To Bling or Not To Bling

earrings blingI know lifting the phrase “to be or not to be” from Shakespeare and inserting one’s own word is highly clichéd, but go with me on this one. 

Much of our image signifies who we are.  Or rather, as I learned in one of my classes, it signifies who we be.  We are human beings, not human doings.  Often times we ask someone what do they do when we really want to know who they be.  Sometimes we’re interested in who they are, past tense, but we’re much more interested in the present and our potential future with the person—hence, we really want to know who they be. 

Our image is something that most of us address on a daily basis, minimally.  There are those who pass by a mirror and stop to do a mirror-check every time they pass their reflection.  We may opine that clothes don’t make the woman or man, but fact of the matter is that we want to project some sort of image toward the people we intend on encountering that day; that image is closely connected to who we be. 

So, here at the internship…. 

I’m doing an internship at a church to be specific (and that’s about as specific as I’m going to get) and this church has a high senior citizen population, mostly retired and middle-class First Coasters (HAHAHA!!  That is too funny to me hearing about this First Coast biz) and I arrived here on this previous Monday to 95 degree searing heat.  The pastor wasn’t in so I was talking to the church’s secretary administrative assistant and she looked at me and said, “Now you know some o’ these folks gon’ look atchu sideways cuz of your earrangs.” 

I raised my eyebrow and tried not to roll my eyes because I knew she was right.  She went on to tell me just how messy the saints at this church could be.  She informed me that she had been here now going on nine years and that still members would try and act shady with her.  Even on Wednesday that pastor informed me that this was an ultra-conservative church **rolls eyes** and that some members were going to come to him about it and others might actually walk up to me and say something to me about them. 

Seriously people are we really having the discussion about earrings in the ears of males in 2009?  I mean I just sat in a meeting the past two days and two older males had their earrings pierced.  Now one of them reminded me of Cedric the Entertainer and of course his earrings just added to his cool aura, like the cool godparent who does anything for you.  Hell, Ed Bradley had an earring!!  This “naïve transitivity” as Paulo Friere wrote, garners for change, but still is steeped in static conservatism that is nearly wholly ignorant of contemporary problems. 

People are dying out in the streets and some have convinced themselves that me wearing earrings is the culprit.  Well, not me per se, but I’m sure some of these people have somehow surmised in their minds that “when males started wearing earrings, we started going down a slippery slope to ______________” whatever they feel like inserting. 

Now the pastor, to his credit did say that often in the minds of the elders that to them males wearing earrings meant either a) they were a rebel/bad boy or b) they were gay.  Even I remember before the “Era of Bling” as we know it, in the early 90s most males only had one earring and one needed to know the following that “right is wrong and left is right.”  That is to say that one earring in the left ear meant you were cool and one earring in the right ear meant you were gay.  By the time I got to high school a few of the boys had one ear pierced and a good chunk had both of their ears pierced. 

My mother told me that if I had gotten all As on my report car that I could have gotten my ears pierced—that never happened.  So as a result I ended up waiting till my 18th birthday when I could legally do it by myself.  I didn’t even go to the mall with the intent of getting them pierced, but it was my first mall experience with some friends down in New Orleans, and we went to Lakeside and I passed by a store doing it and I got em punched!  I was only going to do one, but since they had to sell me the set I went ahead and got both of them done. 

Weirdly enough now, I’ve had my ears pierced for going on seven years now, and generally I wear smallish medium studs.  But, after living down south, I had been buying the bigger ones simply because it’s the style down south to have, as my friend Supreme Uppity says “some chandeliers” attached to the ears.  I even bought some blue tinted ones to match this blue tie that I have. 

Doubt I’ll be wearing those this summer. 

earrings 2Granted the earrings are not the sum total of who I be, but dammit it is a part of me.  Just like my hair, just like the fact that I may sag my pants a bit or the fact that I have a brohawk mohawk.  They all associate me with my culture and my generation.  Much the same way that half of these women who walked in here have a friggin’ jheri curl. 

**The Sunny Seniors are having a banquet as I type this and the lady on the microphone just gave an announcement on how to get the grease stains out of your pillowcases** 

I mean, jheri curls are no more cultural signifiers of the 70s and the 80s than me wearing a Mohawk or getting designs cut into my fade. 

The problem arises because people can’t see past it to hear or accept what I have to offer.  Sadly we live in a conformist society, one that does more often than not subscribes to an uncritical consciousness and makes the wearing of earrings my problem and they refuse to own it as a hangup of their own. 

