Beasts and Afros

Last night I watched the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was not quite what I was expecting, but it certainly made me think. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl living in the bayou with her father, they also happen to be Black. In a very real way I connected with her. From the beginning I was struck by her wild and fearless personality. She was innately connected to the natural world. She understood the connections and intricacies that humans so often over look. She held baby chicks up to her ear to listen to them. I mean really listen for what they were trying to say. She raised her tiny arms in defiance and yelled back at the world when there was cause for it. Her life was centered around the bayou and all it had offer. You couldn’t help but be in awe of this tiny girl who epitomized raw, wild beauty.

As I mentioned she also happened to be Black. Now as someone who works in the environmental field and has always felt deeply connected to nature and animals, I am often displeased at the lack of diversity in my field. This extends across the board to gender, age and ethnicity. Here this movie was showing a Black family as intricately connected to the Bayou and all it had to offer…..fish, crab, chickens, trees, water……and they lived off what nature provided. I was elated. Here was the very example I always want to give when environmental issues only get told through the eyes of White people. Or when I look around the room and realize I am one of 4 women and the average age, gender and ethnicty equals 50, male and white. I should say there is nothing wrong with this, but true change cannot be achieved until everyone is at the table. To depict environmental and community development issues as only that of 50 year old white men is ludicrous. The biggest questions this movie left me with was, who gets to live behind the levees and as a result what are we doing to the ecological functions of these communities by relying on such large structural changes? Essentially, who is at the table making these crucial decisions?

You might be asking where do afros come into the mix? Well, as a young child I lived in Lansing. All of my friends were either Latino, Black or White. We were like a rainbow of children, playing dress up together, having birthday and slumber parties. None of us knew or cared what it meant to be a different ethnicty. Sure, we recognized cultural differences, but we embraced this, learned from one another. As a little white girl I grew up wanting to have hair like my black girlfriends so I too could have unique, cool hairstyles. I was fascinated by it. I realize this may make me a bit odd. I have often wondered do other people wish to be a different ethnicty, do they see the beauty in different colors of skin, hair, shape and color of eyes, and other physical features? The little girl in Beasts of the Southern Wild reminded me of this time in my life. Her natural black, poofy and untamed hair left me again longing to have an afro of my own. Morale of the story, I admire women of all shapes, sizes and colors, but there is a special amount of respect and awe I reserve for Black Women who embrace their natural hair. Simply put it is extraordinarily beautiful.

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