by Asha French
On the morning after the police kill Philando Castile, I find myself in the temple of my brother’s barbershop. I am determined to get the cut I’ve talked about for months, the cut I feared because of its potential to thwart job prospects in a conservative city. I have been afraid of regret, but on the morning after Philando Castile takes his last, ragged breath, I drag this body to a place where regrets are disallowed.
Regrets are just one in a long list of things I no longer believe. I don’t believe in criminal justice. I don’t believe in a redeemable system. I don’t believe in a God who will plague the land when Pharaohs in blue refuse to stop killing his chosen ones. The morning after the police kill Philando Castille in front of his daughter and girlfriend, I believe only in two parables- the haircut and the last punch.
Parable of the Haircut
My little cousin is a fulltime genius and part-time loner. She is the oldest sibling, her grandmother’s namesake, her auntie’s baby, and her mother’s joy. She is my pre-teen cousin and she has the haircut I’ve wanted since the year Salt, Pepa, and Spinderella sported spandex and asymmetrical hairstyles on their album cover. Her haircut is the story of withdrawn allegiance– the way that bullies pave your path to freedom with their slights. I asked her how she’d been so bold, having survived more taunting for less than shaved undersides. She said, “They’re going to think what they’re going to think but I rock this style. I’m comfortable.” At twelve, she lives the truth it’s taken me years to walk into. When they never loved you to begin with, you don’t owe them shit. I believe in my little cousin’s truth more than I believe in the American Jeremiad.
Parable of the Last Punch
Some might call my twelve-year-old self a bitch. I call her hormonal, bullied, and unskilled in communal living. By this age, her little brother has long stopped using the nickname he gave her with a toddler’s lisp: Sissy. And maybe it is because she misses the name that she picks it up and hurls it at him alongside her fists, her threats, and the bullying she passes on like cancer in the blood. But this day in ’94 has already been too long. He has already survived a day in the institution that standardizes racism with books written in Texas. He has survived the suspicion of bus drivers, the posturing of bus riders, and the jabs of walkers by just playing the way boys play. His baseball coach has called him ambidextrous. He knows how to do what he needs to do with whatever hand is available. When Sissy bullies him for the last time, he draws back his most convenient arm and punches her full in the face. Right below her eye. The force of the blow reaches across two decades, wakes her out of her sleep the morning after Philando is murdered, and whispers to her the potential in “enough is enough.” A tiny fist, a moment of rage, a blow that stops all blows.
Philando Castile is only the latest of a long line of dead men who could have been my brother. Years ago, when my mother told me that the cops had split my little brother’s head open as they shoved it into the side of their car, I wanted my own skin to split. Stigmata. Something to show my connection to all the brown prophets this world denies. My skin didn’t split, I bore no visible scars, and I spent the next four years looking like someone who’d never been forced to touch her little brother through double-paned glass.
I wore my hair in afros, twists and braids. Natural. Styles I dared someone to question, this challenge on the tip of my tongue: since when has someone told you that the way your hair grows out of your head is inherently unprofessional? The first time I straightened my hair in graduate school, a white colleague told me I looked like such a lady. She stroked my strands as if they were holy. Something more than an afro fried.
Trayvon wore a short fro. Aiyana wore tiny ponytails. Mike wore a low cut. Philando wore braids. Rekia wore a roller wrap. Sandra wore two-strand twists. It never, ever matters.
Enough is enough. I close my eyes. My brother steadies my head with one hand. Brings the blade close to my ear with the other. For a fraction of what Jesus demands, he is transforming me into the person I want to become: a highly selective believer.
This morning, I believe in my brother’s fist and my cousin’s haircut. I believe in withdrawing allegiance to societal norms when, as Drake said, “mufuckas neva loved us.” I believe in the burning flag, the Olympians’ raised fists, the Panthers’ guns, Assata’s escape, and Nat’s prophetic dream. I believe in Harriet’s journey and John Brown’s alliance. I believe in teargas canisters tossed back to the police and ground glass in the master’s pie. I believe in holding my head high and still when confronted with the razor’s edge. I believe in brushing myself off and walking back into the fight.
Asha French is a mother and artist in Louisville, KY. Her work has appeared in Pluck, PoetryMemoirStory, Emory Magazine, Mutha Magazine, Women’s Media Project and Autostraddle. She is a former columnist for Ebony.com. You can find out more about Asha on her website and follow her on Twitter.