As I have stated many times, but more specifically, here, the natural hair movement should not just be seen as a fight to free Black women.
Sure, that’s how both mainstream and Black media – with their emphasis on highlighting our big chops, wig shedding and hair journeys – make it out to be. But the idea that Black women are the only ones who have issues with our hair is preposterous. And sexist. Men too have issues with their kinks. (Or did we think that Julius Caesar, the famed Roman emperor and the individual – or name – behind the popular hairstyle worn by Black men, was a brother from Ghana?)
For example, check out this tweet:
For those who don’t know why you should care, Dr. Steve Perry is the founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, which is mostly known for consecutively graduating 100 percent of its all-Black male academy into college. He is also Sean “Puffy” Combs’ recently announced partner in a charter prep school that the unlikely duo is opening up in Harlem, New York.
Dr. Perry’s tweet was in reference to Steve Harvey’s National Mentoring Camp for Young Men, which was held in Roberta, Georgia late last week. And according to Dr. Perry’s timeline, the three-day camp, which partnered with the U.S. Army, served as a “powerful” testimony to how “the armed forces take young men & women who many gave up on & transform them into upright citizens.” This includes one young man with a speech impediment, who, according to Perry, ceased stuttering thanks to what he learned through the camp.
In addition to heaping tons of praise upon our U.S. armed forces, Perry also took a moment to express his interest in partnering with them “to create single gender boarding schools bc we CAN save our sons by changing their context.”
Needless to say, not everyone was happy with Dr. Perry’s tweet. And surprisingly, it didn’t have anything to do with his apparent approval of a school-to-military pipeline. Instead, it was the hair thing. And after a ton of folks read him the riot act in his mentions, Dr. Perry had this to say in response:
I will not deny that Dr. Perry is a fantastic educator. He is the man who basically wrote the blueprint for academic success. And if there is one person who knows what it takes to reshape and mold young men from scrubs to successful grown men, it is definitely him.
Still, there is something very bothersome about his stance. Of course, I’m talking about the adherence to respectability in all of this. The idea that because of stereotypes and White supremacy, Black folks must present ourselves in a certain way to not only not offend the White gaze, but to also be considered as worthy of respect and to be seen as dignified, serious people.
Yeah, I hate that kind of thinking, too.
But more than the respectability politicking, I also think there is something extremely self-defeating and loathing about Dr. Perry’s tweet. In particular, that maybe the gaze has a point. That our hair, in its natural state, is contrary to what should be seen as dignified, respectable, and even successful in this world.
And unfortunately, so many of our folks also feel this very way. They like to call it facing reality and offering up sage advice that will help others succeed in a country that is racially stacked against us. But, in reality, it is all just their way of telling you that they intend to uphold up – and even encourage – some very nasty oppression that hurts us all.
Yeah, I said it.
Granted, Dr. Perry’s record of getting young men to college is exceptional – and we all know that college is supposed to be the cornerstone to success and empowerment in the Black community. But a man is not shaped solely by how he performs academically, particularly in an institutional setting, nor is it only a matter of discipline and appearance. Therefore, the question of how we define success is an important one.
In particular, what does success mean when we are raising young men to have no sense of self? What kind of self-loving and well-rounded Black men are we rearing if we are teaching them as young men that their natural selves should be seen and treated as opposite to all that they aspire to in life (i.e., worthy of a good job, a nice home, love and marriage, etc…)?
What does success really mean if we are drilling into their impressionable minds that natural hair is contrary to all things respectable and professional? And what will it mean when it is time to pick a wife and have children? In other words, will they be willing to consider the woman with the unprofessional and status-limiting natural hairstyle or opt for something more “disciplined”?
And yes, that matters, too. And speaking of things that matter, how does any of this free us?
After all, isn’t this whole point of these Talented Tenth escapades – to mold young Black men who care about the well-being of the community and want to contribute to its growth – not to continue to raise young Black men who hate us? I have to say that if this is how we view success, then we would probably be better off letting them kill themselves out on the street.
And not to sound too morbid, but it’s all self-destruction anyway…
And as I wrote back in 2012 in the piece entitled, “Not in Corporate America, Brotha: When Will Black Men Join the Natural Hair Movement Too?”:
On any given Saturday there is a long wait time at any barber shop in the hood. Most men grow up knowing that at least twice a month there is a barber waiting to trim their hair into a tight fade. If anybody were to ask them why they continue to hand over money on Saturday mornings to “maintain” their short haircuts, most would tell you that having longer hair is too burdensome. Their natural hair is impossible to comb. And no one has the extra time in the mornings to dedicate to properly moisturizing and taming their thick and bushy ‘fro into a perfect circle. Ironically, these are some of the same reasons women have given as to why they might perm or wear a weave. Yet, within this double standard, no one ever accuses men of conforming to European beauty standards in order to give off a non-threatening aesthetic.
You know, the same non-threatening aesthetic that makes Black Fortune 500 CEOs with a “baby face” appearance more likely to lead companies with higher revenues and prestige than Black CEOs who look more ethnic? Oh yeah, those are actual results from a study conducted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Even if they are at the top of their game, Black men must still succumb to the pressure to present an image that won’t suggest too much Negro-tude.
And unfortunately, many of them will be succumbing because none of their brothers will have their back when it is time to stand up to the abuse and fight back.
I know folks don’t want to hear it, but we do kind of do it to ourselves…