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Dysconsciousness

Pacific Educational Group defines dysconsciousness as when I don’t know, but I think I do.

When I was a young child, I was misidentified as a Native person by my classmates and they excluded me from group activities because they thought I was Native. At the time, my favorite way of wearing my hair was in two long braids and the exclusion prompted the first time I wanted my hair gone. First it was a bob haircut. In high school it was a pixie haircut. As an adult, the beauty standard of white dominance had me wrestling with trying to be beautiful (growing my hair long) and wanting it all gone (getting rid of the thing I thought had led to my exclusion).

A year ago, it was a fall evening and I was watching Nappily Ever After, and I watched a black woman shave her head and I thought “if she can do it, so can I” which is not the first time that black women have led me to my healing. I paused the movie and told my husband “I’m shaving my head”. He watched me walk into our bathroom, get out the clippers, and shave my hair off. He then, lovingly helped me finish shaving the back of my head as my children watched wide eyed, asking “you ok, mom?”.

It has been one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. It’s also helped me realize how my experience in childhood coupled with my extremely low understanding of race left me hating my hair as the thing that made me vulnerable to exclusion. My hair wasn’t the issue, internalized white dominance in my classmates was the issue. It wasn’t my two long braids of black hair that was the problem, but rather normalized ideas within the white community of who belongs (and what they look like) and who doesn’t (and what they look like). What I’ve been learning anew this year is the grip my internalized dysconscious white dominance still has over the way I *feel* about the stories swimming inside of me. I had long been telling this story in places where I was facilitating but had not released the narrative I was holding about my hair.

Part of an emerging consciousness as a white person means that we need to look back at our stories – the narratives we’ve been telling ourselves since childhood – and see how our white dominant lens causes us to see ourselves and our world inaccurately. We do not go from centering white cultural norms to anti-racist with any authenticity when we are unwilling to examine the narratives in our heads. I continue to find points of my dysconsciousness…and more and more I’m finding them in the stories that are still gripping my insides. I can intellectualize how the lie of racial difference is woven in my stories…but not *feel* released. That’s what I’m working on.

I’ve come to love my shaved head for many reasons and I’m learning to let go of the belief that my hair is bad. I’m not ready to grow out my hair yet…maybe I won’t ever be. What I’m learning most intensely is to feel my abolitionist practice in my body. The prickles of hair that fall every time I move the clippers over my head remind me to keep looking at the places inside of me with well worn paths of narratives I no longer want to hold and to dig them out. This past year has been teaching me to go beyond what I know to be true. Knowing simply is not enough. In order to unsettle these well worn paths, I must engage in the kind of digging that breaks the back. It has called me sit in the dust, sift it through my fingers, imagine myself outside of what white dominance says about me, dream of new paths, and get to work building them.

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Rebecca Greenidge

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