I Am My Hair, Too

Jose Vilson Jose

Nivea's Ad, Re-Colonize Yourself

To look as fresh as some of us brothers do takes a certain amount of patience, skill, and discernment that people don’t understand until they’ve seen it in action. A brotha first observes the movements of their barber, looking at the prior customer’s face to measure their own satisfaction. Their space doesn’t need to be perfect, but at least familiar, and the smell has to feel right. Once that happens, an experienced guy like me might ask for a precise blade to use for the length we’d like our relatively small lengths of hair on our heads. In the process of getting our hairs cut, the barber carefully chops at the main parts of my head, chisels the sides with a T-razor, crafts the edges with a razor blade, and finishes our head off with alcohol and talc, the sweet and sour of looking carefully crafted.

This is not to say that dreads, fros, cornrows, perms, or another other haircut of choice isn’t intentional on some level. It just so happens that it works well for me wherever I go. As a baby, I had a mini-fro, and it worked because of the times. My hair curled up and had a glob of gel in it for that extra sheen. When I got to Dominican Republic, my cousins tried to make the peak of my unshaped hairline into a Jheri curl. It worked for a night, and that’s about it. Since then, I’ve spent an average of half an hour waiting time, half an hour sitting time, and $15 including tip every month and a half assuring that I had a low cut / tape up / shape up. Some people leave too much on the top and others push your hairline too far back, characteristic of the community and era they learned their craft.

In no way, however, is this some sort of reflection of the colonization of America and the subsequent enslavement of my ancestors. I see people right from the continent (!) of Africa whose hairs stay close to their heads like mine. Some have waves and others have cut close to the scalp. Others leave a nice layer of curls on their heads, and others still prefer to leave a hat on their heads daily, saving their cuts for their women. In certain spaces, having dreads and fros is the epitome of “Black man” and waving said hair around while rhyming in a syncopated fashion on a stage earns you authenticity points.

But … who cares? I in no way endorse Nivea’s ad about the relationship between the length of one’s hair and their inclination towards civilization, but the anti-argument:

De-Colonize Yourself

doesn’t help either. I’m glad people are proud of the hairs they have on their heads, and more power to them if they choose to wear dreads or fros. At this stage of the game, my balding head can’t couldn’t possibly grow those to that length. We as Black men (and others) need to be OK with that. Preferably, I would like to think that Black men can organize under better principles, instead of dividing ourselves by the lengths of their hairs.

Mr. Vilson, who wants you to ask what civilized means, too …