Meet Del, the daughter of the mother-daughter brand Tafari Wraps. Inspired by the “vibrancy of the Caribbean, landscape of Africa, and international couture,” Tafari Wraps celebrates the traditions, stories, and spirituality of the women who wear them.
1. Microaggressions and covert racism are way too normalized and a daily occurrence for people of color (and sometimes expressed by people within our own communities). How do you respond to them? How do you decide when to ignore it or respond back? What approaches have been most effective for you and how?
Daily, I have to choose to hear the strength in my steps as my slender legs carry me through obstacles, and upwards towards my abundance. It is easy to buck your toe, sometimes slipping into dark puddles. To gain balance, walking straight along your path, is a lifelong pursuit, a commitment that I put above all else. I am an androgynous she/her/they, walking in faces of my father, brother, and mother’s mother, seeing through the eyes of my mother. The heart, that’s definably mine. You can call me Del.
The more I transverse, the more clear it becomes to me what I would like to dedicate my time and energy towards, pursuits outside of the income generator. To rise with the sun and step out into grassy, red-dirt fed land that smells of marigolds, lemongrass, and broad thyme. To bathe under the moonlight, my runoff filtrated through a system that feeds the land from which my and my community’s harvest yields. My back strengthened by the whacking of the ho, hands made assertive through the pulling of misdirected weeds. I smell my passion in the morning, afternoon and in the evening; sautéed, baked, and steamed. My basket is full, it’s contents crisp and nourishing under the grip of my teeth.
My paychecks come from the obligatory exchange of the restaurant industry. I honestly encourage the consumption of goods, sprinkled with suggestions for meal pairings in the hopes that my knowledge and attention to detail are rewarded at 18-20%. The market isn’t always steady.
Microaggressions run rampant in the food industry. It’s like the final touch of Malden sprinkled on the scallops once plated. Unnecessary, palpable, and punching. It’s so confusing to me. I run through what I know of the black female body in roles of service to the upperclass, our children, our communities. I think of what I know about my love for cooking and nourishing others through food, laughter.
So there I stand, black and youthful in smile, dressed in my penguin-fit, proudly adorned under my head wrap- Ankara when feeling spunky (which is most days!) or raw silk, serving a 99% white, middle-upper class demographic. I am guarded, but I can never actually feel safe around the tongue and cheek, the passive cackles, stinging aversion of eye contact, and the high pitch, “what’s your name AGAIN?”
Shots Fired. ________________ “Is that your real hair?,” he asked, wrist flipped as I am leaned in to clear him and his friends of their first course. They’re a VIP table. CLAPBACK: That’s a rather personal question [eyebrows raised]. His two friends laughed. At him, for his question? Or at me, for being so emboldened?
- “What is that rag on your head! What is that, like two yards of fabric!,” he proclaimed with great astonishment. We see each other at least three times a week. His confusion is not confusion nor is it curiosity. CLAPBACK: “That was disrespectful. It’s a head wrap, or a wrap. Not a rag. And no, two yards of fabric is far too much!” I walked away as calmly as I approached the manager table as he and another sat down to dinner. He soon apologized. Later that week, he apologized again, telling me how much he admires me and has been working on standing up for himself, too.
- “I love your head wrap!,” says her friend. “I mean, do you really love the wrap, or do you just like how it’s tied?,” comes out of the mouth of this celebrity hair stylist. I was warned about her before approaching their table, menus ready to moisten their lips with water of their choosing. She demanded bubbles. CLAPBACK: “Thank you.” I was soft in the smile I gave the friend who seemed to be tasked with having to eat with her ‘friend’. It’s a story some of the staff still recounts on our bored nights when they've been forced to deal with a table’s rudeness. Yes, I remember when that happened.
- “Where are you from??” There goes that VOICE, again. ...“No. Like, where in AFRICA are you from?” [She sounds the drums alerting my tribe to run for the beads and freshly mortared herbs. Finally, I have been initiated.] CLAPBACK: I rolled my eyes the way every little Jamaican girl learns to perfect by the age of 3. “Boston,” I tell her. Her friend finds me by the water station and apologizes.
- “We should call you the ‘Mama of [insert my current place of employment]!” The way you’re sitting there drinking your tea, with your tea bag dangling. Your’e like Aunt Jemima!,” he proudly concludes as if he only just discovered his genitalia. CLAPBACK: [My body, tired, turns and looks up into the red face of a now drunk, long time broken man, and with calm, I gift him with the revelation,“That was racist!” He assured me that if it was in fact a racist comment, he would have been defending himself against his words, and my proclamation.
Cornered by their shame, guilt, confusion, and mostly denial, these hurt people will stammer for words to justify a voice whose frequency does not stimulate life. Sadly, I feel it is my responsibility for the healing of the trauma I carry within my DNA that I act with just reasoning. I can be didactic, which is inappropriate given my role as a Server or Employee, or I can be passive and divert , which is expected.