Sex & Gender

the hair politics of black boyhood: how i came to refuse white standards of respectability

April 28, 2017
51 Picks

By Asher Primus*, AFROPUNK contributor

I know everyone has a bone to pick with Shea Moisture’s erasure of black womanhood. And I was anxious to dig deep into it until I recognized the company also sells hair products for black men and even a black man was featured briefly in the controversial commercial.

It had me scratching my head, why was the black man’s experience with hair being swept under the rug? The great lie that ‘Everybody gets love’ is a laughable and tearful campaign slogan. The reality is that non-black people, and even some black men, do not understand hair politics that centers black women.

In my case, I did not know anything about natural hair when I was in grade school. I foolishly assumed the girls wore weaves because black hair was unappealing. After my high school graduation, I saw a beautiful black woman with natural hair. I fell in love with the concept and did research on other types of natural hairstyles.

Thanks to the rise of the natural hair movement, I came to appreciate and understand black women’s more while struggling to deal with my dreadlocks.

Before the dreadlocks, when I was 6 years old, I was conscious about my strong and coarse-textured hair. Sometimes, I wished I was East Indian because I still loved my dark skin, but they had silky smooth hair, unlike me. After my parents divorced, my mixed half-brother would cut my hair. He would often get frustrated with cutting it. The pain from the scalp haunts me still. He did not use good clippers, but he gave a superb cut so I was happy to get it over with. Eventually, I started going to local barbershop to get better cuts from men who looked like me and know how to treat my hair.

I did make attempts to soften my hair by applying grease, but the waves did not come in and sometimes my friends would notice the gel on my head and accidently on my ears.

After my sophomore year of high school, I decided to get dreadlocks. The beginning process was hard because as a high school student I relied heavily on my mom to pay the expenses. Even getting my hair retwisted (before locking) took long hours and I could see the face of my hairdresser being eager to see me, but excited to put in the work. My hair required regular maintenance and there were many times at school when I was made fun of because a twist popped out.

Loving my hair took time.And the experimentation I’ve done with it over the years have invited negative and positive commentary. I can vividly recall strangers telling me that my hair always appeared neat, while at the same time I remember a situation at work where an old white man repeatedly asked my supervisor why my hair was not cut. He was adamant about it.

At the time, I had to learn to be more self-loving and not expect people to love my hair. Black men’s hair is a metaphysical crown that has been categized by society to be nappy. We do not need white approval, not even in the workplace. The goal is for both black men and women to take care of each other. I refuse to use white standards of respectability politics to lump me and my brothers and sisters into an unprofessional or desirable category.

*My name is Asher Primus. My hobbies are writing and landscaping. I have a love and appreciation for the simplest things in life. My goal in life is to guide black youths to a better future that appreciates their differences, flaws and uniqueness that they bring to the world.

Photo credit: @shawn_barbz