Today, Black women’s head wraps vary in form and style. We have silk bonnets at night and African fabrics in the day. Privately, they have been a tool for protection: keeping our hair undamaged, lowering maintenance costs associated with looking professional, and allowing us to genuinely rest our weary heads. Publicly, they have become an aesthetic symbol of Black identity and a rebellious spirit. The reclaiming of the headwrap as something that Black women consciously choose and voluntarily adopt, however, is a recent phenomenon.
In many African and African descendant cultures, headwraps have been around for countless generations, but they were not simply a mark of Black women’s fashion. The head scarf has been the core of black female identity, cultural recognition, and social status, all originating from our rich ancestry on the continent of Africa.
In March, I found myself in IAD airport with plans to travel to the Motherland. Instead, I handed in my boarding pass, cancelled my flight, and went back home to see what would happen next. Since then, I’ve been grounded - physically and emotionally. Travel isn’t just my career, it's my lifestyle, and my happy place. And with a pandemic standing between me and the very things I loved amplified by the racial climate, I was at a loss about how to feel and what to do. As a result, I experienced bouts of depression and anxiety.
While in isolation, many of my thoughts pushed me to travel, but many fears of Covid19 held me captive. One social media post would inspire me to pack my bags and the next would have me in tears, paralyzed so much that for a while, I would not even go outside. The posts that truly had me shook were about the plight of Black people, Black culture, and Black lives in danger. Because so much of my travel inspiration is so deeply intertwined with those same Black realities, it felt like there was nowhere to run.
But life has taught me that running towards your joy is very different than running away from your pain.
So last week, I grabbed my disinfectant wipes, packed my bags, filled up my tank, and decided to hit the road for a multi-state tour.
I was thinking of our trips for 2021 and wondering - go with me on this -- which of my favorite sitcom stars would sign up for a Jelani Women tour and just how she would act up when she could get her travel freedom back. For sure, Denise from the Cosby show is heading straight for Egypt with Olivia in tow, and Regine from Living Single would be lusting over the beaches of Cape Town. After binge watching so many childhood favorites during COVID, my 90s-2000s sitcom reservation line-up is the truth. Just go with me on this and let me know if your line up is the same or different from mine.
Morocco: Gina from Martin is out here trying to look high-siddity, while Pam is riding all the camels. You know they have us cracking up most of the trip, except when they try to buy up all the argan oil in Essaouira. Khadija from Living Single is trying to keep the peace, while Aunt Rachel from Family Matters is stashing spices in her purse. They are already scheduled to meet up for annual trips to Chicago to recreate the recipes and relive the Jelani vibe.
Ghana, Benin, & Togo: Moesha is the youngest Jelani Woman on this tour, but she’s taking note of all the hair braiding styles in Benin that she’ll be bringing back to Crenshaw High.
A trip to Ghana is like a rite of passage for so many Black people in the Americas. As the first African country to throw off the yoke of colonialism in 1957, it has been a beacon of freedom and a safe haven for people of the African Diaspora ever since. Much like Haiti before it, Ghana holds lots of mythical and historical relevance for people throughout the rest of the world. A visit to the Gold coast, however, is unlike any other experience. A trip with Jelani Women Travel is a unique vacation that hits the popular tourist spots and uncovers the hidden gems. Here are the highlights to expect on your next trip with us:
1 - One of Ghana’s top sites is Black Star Square. The monument that celebrates the nation’s independence is used for major public events - from concerts to parades. If we’re in town during one of these, we will be in massive crowds. If not, we’ll tour on a normal afternoon, while on a full-day Accra city tour. Most of the time, it is perfectly fine to snap photos under the large moniker “Freedom and Justice,” and you can’t wait to compare it to the scene you have hanging on your vision board from the illustrated coloring book, Travel-ish: Black Women around the World. But, if there are Ghanians in the shot or soldiers patrolling the grounds we’ll ask permission first to make sure that we’re being culturally sensitive and respectful.
A Chinese proverb says, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step.” Though we’re living with limited mobility because of the current health crisis, it is important to remember that that first step starts very close to home. There’s no need for far-flung places to open their doors, when the very beginning is opening your heart.
Much of what people fear about travel is not the journey itself, it is the abrupt exit from a comfort zone. A space where communication and connection are easy, where everyone is working from the same sheet of cultural music and where everyone is believed to know the tune. There is something very valuable in that, but it is important to remember that that harmony could sound anywhere. Whenever you seize those small windows of opportunity to let empathy and vulnerability sunset fear and intimidation, there will be genuine connection that could last a lifetime. Those opportunities are all around us.
This year has been nothing short of a never-ending daily call to action. Our guts wrenched at the death of #AhmaudArbery. Our hearts broke when #GeorgeFloyd was suffocated on camera. The fury broke in me when #BreonnaTaylor died at the hands of cops who still have not been charged with her murder. I have been in the streets marching and protesting since May, because the continuous trauma of White terrorism in the United States must end in my lifetime.
Black Lives Matter is so much more than a tagline on a poster or a hashtag on a post. It is greater than the aesthetic of bold yellow letters that line Lafeyette Square in D.C., and now many
The day has finally come when we can name and shame the racists, the bigots, the misogynists, the xenophobes, the oppressors that used to remain anonymously hidden behind the moniker of “The Man.” How refreshing it feels to no longer be gaslit by tokenism or quieted by empty words. Our rage against the machine is loud and thunderous. I have taken solace in the transparency of our times.
I have not, however, taken kindly to the overwhelming praise Black people heap on White people who do the most basic of things humans should already be doing.
Ashley N. Company
“Fly” Girl spreading #BlackGirlMagic across 100 countries and counting. Headwrap lover. Fierce Protector of Black Lives.