For example, when I got my ears pierced and got off the Amtrak after my first semester away, my mother forced herself to say “Oh, I figured that.”  I really didn’t know what she was talking about at first because they had become such a part of me and then I was like “Oh” after I forced a wan smile.  My aunt did the same thing, but even worse at Christmas.  She said “I know you want me to make a comment about those, but I’m not.”  Even her grown kids laughed under their breath, because in fact she had made a comment and I wasn’t even trying, but apparently I had been flaunting them in her face trying to force a comment.  Or even my mother somehow making a comment about how she didn’t like my hair—meaning my hawk. 

Frankly, stuff like that, I don’t see why folks feel they have to make a comment.  

To be fair to my mother though, I did actually ask her point-blank “So you don’t like my hair?” and she answered honestly. 

But my relatives aside, what would your response be to these fine members of this church? 

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

11 thoughts on “To Bling or Not To Bling

  1. You’ll quickly find out, if you haven’t already, that First Coast is simply another way to say Southern Georgia. But do your thang like you do your thang. They’ll get over it.

    1. @Max

      This first coast business still don’t quite make sense to me. I got a friend from out here back in atl and he tried to explain to me. still don’t make sense, lol.

  2. As I learned from my conservative Southern parents (and my mom being from Virginia that’s some serious, southern sadiddyness) “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” To these faux-Christians I would say nothing until they decided to say something about you behind your back but around me, at which point they would get a not-too-polite verbal beat-down. As an educator you are much more skilled at seeing past what’s on the outside, but I feel I’ve had that talent long before I was teaching. When most of your life you’re classified as a) smart i.e., ‘geek’ 2) slow as in not fast; and 3) weight-challenged i.e., ‘fat’, you have empathy with those others scorn.

    Sadly folks like these only fuel your skepticism towards religion, yet hopefully also inspire you to be better.

  3. Are first coasters descendants of free-born slaves? Original ‘uppity-class’ Negroes? Is there some validity in breaking glass ceilings AND raising the floor (or vastly improving basement dwellers) by adhering to uppity standards that open doors to where one’s be-ness is validated? Is there real validation in misleading others (fooling) in order to ‘prove’ that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover? What’s the pay-off?

    IMOHO, be-ness is one’s own self-actualization independent of requiring ‘co-signing’ from others. Being comfortable (at least 75% of the time?) in one’s own skin seems most valuable in navigating through self image issues.

    Saggin’, blingin’, muy macho’ and various other ‘fronts’ are indeed a part of a rights of passage in ‘underprivileged’ (real or perceived) communities.

    Since each individual has some control over the duration of the passage, each must move forward, looking upward, take advantage of earned opportunity and move on.

    For the ‘few are chose’, the road can be as bitter as we allow it to be. Love for others and self builds strength and courage. Love eventually counters the bitterness resulting from low expectations and the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.

    Uppity is a state of mind powered by the ‘who you be’ struggle and more importantly, the overcoming and learned lessons for future use.

    Be Uppity.

    1. @dowl

      First Coast is not even remotely a black thing. It’s something they say on the news, it’s like a nick name of Jacksonville.

      How do you figure that the “various other ‘fronts'” are a rights of passage and just a part of the person. Whether they decide to wear it today, tomorrow and decide not to the day after. Why couldn’t it just be preference?

  4. In DC they live along the ‘Gold Coast’ in upper North West; In Detroit it is Palmer Woods, in Cleveland Shaker Heights, and in LA Windsor Hills & View Park. I find it ridiculously hypocritical (unless they’re part of the plan to keep people poor and dependent) to see these folks driving their BMW’s, Benz’s, and Cadillac’s with ‘Obama/Biden’ stickers on their bumpers that I laugh out loud to mask and temper my anger.

      1. Told ‘ya: Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and jheri curls; that’s northern Florida, hicksville USA 😉

      2. @adinasi

        Yeah, man. Driving around here, some of it looks like parts of rural and i mean RURAL mississippi!!!

  5. Hi there Uppity!

    Keep your earrings in IF you feel that God is asking you to do that in order to create needed dialogue about juding others based on appearance.

    Don’t keep them in if it’s all about ego …meaning “I’ll show them that I’m going to be ME!”

    God sent you to their church for a reason…once you know what that reason is…everything you do will be in alignment with that and the pastor you report to will realize that God has you on assignment.

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

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