Conformity in the African-American Community





Conformity in the African-American Community

African-Americans have a long history dating back hundreds of years. Their present is affected by things that happened over the course of these years. Their self-identity has always been strong since the times they have faced slavery, discrimination, and racism. They have fought for recognition and equality through harrowing ordeals and have emerged with a distinct culture that defines them. As an individual, our identity is often shaped by our history. Reading the three poems; ‘Homecoming,’ ‘To a dark girl’ and ‘For Sistuhs wearin’ straight hair’ have helped me understand the African American experiences.

Sonia Sanchez is the author of ‘Homecoming,’ a short poem about a young woman who returns to her home on a visit. Sanchez herself was an activist for black culture, establishing African-American studies in several colleges. She encouraged black people not to conform to white culture but rather to appreciate their own. The poem is written in somewhat unusual English. There are no capital letters and the words used are common among the black culture. It was her way of showing non-conformity even in the way she writes. The poem is about a young woman who completes college and goes back home (Gates & McKay 1934). There are two worlds for her, college where there are many whites and her home which is inhabited by black people. The white world is filled with facades, but at home, everything is real, she feels beautiful among her own people. The poem shows me how black people can struggle with conforming to the white culture which is wrong. Different cultures make the world more diverse, and everyone should appreciate theirs.

‘For sistuhs wearin’ straight hair’ is written by Carolyn Rodgers. It talks about a black woman who could not keep her hair straight even after she had permed it. She wanted her hair straight, but it soon went back to its normal kinky state. She says that her hair and kitchen did not get the message that they were not supposed to go back home (Gates & McKay 2126). This poem explains how black women struggle to keep their hair straight. In my opinion, their hair is full and perfect even when it is not straight. However many have trouble with this and want to make it straight and would go to any lengths to achieve it. The speaker in the poem even admits that the straighteners used burn the scalp which is unfortunate. Society sometimes considered natural hair to be untidy and this is what makes black women not to appreciate their hair. I think that they should not suffer when trying to look a certain way just because people say they should.

Gwendolyn Bennett’s poem ‘To a dark girl’ carries a similar theme, urging the brown-skinned girl to love herself. The author expresses her admiration for the girls’ physical features; her brown skin, her round breasts, her voice, and even her eyelids (Gates & McKay 1268). Her gait is likened to the walk of queens. The author also introduces the topic of slavery saying that the girl also looks like she is bound by the shackles of slavery when she walks. The speaker concludes by asking the girl to forget that she was once a slave and allow herself to be happy.

From this poem, I can tell that the brown girl who is the subject has low self-esteem. She does not like the way she looks. Perhaps she thinks that her breasts are too round and she wishes they were smaller. Her walk suggests that she is timid and the author tries to reassure her to unbind the chains and let herself walk like a queen. The poem shows the struggle of the brown girl to fit in with others concerning her skin color and her body. She is ashamed of herself because she is a descendant of slaves, and she cannot be happy. This shows how powerful the impact of slavery was on African-Americans; it robbed them of their self-worth and happiness. They felt that they were ugly and became very unhappy. Reading the poem, I get the understanding that Africa-Americans go through a lot judging by their physical appearance because they do not think they are beautiful enough. Long after slavery, its shadow still follows them around. They struggle with how they were treated in the past, and they cannot be free and happy because of it.

The three poems have a common theme in them; they all warn against non-conformity. In the first poem, the college student had to fit in the white world. In the second one, an African-American straightens her hair and is disappointed when it goes back to its curly nature. She does this because society thinks that straight her makes her look beautiful and presentable. The third girl, a dark girl, struggles with her self-image. She does not like the way she looks, and the author tells her how lovely she is and that she should allow herself to be happy. The three poems shed light on the way African-American struggle to fit into a certain stereotype concerning beauty. They want to conform to standards of getting a college education, straight hair, and light skin. All cultures should be appreciated equally, and I think that everyone is beautiful just as they are. Black women need not suffer burning their scalps for straight hair or look down upon their physical appearance. They should embrace and accept themselves for who they are.

Works Cited

Gates, Henry Louis, and Nellie Y. McKay. “The norton anthology of African American literature.” (1997).