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The Limits of Blackness


It’s been a while since I wrote about a few of my “Limits of Blackness,” places and things that go “a Negro too far” for me. As African Americans, a lot of time we feel pressure to cosign onto things and fads that we’d rather not be associated with. But often if you express displeasure or point out that you think something is tacky you get all kinds of blow back. People accuse you of running away from your blackness when really you should have the choice whether or not you want to celebrate Kwanzaa or listen to “gangsta” rap music. There’s no law that if you’re black you have to think OJ is innocent, smoke “Black and Milds” and enjoy Jet Magazine’s “Beauty of the Week.”

Last time my limit was wearing traditional African dress to my traditionally American wedding and celebrating the fake, black pride holiday Kwanzaa. Here are a few more things to add to the list:

Funeral T-shirts


First, I hate to knock this because these shirts are born out of tragedy, but it just seems wholly bizarre to wear your dead loved ones on a cheaply made T-shirt, then to wear said T-shirt to the funeral. I also know that this practice is not limited to just black people, but some Latin Americans as well.


Second, why do people wear giant T-shirts with either Tupac of Biggie’s faces on them? This is a glamorized extension of the funeral T-shirt. I realize that people are fans and even I enjoy some Tupac and Biggie songs, but seriously? A T-shirt? The only dead person I ever wore on a T-shirt was my Martin Luther King shirt I got when I was eight at his memorial in Atlanta, Ga. I’m not saying “Juicy” wasn’t a great contribution to the world, but it kind of pales in comparison to being a martyr.

Acrylic nails


I had these once when I was in high school. A lot of the popular girls had them. Even though I had pretty good looking nails I thought, “Hey, why not?” It was horrible because one, the nails looked fake. I couldn’t get over the fakeness no matter how much I looked at them. I looked like I had giant claws even though they weren’t that long and I felt really tacky and skanky. I mean, I was 17. What did I need fake nails for? Was I planning on a career as a beauty pageant contestant, a stripper or the leader of the women’s board at church? On top of that, acrylics destroy your natural nails. It was months before my fingers looked normal again. Just say no to acrylics, people. Work with what you have.

Long waits at black beauty salons


I think the main reason why I stopped getting a relaxer to straighten my hair was because I got sick of having to wait for hours at the salon to get my hair done. I didn’t understand how white salons could just pop people in and out, but at the black salon you waited an hour then it took two hours to do your hair because the beautician is working on three different people at one time. Or she’s talking on the cell phone. Or she gossiping with the customers.

I know that part of the reason why they do this is because they can. Black women have very unique hair. We just can’t run into a SuperCuts and get done up for less than $30. Having African hair is like a science experiment, especially if you want to force it into an unnatural position like straightness. Therefore you have to go to an expert, a black beautician, for the privilege of paying $100 to have them slowly destroy your hair over a long period of time.

I’ve had a few really good beauticians and a ton of rude, brutal women who didn’t listen to me when I said the chemicals were burning my scalp. But the waiting forever is just bad business. I know black folks tend to give one another on passes on things, but waiting four hours to get my hair done is a limit to my blackness.

What’s yours?

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9 thoughts on “The Limits of Blackness

  1. Amen! I’ve never done acrylic nails, worn funeral t-shirts or celebrated Kwaanza. My family were old school folks from the south and they didn’t play that.As for the hairdresser, my experiences have been good. I’ve only gone to 2 salons in my life 1 back home in NYC for about 10 years and 1 here in San Fran for about 5.

  2. You know one of our relatives wanted to do the funeral T-shirt Grandpa Snob. My answer was an ADAMANT NO! I don’t have any to add cause I agree with the ones you indicated.XOXO

  3. big sis: Oh.My.Gawd! You have never told me that before!(Long story to people not related to me, I was living in Texas when my grandfather died and my mother and grandmother didn’t want to tell me because I had a job interview in California. Needless to say, I was all kinds of upset when they told me after they buried him.)But ew, funeral T-shirts? Grandpa wasn’t exactly the arbitrator of class being he was a rural Arkansan who worked with his hands but, um … I don’t think he would have wanted his face on a silkscreen tee. This was a man who liked to walk with a cane and wear off-white suits to church. Who rocked a pocket watch. Who enjoyed taunting the “haters.” I don’t think he and Granny Snob called them “haters.” Their terms was a bit more crude, but let’s pretty up that Arkansas and call those folks “haters.”But, yeah. He wasn’t some young child of the hip hop era who died of tragic gun violence. He was an old man who lived a full life, loved his family and died cause Jesus called him home after a series of illnesses.Gah. Funeral T-shirts. Horrible.

  4. Where have I been? I have never heard the term funeral t-shirts or of groups of people wearing them to their loved one’s burial ceremony, although I have seen plenty of them around. Wow.

  5. karen: Not everyone goes as far as to actually wear them to funerals, but some people do. They were especially popular with the Mexican American families I covered as a reporter in Bakersfield.I thought it was odd to wear a T-shirt to the funeral and the burial. But when I went to the white funerals and they were wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip flops (granted, not funeral t-shirts, but not dressed up either). Later I was hipped to the fact that unless you were “special” in some kind of way, the majority of people did not dress up for Bako funerals, especially if it was the summer time as it gets well over the 100 mark there.People did look nice for country singer Buck Owens’ funeral though. But then he was special.

  6. kc says:

    I have pretty nails, so I’ve never gotten acrylics, but some people don’t so I can see why they would get fake nails. They don’t have to be claws though, they can be classy. I’ve mostly seen the T shirts in New Orleans, but they are almost traditional there (they even had Tees for Katrina). I don’t think it’s that much different than a facebook or myspace group for the deceased. It can be perceived as tacky, but the social pressure will get to you.

  7. co-sign with the para on long waits at the hair salon. I have never understood it and never will why we all have to wait so long. I am a natural girl but I sometimes get too lazy to work with my hair so I think about going to the hair salon and then I remember the queues. allow that!

  8. almond joy says:

    for me it’s celebrating kwanzaa. that’s my limit. plus, according to elaine brown’s memoir, “a taste of power,” dude who invented it was part of COINTELPRO. go figure.

  9. GJones says:

    This is seriously the best and funniest blog Ive ever seen: "I’m not saying "Juicy" wasn’t a great contribution to the world, but it kind of pales in comparison to being a martyr." Is the funniest thins I have read ALL week, I am seriously crying with laughter!

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