Piriye Altraide is an African-born Aussie, who was mostly raised in Perth but classifies herself as ‘a child of the world.’
When at first I took out my hair extensions, I expected to feel this sudden sense of freedom. Like “Yes, go civil rights! Time for a return to the *natural* woman.” That kind of thing you know.
Instead I felt strangely the opposite. So burdened – a slave-like person reflected back at me in the mirror. It was like I was weighted down and encumbered by this hair that seemed to hold me back in this imposed position of lower than thou. Not beautiful enough, says the Western world. So meagre. So plain. So ‘slave’.
I tried to then think how to focus on my face. The eyes, the lips… to be brought to focus so that people wouldn’t notice the hair. This was a challenge for me. It was something a little different for me, which was good. It was forcing me to think outside the box. For those who haven’t had the dilemma of ‘good hair’ this may seem…strange.
What would help is understanding, because then it wouldn’t be awkward or weird to try and describe it. Because then there would simply be an understanding. Without the need for any words… And yet from this single moment I felt more words pouring out of me, forming within me, something I always wanted to say and express. As the new year dawned on me, as again I attempted to tackle this recurring demon of ‘identity’. Discovering who I needed to be. And so as usual I let the thoughts flow. Tamed, for your convenience, but not fully unrestrained…
I want to be an interpreter of diversity, an investigator of human psychology, philosophy.
I want to document the way, and why and how. The if, the but, the now.
Why people think the way they do, the mysteries of the human view.
No, I don’t want to do anything more. Go anywhere. I just want to sit down and write…Write about expectations. Write about what people expect of me. Write about what should and shouldn’t be.
I truly believe you should see a person for who they are, hold them accountable for who they are, before you even see what colour you are. Expect from me based on the person I am, and not based on any background. Any creed. Any race. Or, not expect at all.
Whether I should be expected to like African guys, or not like African guys?
Whether I should like hip hop, or not like hip hop?
Whether I follow more post rock, Indie, Punk, Jazz, Blues, Pop, Soul…Or any other genre.
Or whether I don’t.
Whether I dress classy, or whether I chuck on some high-top sneakers or punk chains.
Whether I do or not (I finally realised) is up to me. It’s up to… me!
So whosoever would try, stop putting me in a box.
Whether I bounce to Raggamuffin, or rock out to Big Day Out.
Just because you see my skin there is suddenly a list of expectations. Of what I should do, Or be?
Instead I’m sorry – I’m just me. And whatever I choose to be, I be! And so accept that… Accept that that is me!
Finally, I stop feeling guilty about it. I don’t have to be static in one genre, taste or image. I can be whoever I like, whenever I like, and that’s it. And thats me.
If one day I want to put on the African hat – fine. That should be accepted. Another day I become European, then fine. No crap about it. No qualms. Only be broad-minded. To accept that people are influenced by so many cultures in all. That really, we are all children of the world. Not one race or another, but a wonderful fusion of whatever we choose to accept and grasp and love as our own. And let each one be to whatever part of that he or she so-ever chooses. Leave them be. And let them take. And let them love. For their own. Then, well, it was at that point – I had to look in the mirror and accept what I saw. I had to look in the mirror and say; ‘This is me… And I’m not ashamed.’
We all need to do that, every once in the while. To look in the mirror, and accept you. To look in the mirror and finally say, with overwhelming relief this is me…
And I’m not ashamed.