When I was a little girl, I had thick, nappy, long black hair. Some of my family members did not like my hair because I always wore it in cornrows (or braids). At the age of six, I got my first relaxer. My mother was tired ofstraightening my hair with the hot comb; and I was tired of getting my ears burnt.
On Thursday at School of the Arts, students in an AP Language and Composition (AP English 11) class began their study of two prominent books within American Literature: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. The teacher used a short film to introduce the overarching themes of these books to the class. Directed by Kiri Davis, the film, A Girl Like Me presents teen and young adult voices about the image of black women in society. (Click link to view film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWyI77Yh1Gg)
I was amazed to see and hear the reaction to the film. Some of the students responded as if the issues presented were personal attacks against them. Other students were able to share personal stories in relation to the film. For the generation of students in high school today, I believe the images thrown at them about the body, hair, face, or any other external image is very damaging to oneself. Where’s the positivity? Who are the individuals that love themselves regardless of what people really say? I was stunned to hear the class’ comments. Where were the students who could discuss issues beyond the surface of the film? Where were the students who could examine the deeper socially constructed meanings behind the film?
As educators, we may present topics, films, literature and many other sources to expose students to social, cultural or political issues. We cannot make students see the underlining elements within texts nor can we make them understand the relevancy of what we are presenting. No matter how much we want students to see, read and understand many different stories about the human experience; they have to come to the table with their own experiences.
My truth will always be in my hair, no matter how thick, nappy, long or straight it might be. My experiences shape my understanding of what I read and how I read it. I hope the students in the AP Language and Composition class do not view the classic work of Toni Morrison or Zora Neale Hurston as a piece of literature that “must” be read. I hope they are able to connect their personal experiences to the work. I hope they do not get overwhelmed by the race/ethnicity issues, time period, or gender issues within the works, but they explore the human experiences. If the students are able to explore and delve into the human experience of Jaine Crawford from Their Eyes Were Watching God and Pecola from The Bluest Eye, they will not only be able to write dynamic essays but be able to contribute to the forward movement of this country.