Monday, June 16, 2014

White Girl Braids

Don't ask me what I was thinking because I am not going to have a good answer for you. This past weekend I decided to get some cornrows. You know, white (Norwegian) girl braids.

It was a long day at the urban farm. I was hanging out with my neighborhood friends when I got one of my questionable/impulsive ideas. I had a sudden, strong urge to have a headful of little braids, just like my friend's hair.

Now, I will admit. I thought it would look like Janet Jackson from Poetic Justice or, since I am blonde, maybe like Katie Price. 

But it didn't really look like that. 

The french braids themselves were immaculate. It was just the white girl wearing them felt a little…perplexed??

It really, really hurt getting these braids. It took three hours and my eyes watered the entire time. Angela, the woman who did my hair, never asked me if I was in pain. I suppose that is like a tattoo artist asking if he should stop mid-tattoo. You just don't invite the option for turning back.

While we sat there in Angela's house we watched this movie - The Purge. I'm not the best at watching scary movies, so it helped that if I winced with eyes closed we could collectively know that it was due to the pain of braiding and not because I am a p, – a scared person. 

Anyway, The Purge had an interesting premise about this utopian society where, one night each year, any and all citizens could conduct whatever criminal or murderous activity they desired with no consequences. For twelve hours all law enforcement was suspended. So the idea is that this once-a-year night of violence could purge all American citizens of their violent urges. the trailer.

So there I am, hanging out in the former Cabrini Green neighborhood with these nice folks and I am watching a scary movie with them. Angela sprayed special stuff in each braid (22 of them total) so that my hair would not get frizzy. She advised that I sleep with a scarf on my head so as to protect her masterpiece. 

When the braiding was done, the sharp pains turned into an overall dull head ache that was oddly satisfying yet intimidating (it felt like an instant facelift). I gave Angela a hug and headed home on foot. I walked down Oak Street from Larrabee to Michigan Avenue. During my walk, something strange happened…

The closer I got to the Lake (read: the rich part of town), the longer the stares lingered from passerby. I was wearing jeans, a black coat and a Sox hat with braids sticking out. As I walked past the high snot shops on Oak, I became aware of the parallel between my walk home and the premise of The Purge.

The parallel being that: People are dumb and afraid. Especially (I'm sorry but sometimes) rich folks. Of course, this is not always the case, I know. But, having lived in Streeterville for nearly a year, I can say with confidence that people look at you one way if you are wearing your Cole Haan heels and they look at you another way if you are wearing your Sox hat.

At the end of The Purge (I won't ruin it for you but) there is kind of a surprise backlash from an unexpected group of people. It was a pretty good ending, actually, reminding me that we are all pretty much the same.

We are all just scared animals with varying degrees of tolerance and respect. We walk around in skin suits and make judgements all day long and there is no way to change that. It's how we are wired. We stick with our packs. It's survival.

It's tough for me, sometimes, trying to explore my new city. Because I am hyper-aware of my naivet√© and then there is the fact that I just look kind of milk toast. Back when I used to travel for work, I made a habit of soaking up cultures in India and Russia, trying to understand/assimilate/make friends…just, you know, fit in.

But no matter what I do – whether I try to copy friend's hairstyles or wear stupid sparkle platform heels (actually, they are not stupid, I love them…) I am still going to be me. And you are still going to be you. And, on one night each year, we can hit each other in the face with an axe. No, just kidding, that's in the movie. 

I am going to wrap this up but I don't have a nice feel-good statement. Just basically something about figuring out what it means to be a white girl in downtown Chicago versus Minnetonka, Minnesota, doncha know.



  1. Two! More! Days! Franklin! Larry! Axes! Love!

  2. I've missed you. I've known from the minute I first met you as a little girl, that you were an extraordinary person. Even as a little were extraordinary! Nothing has changed except that you are much more articulate about your wonderful "extraordinariness." I used to be known as the "fun" one. You even looked forward to my visits because I was "fun." How well I can relate to those lost feelings. You will always be a winner to me, Susan. I will never forget the way your father used to talk to me about you. His rhetoric never changed. You were soooo smart, sooo articulate, sooo talented. I know he still feels the same way.

    Don't think he didn't have some of the same feelings and thoughts you've expressed in your Blog .You are a truly authentic "winner" Susan and so is your father despite his current situation. Don't ever forget how much you are loved and respected.