Author: Cherisse Gardner

That American Woman: Finding Myself in Africa

(Photo: Courtesy Cherisse Gardner) My father once said to me, “Just once I’d like to get my feet on African soil, to stand anywhere on the continent if only for one day.” It’s a fairly common sentiment held by those of us whose ancestors were brought by the African slave trade to the Americas, the desire to reconnect and bind ourselves to an identity beyond our short and tragic history here. Given his advanced age and fear of flying, I’m sad to say it’s a dream I doubt he’ll ever realize. I, however, had the great fortune of spending a couple years after college as Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia during the pre-war years, an experience I will never forget. Full of hope and wonder, I was excited touch, see, smell, hear, and taste the wonders of “the Motherland” for myself. Despite my enthusiasm for reconnecting with my roots, however, I was disabused of any notion of belonging almost as soon as I arrived. No amount of sun could darken me enough to stop the …

The Day I Cut My Hair, I Lost More Than Locks

I was 14 or so before I grew the tops of my ears back which had been practically singed off by the dreaded hot comb. I’ve survived the beauty parlors — aka Mrs. Bank’s and Mrs. Tabb’s kitchens — where the familiar scent of bergamot was as pervasive as the aroma of chicken, fish, collards, homemade biscuits, pound cake… and pressed hair. One day after school, when I was in the 9th grade, I decided I was too grown for ponytails and bangs. I knew that if I asked to wear an afro the answer would be “No!” After all, this was in Williamsburg, VA in the early ‘70s and we were not yet quite so hip. So without asking I did the unthinkable and broke out the shears, cutting off shoulder-blade length locks of hair in two too easy strokes. Fortunately my father was the first one home from work that day, finding me standing in the bathroom holding two long plaits and looking helplessly like “Now what?” Realizing the noise and fury that would …