Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Black Naturalist, A Book, and Hair

I've just been reading THE HOME PLACE: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. It's a memoir in which the author talks about his connection to the land and nature, and what it's like to be a black naturalist.

So many passages spoke to me! About being possessed by the land and fascinated by flight. About the power of nature to erase racial (and other divides). About wildness and water, and yes, also the impact of TV!

The author describes how watching ROOTS as a child changed his life. First he was filled with pride -- these were his people. But as the miniseries continued, those feelings got more complicated. He felt out-ed, and "even blacker." He understood, suddenly, racism.

Here's the passage I'd like to share today, in part, because it includes a "hair" experience -- and something I'm learning from early readers of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? is that pretty much everyone has a hair story.

It was the first time I'd had to grapple with race in a significant way. The most racist slights I'd dealt with to that point often took form in people not anticipating or misunderstanding the differences that made me me. I'd learned quickly, for example, that the brittle plastic combs handed out on picture day weren't meant to groom tightly packed black-boy hair. When one of the combs broke off in my little Afro, classmates laughed. Afterward, I asked to wear my hair cut short so that grooming wasn't an issue. And for as long as I can remember others had observed that I “talked white.” This somehow was supposed to make me better or smarter? For a few it make me a “sellout,” an Oreo – black on the outside and white within. But up to that point in my life, I hadn't yet taken a full-on gut punch of racism or truth and questioned my reality.

Roots set me- and the country- straight."
If you love nature -- and even if you don't -- read this book!


  1. Appreciations for making this connection for us to J. Drew Lanham. His title is a surprise so that gets my attention at the get go.

    Anticipating your (with Charles) HAIR in 2018 to be making me think, Irene.

    My first close-up experience with a beautiful full-out Afro was from my college roommate, still my bestie these many years since.

  2. The passage from the book you shared. Wow. Dude is telling unfiltered, straight and true.


Your thoughts?