I Am My Hair, Too - The Jose Vilson

I Am My Hair, Too

by Jose Vilson on October 9, 2011

in 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 …

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Lehmann October 9, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I just want to know how that ad got to print. No one… I mean… NO ONE… thought that might be incredibly offensive?

Yeesh.

Great post.

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Gelle October 9, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Nice post, Jose. The 2nd Ave photo is dope, by the way.

I wondered the same as Chris. It seems Nivea anticipated this and offered the converse. I think it’s offensive, lacks creativity and misses the mark(et). As for me and my Afro-rockin’ house, we’re not buying. Pfft!

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Stephen Lazar October 9, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I agree the particular response is a little shallow. Here’s a much more thoughtful one from a former student of mine: http://nyseewithme.blogspot.com/2011/08/uncivilized-how-about-unacceptable.html. I agree with her – the problem with the original ad isn’t the hair; its the imperialist rhetoric.

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Jose October 9, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Apologies to the both of you for not providing context for the picture. In response to the original Nivea picture on the top, someone on Tumblr or something remade the ad that appears in the second photo. I didn’t agree with either, even though I look more like the first than the second. Nivea pinned the responsibility for the first ad on one of their Black guys, but isn’t that always the case? It’s always the colored person who has an odd sense of humor exactly.

Having said that, I don’t need to buy Nivea. Alcohol and night cream will do. :-)

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