My friend Susan sent me a link to the blog, before and afro, written by a twenty-something, Jewish, white woman, Michelle Joni. It seems Michelle recently wore a giant afro wig to a Studio 54 themed costume party, and fell in love with it and decided to start blogging about it. On her blog’s About page, Michelle had this to say about her new-found wig wearing habit:
“The afro changed my perspective; it made me think, walk, see and experience life differently. I wear it often. It’s not about feeling black… what I actually feel like is ME, understood more clearly. It’s not an alter ego. It’s an amplified ego.”
Well, after a blog post and photo of Michelle sporting her afro wig at the New York City Food & Wine Festival Shake and Bake event hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and Questlove surfaced last week, she has been receiving a lot of comments calling her racist and offensive.
I readMichelle’s fro’d chicken post, her mission, and apology blog posts surrounding the controversy, and I almost don’t know what to make of her and her intentions.
While I don’t think Michelle set out to offend anyone, when I read her posts, I can’t help but feel the tone and the content of what she says is still somewhat naive and insensitive. She also seems to not be willing to see the implications of her actions or to allow black people to have the feelings they are having in response to her actions and reasoning about why she wears the afro. Instead it seems she wants to claim colorblindness on her part as an excuse to keep doing her own thing.
Yet, as I write these words, I don’t want to be mean-spirited. I am a white, Jewish woman, too. I can’t say anything about all the implications that might come to light in regards to white people appropriating black culture, about white privilege, about the history of black hair, (even though I wrote a post here about the time I worked in a black-owned beauty salon) the psychology of black women and their hair. I can’t because I am not black. It is not my place to be a self-righteous white woman speaking up on behalf of black people. Anyway, Michelle has received many, many comments on her blog from black, and white people over the past week since the fried chicken blog post appeared–many of which were very negative, and which labelled her a racist. I will not call Michelle a racist.
There is also a side of me that feels because I am a white woman who writes about race and race relations, that I walk a very thin line between getting things right, and being someone who patronizes, exoticizes, or idealizes black people. Like Michelle says her blog and wearing the afro is a journey, my blog is also a journey for me. She didn’t intend hers to be about race, but now sees that it is, and she is trying to deal with it. I definitely intended mine to be about race, and making connections across color lines. But, does that make me mightier than her, the white person that is eligible to write about race, because I really “get” black people, that I am truly more down with race relations, racial construct, and she isn’t?
So, it seems like I should support Michelle’s present situation in which she is trying to deal with all the negative feedback she is getting, and trying to understand and respond to people’s opinions and hurt feelings. Right now we are two white Jewish women involved in a similar journey. I don’t have anything over anyone else. We might be able to share and learn from each other.
I haven’t had my “R” calling moment yet. Michelle has been called racist and is being slammed left and right with negativity. I’ve had a little taste of it with a post I wrote about black and Jewish relations, but I worry about the day I make a major slip up and am called the same. Will I be able to handle it? How will I respond? I only hope it is with earnest listening, and with honesty and an intention for true understanding.
Michelle was just interviewed on Chocolate Cake Radio, a show run by two African American women. At the end of the interview, one of the woman said she didn’t believe Michelle was a racist, and that she was going to erase that label for her, and give her a card that she could pull out and show anyone when they tried to label her one. I hope someone will do the same for me when I mess up and get it wrong.
Here’s a link to the Chocolate Cake Radio show. And to read Michelle Joni’s bog before and afro, click on the link here. Please, I’d really love to get your feedback on this one, so post your comments below. Thank you.