I finished Assata: An Autobiography in two days. I should have read it years ago. It a page turner down to the very last word. I read it every chance I got– on the subway, in Starbucks, at work, at home. I soaked up her words as I would the sun if I were sunbathing. Her story was compelling, her words well written. But everything about her story left me wanting more.
For obvious reasons she wouldn’t divulge many details about her time living underground. She did the same with her escape from prison in 1979 and the New Jersey Turnpike incident that left Zayd Shakur and State Trooper Werner Foerster dead. I understand her reasons from withholding certain information. I think the book would have had to be well over 600 pages to document her life. I still wanted more. I wanted to learn about her daughter, and if she lived in Cuba with her once they were reunited. What about her daughter’s father? How did her relationship with Afeni Shakur develop? I wanted every detail. I finished the book with a tremendous amount of gratitude. I don’t know that I could have lived through everything she’s endured. Her book reinforced the work we still have to do and the debt we owe our ancestors. Assata’s autobiography reminded me why we must always remember our history is so much more than slavery. Slavery is only one fraction of it. We possess the blood of greatness long before the atrocity of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.
Now on to the post. As I was deeply engrossed in the book I curiously read about her journey to cut the conk out of her hair to wear her hair natural. She made some observations that are worth noting here.
Full disclaimer: As sure as my name is Bené someone will charge me of creating a natural vs. relaxed hair debate. I’m not. I’m also not endorsing, agreeing with or disagreeing with her statements here. Just think they are worthy of being noted. Emphasis are my own.
One day a friend asked me why i didn’t wear my hair in an Afro, natural. The thought had honestly never occurred to me. In those days, there weren’t too many Afros on the set. But the more i thought about it, the better it sounded…
And then i became aware of a whole new generation of Black women hiding under wigs. Ashamed of their hair–if they had any left. It was sad and disgusting…People are right when they say it’s not what you have on your head but what you have in it. You can be a revolutionary-thinking person and have your hair fried up. And you can have an Afro and be a traitor to Black people. But for me, how you dress and how you look reflected what you have to say about yourself. When you go through all your life processing and abusing your hair so it will look like the hair of another race of people, then you are making a statement and the statement is clear.
…For me, it was important not just because of how good it made me feel but because of the world in which i lived. In a country that is trying to completely negate the image of Black people, that constantly tells us we are nothing, our culture is nothing, i felt and still feel that we have got to constantly make positive statements about ourselves. Our desire to be free has got to manifest itself in everything we are and do. We have accepted too much of a negative lifestyle and a negative culture and have to consciously act to rid ourselves of that negative influence. Maybe in another time, when everybody is equal and free, it won’t matter how anybody wears their hair or dresses or looks. Then there won’t be any oppressors to mimic or avoid mimicking. But right now i think it’s important for us to look and feel like strong, proud Black men and women who are looking toward Africa for guidance.