Merlyn - Colour Craft Collective


Words - Julia-Beth Harris and photos Benny van der Plank

How do you write about something that doesn't exist? Through Poetic Portraits of the people who experience its effects the most. Color Craft Collective is a conversation building platform processing the effects of race.

Merlyn - Earth element

You tell me it started with how your mother braided your hair with colourful beads

They couldn’t keep their hands off  it, you know how it is with kids

Black braids stood out against waves of blonde tones

you say that’s when you first felt different and a little less at home

I imagine that’s how you got your superpower of creating common ground

Learning to look beyond skin colour to not be lost but found

In the city of your birth, where you were still somehow a stranger

Along with ABC’s and 123’s you learned to multiply yourself to many versions

By seven you could teach your own class on life as a people’s person

Like the earth’s surface transforms for the seasons

You learned to adapt for social reasons

You tell me you were five when your aunt taught you how to braid

she said hair is like antenna’s

Connected to the core of what makes us, us

You tell me you always ask before you touch someone’s hair

Even though they are in your chair, it’s a way to connect

People relax when you treat them with respect

You mention how you always say, ‘Your hair is my canvas’

I imagine your fingers like a paintbrush

One flick of your wrist making twists with combs

While salon conversation flows

You prepare scalps like soil to lay crops of cornrows

I ask you how you feel about being called black

You say there’s no way you can speak on that

Like you know what it’s like for everyone

The beauty of identity lies in its diversity and you love being brown

But you don’t like how the word black is thrown around

Black sheep, black rider, being paid black, all imply a sneaky persona

Language and culture make judgements that can trigger

a whole group to feel subliminally attacked

and you don’t resonate with that

You tell me about life in Suriname from going back every year

And how people get to be outside much more than here

You tell me how your forefathers were more connected to the natural elements

How before telling time, there was simply light and its gradual absence

Suddenly I see how in many ways life in Europe is the opposite

And how the skill of adaptability grows out of a need of it

Though the earth’s surface transforms as the seasons change

A strong core of fire is what remains - constant

You tell me how it’s painful that race comes with pre-judgements

How that’s why you make sure everybody is welcome in your chair

And how just like soil, just like joy, blood and bones -  hair is hair

Merlyn runs BraidsbyMer at the Treehouse community and is of Surinamese and Dutch nationality.

Julia Beth Harris
Benny van der Plank
Merlyn Hasselbaink
tt. neveritaweg 55-57
1033 WB Amsterdam, NH