In the song, I Am Not My Hair, India Arie shares her experiences with finding her identity throughout development. Initially, she defined herself by her hair. Because her hair defined her, she curled it, permed it, and did many things to it to make herself feel more worthy and valuable. At the age of 18, she came to the realization that her hair and outward appearance do not define her. She became to believe that she “is not” her hair, she is not her skin and that she is not the expectations of others. Rather, she is the soul that lives within her (meaning that she is defined by her inner qualities, the qualities that are not physically observable). This song places a lot of emphasis on hair and appearance.

I have used this song to spark discussion on many topics,  including

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Identity
  • Racial Identity
  • Self-Esteem
  • Prejudging others
  • Appearance — and more.

In this video, India explained that “she is not . . .” her hair, her skin, or the expectations of others. Based on this “I am not” theme, a question was posed in one of our groups: “What are you not, that people have described you as?” This sentence may sound confusing but the students jumped all over it. One student said, “I am not stupid!” Another student said, “I am not inconsiderate and helpless.” Students went on and on describing “what they are not.” After pulling from their consciousness what others have described them as, the group discussed the behaviors they demonstrated that lead to people labeling them as stupid, inconsiderate and helpless.

In this session, we also talked about whether we are our hair, skin, appearance. This was a very engaging discussion in that some students explained that, as India shared, they are not their hair or skin. Others said that they are their hair and their skin. This session eventually turned into a group led discussion, in which students challenged others to consider each others’ viewpoints. Students also talked about racism. They explained that they are very conscious of racism and that because of their skin color, hair texture, and overall physical makeup, that they have had to endure many unfortunate experiences. This session ended in a discussion on mindset–fixed versus growth. Some students explained that they will not be able to pursue certain opportunities because of their skin color. Others explained that such thinking represents the “fixed mindset” and is self-defeating (I should note that students were familiar with mindset terms and concepts from previous sessions).