Shannon L. Ortiz
Students will be able to:
Read "Konk" by Piri Thomas
Close read passages in groups
Identify external cultural conflicts and internal conflicts in text
As a pre-reading exercise, I will ask students to respond to the following prompt that will be on the board in their journals:
What does mainstream society consider beautiful/handsome? What evidence to you see of this? Consider advertisements, celebrities, and current fashion trends. Is this perception of what is beautiful/handsome attainable? Why or why not?
Once students have written for approximately ten minutes I will allow them time to share out some of their answers before moving to the group work section of the lesson.
I will then break the students into groups of three and give each group one of the following passages from "Konk" by Piri Thomas:
"When I was a kid, many folks spent a lot of time, effort, and money trying to
pass for white. Very few homes did not have some kink of skin-bleaching cream.
If poverty prevented its purchase raw lemon juice would suffice. Cream or juice
was liberally applied to the skin with the hope if turning it yellow, which was light,
if not white."
"Running neck and neck were hair-straightening and coloring effects. The very
poor made up batches of Vaseline, lye, and harsh brown octagon soap for their
hair-straightening. For those who could afford it, there were jars of heavy white
cream with "You too can have beautiful hair" advertised on the label."
"Even more money could buy a marcel, which straightened curly hair by press
ing it out with iron-hot combs after dipping one's head in oil. The smell of burnt
hair often overpowered the odors of garbage-littered alleyways. Even comic
books carried ads for beauty care. One could earn a Red Ryder B.B rifle or a
bicycle if one sold enough of a particular brand of lightening cream."
"I'm Roy, bro. What's yours?"
"Mine's Piri," I answered, my eyes glued to his own natural unprocessed hair.Roy
put on some rubber gloves like doctors use when they have to touch something
they don't really want to.
"Umhh." He frowned. "This won't do…won't do at all."
I wondered if my Puerto Rican hair was going to be left out of konk too. "What's
" A lot of bad can happen if it's not done right." My artist brother droned on, con
fident in his art. "If you want white man's hair, there's a price you gotta pay.
Whatcha say?Now's the time to stop or go."
I smiled bravely and said, "Go, bro. But say, man. How come you don't konk
your hair, seeing as you're in the business?"
Roy just mumbled. "No way, man. Konks or marcels ain't my stick. I just do it for
others 'cause it's part of my living wages."
The noise brought in Momma, followed by Poppa still chewing on his supper.
Suddenly everybody was silent. I walked slowly over to the sofa and plunked
down heavily on it, feeling old and tired at fourteen and wondering my strong
young legs refused to hold me up.
Poppa shook his head. He knew what my hurting was all about. Momma sat
down by my side and caressed my wilted, abused hair. Then hugging me close,
she allowed my tears of hurt and shame to be absorbed by her big momma
breasts. She whispered to me, "Hijo, what have you done to your beautiful hair?"
"Oh, Moms," I whispered back. "I just didn't want to be different anymore. I'm so
tired of being called names. I ain't no raisinhead or nothing like that."
Momma hugged me very closely and said out loud, "Don't you ever be ashamed
of being you. You want to know something, negrito? I wouldn't trade you for any
blanquitos."The next day found me playing stickball with a red bandanna around
my forehead, sporting the baldest head in town."
I will give each group a large piece of paper to write down their passage. Then I will ask students to close read their passage and interpret the message that Thomas is trying to convey about assimilating into mainstream American culture. I will ask students to discuss what motivates the external cultural conflicts that exist between white America and Puerto Ricans? How does create internal conflict in Piri's decision to straighten his hair? I will give the students about fifteen minutes to discuss their passage and write what they think the passage conveys about assimilation into mainstream American. Then they will present their passages to the class.
As a closure exercise I want the students to write exit slips commenting on another group of students presented to the class. This will require students to recall other student's passages, but also evaluate another passage in the story where Piri struggles with the difficulties of assimilation.