Tag Archives: shame

A Package Deal

23 and me

Like many other sane individuals, I paid a company $79 for the privilege of spitting in a tube to await an email with secrets about my heritage. Well, the results are in, and I was surprised to learn that I am, in fact, white.

Yet another sound financial decision on my part.

Well, it didn’t say that I was white, but the analysis did conclude that I am 99.4% European (and over 95% Northwestern European). Zero surprise there. My freckles and love for potatoes betrayed me years ago. But the mysterious remaining 0.6%, which isn’t much from a statistical perspective, was interesting in that 0.5% was identified as Native American and the remaining 0.1% West African. That surely hasn’t shown up in the mirror before.

The explanation shared that I most likely have a great (unknown number of great) grandparent born in the 18th century that was 100% Native American and another possibly even farther removed that was 100% West African. This explanation combined with a little reflection led me to suspect that such relationships may not have been consensual. Who knows, maybe theirs was a beautiful story of forbidden love, but the odds argue for something more sinister. This was not a happy thought.

I understand the basic logic behind the refusal to accept responsibility for the sordid history of one’s family, ethnicity, nation, gender, religion, or any other identity, but I simply cannot accept an arrangement where one can take pride in the past accomplishments of one’s particular heritage without owning the bad parts, too. It seems to me to be a package deal.

I didn’t have to pay good money to spit in a tube to be reminded that I think such a thing.  But I did. And I do.

 

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Freedom Road

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Random Glitter Beard Guy (Not Me. Yet.)

My inaugural participation in No Shave November would have ended today were it not for (a) my wife’s shocking declaration that she likes the beard; and (b) an entrepreneurial law student convincing me to wear a “glitter beard” for a full day if he raised a thousand dollars for the law school’s public interest student organization. He created a GoFundMe page for this effort, and as disturbing as a glitter beard on my face is to consider, last I checked he had raised ten bucks. You could change that, of course, with your donations (click HERE), but this is a classic win-win situation for me.

Glitter beard aside, my life is actually one long story of self-consciousness about physical appearance, but there has been great progress over the decades, and my path to baldness is particularly instructive.

My hair embarrassed me from the moment I realized people judged your appearance. I don’t know exactly how to describe my hair, other than terrible. It was thin, light brown, oily, and curled in all the wrong places with length, with a cowlick smack in the middle of my forehead. I hated it. I tried, without talent mind you, to make it look okay, hoping not to draw attention to it—ever—and in that effort spent more time than I care to know in front of a mirror. In effect, I was a butcher with a comb attempting brain surgery.

Worse, any time the wind blew or rain fell it somehow got worse, and both happened in my hometown on a regular basis. Wearing a hat was okay if it was stapled to my head and never came off in public. I wore out untold back pockets on blue jeans because I carried a comb everywhere I went. Everywhere. I guess I was vain in reverse, not consumed with looking good, just desperate not to be the object of laughter.

This went on for a few decades or so, give or take, and then I started going bald on top, too, as if being pale/skinny/freckly with bad hair wasn’t enough self-esteem for an American male.

And then one glorious day I was reading lovely Anne Lamott talk about her lifelong obsession with bad hair (although her particular malady was frizzy-ness). She mentioned that as an adult a friend with dreadlocks encouraged her to follow suit, but the idea of a middle-aged white woman in dreadlocks took some time to consider. Then, one day, while watching the climactic scene in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne tunnels through sewage to escape from prison and stands in the pouring rain with his arms to the sky in glorious freedom, Lamott thought, “I could never do that. My hair would look terrible.” At that moment Lamott decided to go with dreadlocks. You laugh, but I had to catch my breath. It was me. In effect, it was that story that led me to shave my head.

Here is the kicker: It was so difficult to actually follow through with it because my entire life had been one long attempt to avoid calling attention to my personal appearance. (And let me tell you, shaving your head is one surefire way to draw attention to your personal appearance.) But I did it. Our friend, Devon, did the honors, and as expected, everyone had to comment. (My favorite was when meeting those who hadn’t seen me for some time. They were oddly quiet, and I am sure that my bald/pale/skinny self had them wondering if it was cancer or AIDS. I just let them wonder.) After some time, the comments went away, and all these years later, I could not be happier.

What I learned is that the path to freedom requires the courage to face your greatest fears. And that the freedom is worth it.

It is still difficult to say, but—look at me. I’m up to sporting a glitter beard now if the price is right.