This is why I don’t wear a head covering

(Breaking the comb)

Photo: Moses Okonji Photo: Moses Okonji

Could it be
That this melanin in my skin is indicative of inferiority within?
Could this sun-kissed wonder
Be nature’s blunder?

As a girl it was ingrained in my mind, baked into my scalp,
That my hair was too much
My dark was too much to clutch, not lovely as such
As my lighter-hued sisters, pinch my skin, touch
Ups every month of creamy crack is wack but oh so real
To feel that comb slide through my kitchen like a white girl

I ask my daughter what she wants for her birthday
She say,
I want my hair to shake
At only 3, already longs to be free
So I braid as best I can, slip beads in,
Refuse to be afraid of the Disney scam, seeds ingrained
That to be a princess
Requires we to be white like snow white
Like death like blonde like frozen

But without sun, it is impossible to grow

So, just shake, baby girl, the world
You whip your hair back and forth like Willow
And if it be stiff, at least it’s still strong like Brillo
Let them know that, that no lye,
Conditioning relaxer cream is Just for Me
And definitely not for you
Let them know the truth

That this new princess here is enthroned to Queendom
To skin so sun-burnt it’s beyond toasted,
It’s beyond charcoal black, it’s blue
It’s fire! A mindset rewired
The flames engulfing, it torches, it scorches
Thoughts of not being good enough, pretty enough
Worthy of respect or
Inferior on the interior
You’re a force to be reckoned with
A hurricane, fueled by
Volcanic eruptions of beauty, it crashes
Blazing a new crown for all

So, Cinderella, come sweep these ashes

Because it could it be
That this pigmented skin
Is Indigenous power and potential within
That we are merely lightning and thunder
wrapped in beauty … yes

We are melanated Wonder.

Celmali Jaime Okonji is a spoken-word poet and teaching artist from Bronx, N.Y. A pastor’s kid, she grew up “very Mennonite” at the Evangelical Garifuna Church. She is a missionary in Nairobi, Kenya, with her husband, Moses, and their two children. 

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