99 Problems

Published on October 30th, 2013 | by Ama Karikari Yawson


Ama Karikari Yawson’s Crusade To End Hair Bullying

Hair bullying? “What’s that?” you may ask.  It is the maltreatment and demeaning of individuals based on their hair texture or hair style and unfortunately, it is a very real occurrence.

Sadly, black children are disproportionately the victims.  They were victimized on national television in August when Sheryl Underwood, a co-host of CBS’ The Talk” commented that Heidi Klum’s habit of saving her biracial children’s shorn afros was “nasty” and then told a white co-host that saving ‘long, silky stuff’ is fine.

Hair bullying also occurred when an Oklahoma school with a majority African-American board sent a 7-year-old black girl, Tiana Parker, home in tears for wearing her hair in locks, an age-old method of styling afro-textured hair .  The school’s dress code says that “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” Sadly, my three-year old son and I also experienced it.

I had gone with my dad to take my older son, Jojo, to the barber shop.  This was not Jojo’s first hair cut and the others had not been great.  The past barber insisted that we shave his head near-bald in a Caesar because that is the “easiest” hair cut for a toddler.  This time would be different, I thought.

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I explicitly told the barber that I did not want it bald, just shorter.  The barber started shaving it bald from the very middle and front of Jojo’s head. When I complained he responded “How can I tell you this? You’ve got a real nig*** here.  He is a native boy.  He is from the tribe.  This ain’t pretty hair.  This is the best cut for him.”  I forced a giggle and then entered a state of paralyzed shock.  This black barber had referred to my son as the n-word.  Don’t get me wrong, he did not say it the way a Ku Klux Clansman would say it.  It was clear that he would refer to himself and other black men and boys using that same n-word.  But should that make a difference? No matter how much certain black people claim that the n-word has been re-appropriated, the word still has a vicious bite to me.

I was just sick to my stomach. Thoughts about how I’m going to shield my son from internalized racism ran through my mind.   I could not sleep well.  I had read somewhere that all lessons are better conveyed through stories.  I wanted to write a story, but I’m not creative, I thought to myself.  Then one day, I was watching Super Soul Sunday on OWN and a speaker said that art is no different from prayer.  She said that Michelangelo admitted that he did not create David alone, God created David and MichelAngelo just removed the excess stone.  Those comments liberated me and I started praying to God for a story.  God gave me Sunne’s Gift.

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Sunne’s Gift is about a magical creature named Sunne.  God imbues Sunne with the power to make the sun rise and set.  For that reason Sunne’s hair grows out in spirally twists towards the sun.  Sunne’s straight-haired siblings, who have magical powers with respect to the soil, water and wind, poke fun of Sunne’s hair. Sunne starts beating the spirals of hair to fit in, but as a result, Sunne loses the power to make the sun rise and set, and the sun disappears..  The children have to figure out how to get the sun back.
We are all Sunne.  God has given all human beings certain beauties and powers and when we try to look like, act like or be like someone who we are not, we cede our power.  The light of the world becomes dimmer.  In effect, this story is not just about honoring afro-textured hair and celebrating diversity.  It is also about filling children with so much self-love and self-respect as well as love and respect for others that there is no room inside them to bully anyone about anything.

But I need your help.  I am funding the illustration, animation, printing and distribution of the book through a kickstarter campaign that allows you to pre-order the book.  I have already raised over $8,000, but if I don’t raise another $2,000 in the next week or so, I will lose everything.  Every dollar helps. Please help me spread this message of magical afros, self-love and bullying prevention to every child by pre-ordering Sunne’s Gift for just $1.00 or more on kickstarter. If you are unable to contribute even $1.00, but you would like to read the story, email sunnesgift@gmail.com to receive a free un-illustrated pdf of the book. Thanks in advance!!! Together, we can create an affirming environment.


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About the Author

Ms. Yawson is co-founder of Joojos, an artisanal children’s shoe company that aims to inject love, fun and play into the children’s shoe making business. Additionally, Ms. Yawson hopes to publish her first children’s book, Sunne’s Gift, with funds generated through a Kickstarter campaign. Sunne’s Gift is about a magical creature with spirally hair that grows toward the sun named Sunne. Sunne’s three straight-haired siblings, who also have magical powers, poke fun of Sunne’s hair. Sunne starts beating the spirals of hair to fit in, but as a result…
With this story, she hopes to promote a culture of acceptance in which we see that celebrating diversity is not just “nice to do,” it is essential for our survival. Ms. Yawson earned a BA from Harvard University, an MBA from the Wharton School and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She works as a securities lawyer and lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two sons.

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