Here are the proud hair can be our most defining physical attribute. It frames our face and reflects who we are inside. We use our hair to mimic our idols, to scare our oppressors, to show our faith and to mesmerize potential mates. And no matter how devoid of vanity we claim to be, we all have caught a glimpse of our selves in the window of a building or on the reflection of a passing car and thought ‘Today is a damn good hair day.’
I appreciate hair, my hair to be specific. It’s been an ever changing, ever-present source of self-expression.
So it’s crazy to think that I almost cut all my hair off in 2008 at the behest of my mother who claimed that I wouldn’t get a job with an Afro (Which is utterly untrue. There are plenty of employment opportunities for people with Afros; Pimps from the 70s, members of the Black Panther Party, Point guards for the Harlem globe trotters, etc.) Although in retrospect, I think her main concern was that I was beginning to look like a transient.
It’s sort of become my symbol. (Along with wine bottles and chicken legs.)
But I had just began what is now my 6 year stint in art school and was hungry for an opportunity to express myself. And what better way (for an 18 year old.) to express one’s self than with a unique hair style.
At first I went through a hat phase. As we all know hats are a great way to
B.) Insulate the scalp
C.) Hide the carnage that is your hair.
From Fedoras to beanies to fitted caps, I had them all. Although my dad threw away many of the fitted hats claiming that they are solely worn by thugs and bastards. (My dad is the black Rush Limbaugh, without the opiate addiction and proclivity for Dominican prostitutes.) The hats worked for awhile, except for those instances when I had to take the hats off. IE; Weddings, Funerals, and ‘excursions into intimacy’. (Because, lets face it, leaving socks on during sex is one thing, but leaving a hat on is another. Unless its a cowboy hat, which is then categorized as a fetish, but this article isn’t about fetishes, so please stay on track.)
So then I tried an S-curl, but it was less Prince and more wet poodle.
My cousin even flat ironed it once, and If I wasn’t afraid smell of burning hair and the hours I’d have to devote in bathrooms I may have ridden that rode out. (But then again as a black man, flat ironing your
hair is a slippery slope to wearing trip pants and going to raves. And even at 18 I knew raves were lame.)
After months of incessant parental nagging, I finally caved and let them schedule me a hair appointment. I thought that I was going to a barber, who was going to shave my head, leaving me bald, unexceptional and nondescript. Another clean cut brick in the wall of unprovocative hair cuts. But, much to her eternal credit, my Mother having heard from a co-worker about how chic and in fashion dreadlocks were becoming, goggled a reputable salon and booked an appointment. (This was my first time going to a salon as a client and even to this day the fact that I have to make salon appointments to me reeks of pomposity and metro-sexuality, I’m uncomfortable with both.) After a consultation, the hair dresser, or as he prefers ‘lockologist’, a dignified looking man named Lenny, told me to come back the next day to begin the process. The process took 4 and a half hours and came with a $200 bill.
The thing you have to know about starting dreads is that there is a myriad of variables that can affect the outcome; texture of hair, length of hair, hair maturity. Not to mention all the different variations in the actual process. I mean there is backcombing, twisting, the wool sweater, the wool hat, brush rubbing, and the always heinous ‘neglect method.’ ( Which is essentially letting dirt and grime collect on you head to clump your hair together, like the way a Bison or a Buffalo has all that feces clumped in the hair by their butt holes.) All these methods have nuances in the technique that end up changing the style of the lock drastically and while the differences in the technique may seem subtle, they are all done very
My parents were instantaneously in love with the look, I on the other hand, a self-conscious 19 year old, was mortified and aggravated by the change. The twists, because at this point they hadn’t yet locked sotherefore couldn’t be classified as dread locks, were incredibly lame. I looked like Jamie Foxx in ‘Booty Call’. But as it turns out people dug the new doo, I was greeted with a bouquet compliments from everyone at my dorm about how nice was hair was, one such compliment I remember being something to the effect of; ‘Oh, so you ditched the untamed look and went with something classier.’ I had no idea I looked ‘untamed’ and I couldn’t start to fathom these little yarn knots could look ‘classy’. It’s amazing, the
power of a well-used adjective on the self-esteem.
So form there my hair began to grow, and not to get meta-personal on ya, but I felt myself grow as well. And sure I was 19 going on 20, and was exiting my teenage years and staring down the proverbial barrel of young manhood, so naturally I was evolving, but for every centimeter my hair grew, I seemed to change as well.
My hair gave me confidence and identity and something that accented my clothes and something that I
could properly shake at concerts.
Oh and did I mention girls dig it? Because, they do. My roommate recently hypothesized that my hair is 75% of the reason girls find me attractive. The bad part is he might be right. I asked my girlfriend (Of 3 years.) would she still date me if I cut my hair off, to which she replied with a lackadaisical shrug and an abrupt subject change.
Dreads enchant and befuddle white people, as do most ethnic practices. There is even a girl in New York who asked me to mail her a lock of my hair. She claims its just a memento from an awesome summer but sometimes I get sharp, sudden pains in my stomach so I’m not so sure it wasn’t for a Voodoo doll. (Can white people do Voodoo?) White people often ask me if I am a Rastafarian, to which I reply ‘No because weed makes feel anxious and inept.’ They ask me if they can touch it, and it kind off makes me feel
like a dog or like that panel of snake skin they keep in the reptile section of the Zoo.
At the high school where I teach the students love my hair. A lot of the student are just now starting to grow dreads, they all look like they are wearing identical mop like wigs. So when they see my dreads, stretching 3 inches past the nape of my neck they stare in amazement. I believe the length of my hair garnishing me some respect. (Although I am still habitually ridiculed and undermined everyday.)
Chicago has been experiencing a surge in teens starting to dread their hair, due in my opinion to the popularity of Chief Keef, which would anger me, but music has always inspired teens to do stupid shit with their hair, look at the Warped Tour.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that my hair as been less a style and more of a dependable constant in my life. My hair has been with me through 10 jobs, 3 internships, 8 girlfriends, the start of my stand up comedy “career”, the realization that I’ll always be a better “writer” than a comedian, the death of my Grandmother and one of my closet friends. Through the hard nights and beautiful mornings, I’ve carried my locks with me. And now they drape to my shoulders, keeping my ears warm, lightly brushing my skin, reminding me that they are still there and just as their name suggests, they are locked with me. And that’s comforting.