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In The Kitchen

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In the Kitchen In the story In the Kitchen, Henry Louis Gates Jr. makes the point that there are some things that you just cannot take away from people, such as character traits and people’s ways of life. Those are things that you cannot get rid of no matter how much “hair grease” you put in your life. When Gates was a young boy, he would watch his mother do the people’s hair in their kitchen and would marvel at how the black person’s hair would always go back to the kings no matter how good it looked when it was done up, when it hit the water, it went right back to the kinks. The kitchen in Gates’ mother’s house was also a permanent, irredeemable kink.

When a black person would straighten their hair, as soon as they washed it or even got water on their hair, it would go back to the natural kink that it originated at. Many people in life try to forget their background or where they came from and ignore their roots, but that is a part of you that you will always have with you and no matter how much you try and make it go away, your roots are a permanent thing and can never be erased. In the past 30 years, the superficialities of the world have become the predominant thing.

Models are 15 pounds underweight and starve themselves to look like the “ideal” woman, whites try to be and look like blacks, blacks try to be and look like whites. There are so many ways in the world today that you can cover up your roots and who you are, but there is not one way that you can get rid of them. From plastic surgery, to skin lightening or darkening, to the clothes we wear or the way we talk. Nobody should ever be ashamed of who they are, that is what makes America beautiful as a country, because we have so much diversity between our citizens, and that we are able to come together and work as one nationality.

Some black people try to cover up the kinks in their hair, like they are embarrassed of them, but they can never escape them. No matter if you put wax, oil, grease, or a do-rag on top of your head, you cannot escape your roots of kinky hair if you are like many black people. Gates explains, “Of course, her hair would return to its natural kink almost as soon as the hot water and shampoo hit it. To me, it was another miracle how hair so “˜straight’ would so quickly become kinky again the second it even approached some water.”(p.335) This is an example of how you can cover up who you are all you want, but you can never escape your roots. This is a metaphor for all people, not just blacks.

It does not have to be hair grease or wax, but everybody has a way that they cover some part of their character up by wearing something, or talking a certain way or even doing things that their friends might be doing. You change the way or who you are by how you act, not by how you look. If you try to change yourself by how you look, then you are guaranteed never to get anywhere. Because looks fade away, but character will always be there. Everybody that reads this story should take what is said in it to heart. This is a very good example that Gates uses because if you try to cover-up your true self, your fake self will shine through. Maybe not immediately, but in time, people will be exposed to you, and nothing but you, and you have to be ready for that.

Gates even said himself, “I used all the greases, from sea-blue Bergamot and creamy vanilla Duke to the godfather grease, the formidable Murray’s”¦then, in the late sixties, when Afros came into style, I used Afro Sheen. From Murray’s to Duke to Afro Sheen: that was my progression in black consciousness.” (p. 338) I think that this is an interesting quote because Gates is saying that blacks have a consciousness that they have to straighten their hair, or put some kind of grease or wax or gel in their hair. It’s something that they do, just instinctively; almost like you instinctively need water to drink, blacks need hair grease. If you had nice hair, you were accepted and considered beautiful in the black community, just like skinny, big-breasted women are considered beautiful and are accepted in the American community.

“The kitchen was a permanent, irredeemable, irresistible kink. Unassimilably African. No matter what you did, no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t de-kink a person’s kitchen.” (p. 335) The term that Gates uses, “Unassimilably African”, is an example of how every black person used to try to change themselves in some way. The kitchen cannot be changed, that is why it is not like Africans; Africans are always trying to change themselves. I think that Gates is making a comparison of the kitchen to black people’s true character traits and roots. Black people’s Character traits and roots cannot be changed; they cannot be de-kinked, no matter how hard they try. Maybe for a little while, a day or two, but their roots are permanent, irredeemable and irresistible, and cannot be changed at the source; just as Gates’ grandmother’s kitchen could not be changed. When everyone around them was getting new electric stoves, Gates’ family kept their old gas stove because it was familiar and they could heat the iron up on it.

Gates calls the hair on the back of black people’s necks the kitchen. He makes this analogy because that is the only part of their hair that cannot be straightened, waved out or changed in any way. That part of their hair always had that kink to it. That irredeemable, permanent, can’t get rid of it kink, that kink that Gates’ grandmother’s kitchen had. Something that you cannot change, no matter how hard you try, you cannot change it.

Character traits and roots; these are two things that are permanent and irreversible. There is no way to get rid of your true self. It is something that has always been with every person and will always continue to be with every person, no matter if you like them or not. You can do whatever you feel like doing to try to cover them up, but your character traits and roots will always be there. They are something that you have to deal with, for your whole life.

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