BHM: Zora Howard

Today, one of my students busted out with “when is bi-racial history month?!” A hush fell over the room, as this is a university full of people whose 1/2 white come octoroon-ness is masked in the myth of white or darkened out by a drop. This is uncomfortable territory I see, as I look around the room with my teacherly smile. Then I say “What makes you think it isn’t happening now?” As I spin toward the board as I am prone to do when I drop these bombs in a dust filled sky, gasps and laughter fill the room. But when I spin around again, I see my student, biting her thin lips and twisting her curly hair, and I say “I’m waiting?” Then she let’s spill the story that most of the girls in my class were hoping would never tear through curly-kidsthe classroom and disrupt their already shaky ground, disintegrate the last few things they know they can keep to themselves in this WS classroom that was supposed to be about coloring and hating their ex-boyfriends and talking about girls affluent enough for rooms of their own but turned out to be this political hotbed in which everything, EVERY-THING was up for grabs, for question, for deconstruction to reconstruct something they did not wholly recognize and gets some of them hit at home for bringing it up, oh yes, did I mention that at least once a semester someone comes in with a bruise for finding their voice, their choice, themselves in my classroom, and I wonder to myself, maybe I should just dust off a corsette but not a whip and put Stacy Ann Chinn back on youtube . . . And as her story of mixing and erasure, inbetweenity and loss, unfold not as a personal drama, a psychological disorder we can solve with sponsored talks on the Tragic Mulatto, but a story that is in fact a metahistory shared by all of us, one of my other students, bold in her recognition says “Yeah. Why isn’t there a bi-racial history month?” and another says “B/c I don’t want to celebrate your people raping mine” and still another says “My dad is not a rapist” and I watch them, with curiosity of a girl whose feet are firmly in this middle place between passage and love, and as I wait, they begin to weave this chorus of feminist voices we have read in this class, and that the ducklings have read in my other classes, and suddenly I see these little Andrea Smiths and Audre Lordes, Cherrie Moragas and Helen Zias, exploding to life. And as they look up for approval, I say “hmm, I might have to put that on the test.”

So this poem is for my little song birds, while I have featured biracial women as part of Black Herstory Month already, I did not mark them.  We are all black. But as they proved today, there is something to say about the discussion of what black, brown, white, etc. actually mean not as a reach toward whiteness but as a step toward the complexity that WS should always challenge us to see. (Stick with it, b/c even tho it seems to trot out the same old stereotypes of white hair=good black hair=bad, she’s going somewhere and she is taking everyone through an uncomfortable route of race history to get there.)

Bi-Racial Hair


Zora Howard

I have bi-racial hair
Pantene Pro-V waves on the top
Easy to style, comb, rock-
Until-I encounter my naps,
I’m not talking about those-cute detangle with the spray naps.
I’m talking about those, slave naps, like,
No comb, brush, or man can handle the kind of naps I got- like,
No way you are touching my hair-naps like
Back 10 feet up, or we can dance naps
Those naps like-
I have bi-racial hair,
Those smooth and silk rafts hanging all through my mane,
Until you get to the back, and encounter the jungle, in which you can find Tarzan and Jane.
In the front you forget and relax in the pleasure,
Until you get to the back and remember pain
Baby hair slicked back with that good 4 dollar pomade,
That goes with roots and tangles,
Soaked with that same olive oil; mixed with that spaghetti sauce momade.
I have bi-racial hair,
Combs run freely through my fine breezy, just to the part, the most you can make,
Until it gets to the back and
I have bi-racial hair
The only thing my mother could put it in was 2 big braids,
And sometimes that was to much,
So she left half undone.
I was in the mirror, I was in the mirror,
Convincing my self I looked just like a dark-skinned Alicia Keys
I have bi-racial hair,
because I have bi-racial blood.
I’m not talking about that-cute they met then fell in love, blood
I’m talking about that- slaved raped six times by the master,
Birthing 6 mixed babies, later hung blood
I’m talking about that cross burning in the mud, blood
And you call me a mud blood,
Slit my rist,
my blood does not excrete in black and white.
I drean in verse and in red
Like what drained from Emmit Tills’ lips when he was killed for breaking down color lines
Bi-racial who surcomes to the abuse from her peers in her middle school,
Those whose who constantly called me an Oreo
Well she’s not white, its more like Reese’s cookie, mixed breed or a mullato
That’s what it is a reverse mulatto
My roots are deep too
my bi-racial roots are not blind
or more than cotton soft
cause my blood were in the sun, picking cotton too
a thousand times discrated for my race
a thousand time discrated from my history y’all never get
let textbooks be your truth
and sprinkle the ashes of your history into streams
i dream for a time and place where
maybe y’all all accept me
maybe we need to wake up again and remember a morning of you
like something new
baby I’ll be green cause my people drove there
you people drove me there
with my tender heart
tender head
and my bi-racial hair

Zora Howard is a middle schooler with a powerful poet’s voice. Her subject matter counts as black women’s herstory and besides, you know how I love including up and coming feminists in all of my lists. I’m looking forward to seeing who she becomes. You can watch her perform the poem here.

16 thoughts on “BHM: Zora Howard

  1. Pingback: Zora Howard « angielopes

  2. I just wanted to let you know that the contents of this poem are incorrect. Some lines are missing while other lines are just wrong.

    • welcome to the blog Simone. These are the words posted by the poetry organizers and therefore what I assume was submitted as the poem in written form; the performed piece is linked. If you have another version please leave a link for our readers.

  3. Hello Prof Susurro!

    I am a co-leader of Columbia University School of Social Work’s Hapa Caucus. Our group is dedicated to celebrating and dialoguing about multi-racial/multi-ethnic/multi-cultural identities and experiences in the US and in the world of social work. We are coordinating a panel event on interracial relationships to be hosted at our school this February. I think it would be wonderful if Zora would like to come and sit on our panel. Are you still in touch?


    Becky Griffin

    • welcome to the blog Becky. I don’t know Zora Howard but I do think you can find her on FaceBook. Best of luck w/ your event.

  4. I love the poem and I love your blog…am an Arab-german Woman of Color and Germany, where I live, is not only a lil behind when it comes to feminists of Color…so am hoping to find international opportunities to work in “my field of expertise”…thank you for this blog…it’s that kinda work that tells me I’m not alone

  5. Love this. Zora Howard’s work inspires me, but better still it inspires my 11 year old daughter. i just wrote a post about coming to terms with my own biracial hair.
    Love how you inspire and challenge your students. Checked out Stacy Ann Chinn from your reference above. Wow!

    • thank you 🙂 And thanks for sharing about your daughter; it is always great to hear that poets are inspiring young people as much as teens and adults!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s