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ADS-L Digest - 22 Jun 1998 to 23 Jun 1998 98-06-24 00:00:34
There are 5 messages totalling 141 lines in this issue.

Topics of the day:

1. potato -- process
2. US copyright news (2)
3. Twenty-Three Skidoo
4. Dark L


Date: Tue, 23 Jun 1998 02:38:40 -0500
From: Mike Salovesh
Subject: Re: potato -- process

Yongwei Gao wrote:
> Hi,
> Has anybody there seen them before:

> process The Rev. Al Sharpton stood at the pulpit of Friendship
> Baptist Church in deepest Harlem, shimmering in his white brocade
> preacher s gown, his process swept back magnificently from his
> forehead, looking for all the world like a cross between James Brown and
> the Archangel Gabriel. (6/2/94 WP D1)
> Wish you a nice day!
> Yongwei Gao

Process: U.S. African-American, going back as far as I can remember
(meaning back to the late 1930s). "Process" is a hairdo that is, or
appears to be, the result of some chemical hair-straightening process.
Tightly-curled, or "frizzy", or "nappy", or "kinky" hair often is taken
as a symbol of "Africanity" -- that is, an externally visible sign that
is sometimes used to identify individuals as African-Americans. The
tight curls are themselves the mechanical result of the cross-sectional
shape of the individual hairs on the head. In many circles, it is
fashionable to do whatever has to be done to make hair appear to be
straight and lying flat to the head. One treament that was widely used
in the past was to soak the hair in a strong alkali solution -- lye,
that is. "Processing" hair in this way is also called "conking",
possibly derived from the slang word "conk", meaning "head".

Notice that I did not say that tightly curled, frizzy, or nappy hair is
a racial characteristic of African-Americans. I know people who
identify themselves, and are identified by others, as African-Americans
who have naturally smooth hair, and others who have hair that is gently
waved. I also know African-Americans with very dark black hair, others
with middle-of-the-road brown hair, and still others whose hair is
naturally blond or dark red or carrot-red. There are also plenty of
people in the world who have hair that is as tightly curled as
stereotypical "African" hair, but who have no known historical
connection to Africa whatsoever. (Try taking a look at the full range
of hair shapes of many people born in Papua-New Guinea, for example.)

One of my old students, whose appearance was very close to
stereotypically "black", used to have fun showing the silliness of
segregationists in the 1950s and early 1960s. She would dress in a
sari, place a red dot in the middle of her forehead, and go to highly
segregated first-class hotels and restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama.
She had no trouble being served in such places, even though she made no
claim to be from South Asia, made reservations in her own (commonly
English) name, and spoke in her normal (educated Alabaman) accent. In
the world of segregation, her alien costume made her "white" despite her

In the end, being African-American is a statement about social
participation and the
perception of group identification. Physical appearance may, or may
not, be taken as a symbol of African-American identity, but there is no
kind of physical appearance that precludes full participation in
African-American culture as a member of the group.
Nonetheless, there are many African-Americans who think it stylish to
get their hair straightened into a "process" -- or to wear wigs that
give the same appearance without the need to go through the
sometimes-painful business of getting a process. (Contrast "process"
with "dreadlocks" and "afros" and "corn-rows" for alternative ways of
thinking about what looks good in a hairdo.)

-- mike salovesh
anthropology department
northern illinois university PEACE !!!