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Malcom X “My First Conk” Essay

Through the years African Americans have been growing their roots in the United States. It wasn’t too long ago that they weren’t accepted as a part of society. Since then the gap between them and the Caucasian community has begun to close. As both populations blend together we start to think of them as one nation with more similarities than differences. What happens when one society bleeds out its culture more than the other? African Americans have increasingly opted to ditch their natural selves and instead take on the task of manipulating themselves in order to appeal to the white man’s idea of beauty. Rather than revolt against the insults thrown at blacks they seem to have adopted them as true. Why is it that instead of defending their natural kinks they cover them up with wigs or chemically alter them?

Although some beauty practices are commonplace throughout most African American communities engaging in these activities is the equivalent of validating the notion that blacks aren’t good enough. Malcom X illustrates for us in his piece titled “My first Conk” how his first conking went. For those unfamiliar with the term conking is a procedure in which black males concoct a gel, using mainly household ingredients, then apply it to the hair in order to straighten it. The incorporation of lye in the gel is what causes the bearer to feel as though the scalp burns. Malcom was at first a devoted conker but through the years has come to regret his old habit. At first he explains how good the conk made him feel, later in his life he mentions that conking was his first step towards self-degradation. He calls out all those who have or still sport a conk and urges them to stop. He even goes as far as saying it makes blacks look foolish.

He also concludes that hair unimportant and it’s a shame that so much time has already been wasted on this. A compelling story I stumbled upon tells the drastic measures some are willing to take in order to shed themselves of the image they have come to associate as inferior. A woman around 35 years old willingly admitted that she bleached not only herself but her children. She wet cloths with store-bought Clorox and placed the on her and the kids’ faces for about a couple of minutes. This woman openly acknowledged that she was ashamed of being black. Alongside with her there were other testimonies who felt the same. They all mentioned how they were looked down upon for being black. They told some of the insults they faced on a day to day for being who they were. They felt the measures they took to appeal to the white community was necessary. It was necessary if they wanted to feel good, if they wanted to be seen as equals, and if they wanted to stop the mental abuse.

When I first came upon these people I was shocked. How could someone be so insensible as to literally bleach their skin? What would compel people to undergo such painful procedures as the one mentioned by Malcom? I was shocked but little did I know I too was just as guilty of caving in to society’s ideals of what I should look like. Just last year, my senior year in high school, I would have a morning ritual. At 5:00 a.m. sharp I would stumble out of bed and turn on the coffee machine. The energy from the coffee was to help me stay awake so I could complete the lengthy task of straighten my hair. 2 long hours it took for me to do only my hair! As is probably imaginable I was often late to school. I was late so many times in fact that I nearly didn’t graduate on stage. How then did I dare judge poor lady who bleached herself when in reality I was no different? I too unnecessarily took it upon myself to change the way I was because the pressure I felt to be just a bit similar to white people.

Consciously I did not notice this was what I was getting across, as I presume many black people that do things such as perming or wearing wigs are also unaware, but ultimately we have been brainwashed so much that this behavior is reasonable. Many may argue that we have the right to express ourselves any which way we want. This is true but why then are blacks ridiculed when they defy the expectations and take pride in their true selves. Why must wearing their natural selves take courage? We as a blended society should know better than to judge. Oppressing people has to be a thing of the past. The oppressor is not the only one to blame here. The oppressed are guilty of not fighting back. No change will come until we try to change ourselves. Too many have suffered and continue to suffer. Both mentally and physically these people are abused but to no avail. Society will not let up. Instead of conforming to society, as we have done for so long, we must pave a different path. Comparing against another race is futile. Blacks will never be the same as whites, they shouldn’t try to be. Each a culture rich in its own way. Teach ourselves and our peers to take pride in our appearance once again. Dig back into a culture once covered up and exhume it. Let it breathe for when it does so will we.


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