When I was younger, my father liked to help me with my homework. He loved history, geography, and anything that required building or creating. In 5th grade he helped me create a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower. We used wood and toothpicks, and we painted each individual piece. It was as time-consuming as it was intricate. It took weeks, multiple trips to multiple craft stores, a few hot glue gun burns, and some minor arguments caused by creative differences.
The result was not only an “A,” but a lifelong memory that connected architecture with education with family bonding with Europe/whiteness.
I grew up believing that travel was dangerous and wasteful. Traveling overseas was even more dangerous and even more wasteful. Longing for international experience made me feel disconnected from my southern roots and disconnected from my family.
I wanted Paris because of its natural beauty, because of Sabrina, and because of 5th grade Geography. It wasn’t about race or culture. It wasn’t about the struggle. It was about experiencing beauty up close and personal. It was about finding joy.
The trouble with Paris is that my memories and experiences are littered with positive, pure, life-giving snippets that pit European culture and European identity at the helm. It is iconic, desirable, and adored. I have few to no images that characterize other continents and other cultures so favorably (more on that later).
I ran into a woman recently who went out of her way to compliment me on my hair. “I’ve been on the fence for awhile, but your locs are so beautiful! What made you decide to get them?”
I smiled politely and said what I usually say, “Thank you so much! It took me awhile to decide too, but it was just time.”
I hesitated to say, declined to say, what was true.
What was true was that I had grown tired of understanding and appreciating black beauty in juxtaposition to whiteness. I had learned that my young niece wanted to straighten her hair so she could be pretty like the other little girls in her class. Pretty like the other girls who weren’t black.
I was tired of hearing people say that natural hair was unattractive or too difficult or just “didn’t look right.” I was tired of hearing men say that they preferred straight hair, and that I should let mine grow longer.
I was tired of believing and accepting the lie over and over and over and over and over and over again. Legitimacy is important.
Paris was a symbol. For me, it was one that was deeply rooted, intimate, and personal. I wanted Paris because of the memory of the early moments spent with my father. It was iconic. But truthfully, I never wanted Paris because of its significance, or its legacy, or its cultural and historical importance. Paris was never about Paris. It was about nostalgia, reputation, and hype.
Go back to the beginning and start again. Figure out what Paris means to you and why you want it. Once you know why you want it and what you want, go back and get those things. Aspire for those things instead of Paris.
Figure out if you want Paris because of Paris or because of what you once wanted but failed to actualize.
Figure out if your desire for Paris is problematic or deeply rooted in a philosophy or an ideology that is counter-productive, harmful, or just not real.
Figure out if your desire for Paris has stifled you from a better vision that you can’t yet imagine.