers of mixed-race children. Two different research projects, but both conducted within the same department at London Southbank brought there union together for this 3 hours event.  This is not the point of this post, but rather a background to explain the conversation provoked afterward during wine and canapes hour (sounds fancy I know!).

I was in a conversation with a couple of older Black women, both of Caribbean descent who now live in London and do research around families and mixedness/race.  During our loud conversation one woman brought up the subject of hair.  Earlier in the Q and A round a woman from the audience brought up the subject of hair and how white lone mothers felt about doing their mixed race child's hair.  The presenter commented that for the white lone mothers it was a big issue as many felt they could never leave the house without their child's hair being done.  Otherwise, that would reflect back on them as "bad mothers", especially to black single mothers.  So their child's hair became a physical site of surveillance by the community and a sign of being a good mother.

In our little group the two older women began to comment on the politics of hair for them growing up and how that affected the way in which they wore their hair.  One woman was constantly reminded of how kinky her hair was while growing up in Jamaica, being compared to her lighter, straighter, "more beautiful" sister.  So she rebelled and began to dreadlock her hair and now 30 years later it is still in dreads, but now it is fashionable and her hair is considered "pretty" to some.

I chimed in, retelling the story of my childhood where my dad, every morning before school, would sit me down on the floor between his knees, take out a big brush, put some water on it and squirt a bunch of Pink Oil Moisturizer on my hair and brush it back into one big and puffy ponytail.  By the end of the day it would look a hot mess since the who front of my had would frizz up and sit there while the back of my hair laid smooth.

Hair is a defining statement and can say a bit about who we are.  I have made it a conscious effort to keep my hair "natural" - refusing the temptations and appeals by others to chemically straighten my hair.   I can't lie, I did it once and it burn the shit out of my scalp and left my hair limp and lifeless, necessitating me to have my friend straighten it with a flat iron every time I want to go out to not look like a "Voodoo Queen" as another of my friends so eloquently told me one night.  It was after this disastrous run in with a tube of smelly relaxer that I decided to cut my hair off in March 2005 down in Baton Rouge.  I hated it at first and soon realized that finding a competent hair dresser would be just as hard as finding an honest lawyer so I went through years of bad cuts, experimenting, trying to find the cut that fit me.

But I vowed never to give into social pressure to have that long straight look.  So when I moved to England I toyed with the idea of going short again. I had grown out my hair thinking I wanted it to be long and curly, free to roam on its own accord. After going though 1-2 bottles of conditioner a week and having to sweep my bathroom floor everyday cause of my unruly hair I gave that shit up real quick.  I cut the mop just after New Years 2010.  I was happy with it, but still felt like it was to much. So one day, about 2 weeks ago, while walking in the city centre on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon I walked into a salon and asked if they had a specialist who could cut mixed race hair. They did.  I think asked if she was free to cut some hair. She was.  The result is a short crop to the scalp that I can work with.  My statement: I'm tall, brown, educated, and I can rock a shirt cut just as good as any long weave...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I realize more and more that I am an immigrant.  8 months into my move to the UK my status as "foreigner" is more and more ingrained in my sense of identity.  Visa problems, cultural differences, lack of general knowledge of habits and local customs, unable to speak the "correct" language all solidify my status as an "Other" in a way different from my "othering"in the States.  

I've been quiet this past month.  Coming off my half marathon in Prague I moved into a house in an amazing location outside the city centre, increased my hours at the organisation I am working for, decided that I wanted to start creative writing so began my first short story,  wrote a working paper for an online publication series through London Southbank University, and agreed to present once more on May 4th AND co-organize a conference on Race and Ethnicity in the Arts in June in London.  So to say the least I have been a little busy.  But in this time as well I have had to contemplate about my status in this country as my visa ends at the end of September, 2010. 

Coming back from Prague both Mike and I had to go through immigration at Bristol airport.  A small airport with just a few immigration officers, one is allocated for non-UK and EU citizens.  Mike and I were the only two in the line and after 15, yes 15, minutes of questioning we were allowed to go.  My visa is good for 15 months and Mike's for 3, yes 3, years.  Nonetheless this woman wanted to make sure we knew we were immigrants in HER country.   My visa was questioned up and down - "What is the course you are studying?  Why did you want to study in the UK?  What do you plant to do when you are done?  How are you funding yourself?  Why are you working?  How many hours a week do you work?  What is the pay?  Oh, why are you working again?"  Question after question left me more and more anxious as I felt I had doen something wrong by coming back into the UK with a LEGAL and VALID visa.  

Mike was then interrogated and his questions even harder and more personal.  After it was found out that is working 30 hours a week and still in search of a professional Project Engineering job in the middle of a recession the woman whips out her hands and counts on her fingers how long Mike has been in the country without a professional job.  After that condescending act she then asks "Well, how are you supporting yourself?" to which Mike responded "Well, with the job I am working 30 hours a week."  Then I added, "And I am also helping out with bills since I am funded." To which she replied "Oh, well isin't that nice of you.  Carry on."

That performance left me mentally exhausted and utterly pissed off.  I do not expect special treatment because I am American and think I have some ingrained right to go wherever I please in the world. On the contrary, I find that behaviour and way of thinking obnoxious and ethnocentric.  But what I do find unacceptable and down right degrading is the way in which "foreigners" are treated in the West when they are traveling for legitimate and valid reasons.  You don't want me in your country, don't give me a visa to either study of work - period.

But, it has been a good lesson and one in which I know will keep teaching me.  I am the "Other" here because of where I happened to be born and raised.   Most of the time it is not a real issue, but once the law comes into it my status become more and more real.  Presently, I am going back and forth with LSBU about renewing my visa for another year so that I can stay and write-up my dissertation here and defend back in the States next May.  

With the new visa regulations, that change literally ever 6 months to get harder and harder, I now have to go through a new set of hoops to show my student status for the extension: £1600 pounds in my account and an electronic letter of acceptance alongside another biometric analysis and £350 application fee.  After that year ends the process will begin again to finagle how I can then stay to start my career.

Life is a funny thing isin't it?  Logistically my life would easier if I just took my ass back to the States and started a career there.  But logistics and happiness do not always go hand in hand.  Despite my immigrant status, the problems I always incur with immigration, the fees and taxation these people pay in this country, and the awful food (sorry Brits) I love the quality of my life this country presented to me and that i happily embraced.   Being an immigrant has helped me understand the issues and complexities of politics and law around human life and the ideas of human rights.  This is translating into my writing and research.  So now I end this long rant by saying that people need to think twice before they go on about immigrants and immigration because when it comes down to it immigrants are people with a history and story.  Do not let media hype and over sensationalism cloud your judgement on a group of people labeled by the state.  In this vein the recent legislative law passed in Arizona is an abomination to basic human rights and we all need to voice concern about the implications that law has in "othering" both nationals and immigrants and what that can do to your basic human rights.  

Thanks for reading

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's Been A While

Since I have written.  We have moved into a new house so the last few weeks have been hectic since the half marathon.  Soon to come the story behind the move and the pictures of the house and new garden.  Stay tuned cause you know you want to know....