A few weeks ago, I was watching a documentary on the life of one of my favorite musicians, Sam Cooke. In 1950, Cooke started out as a gospel singer before crossing over to secular music and taking the world by storm. Infusing gospel melodies into R&B, soul and pop music, Cooke’s style influenced the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Curtis Mayfield to name a few. Both women and men adored “Mr. Soul”, as he was called. To women, he was drop dead gorgeous (I share their sentiment, the man had swag!) and men? They wanted to be him.
During this time period black men, especially entertainers, relaxed their hair to mimic white hair. The style was known as “the process”. Cooke was one of the first entertainers to do the “big chop”—cutting off his chemically treated hair and letting his natural texture grow out. It comes as no surprise that many black men across America followed suit.
In the biography of Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin remarked on his decision to go natural, stating:
“When Sam cut his natural, every brotha in the country went to the natural okay? The processes just started going out the window. Everybody went natural behind Sam.”
This shows the enormous impact that celebrities and popular culture have on the way we view ourselves whether we choose to admit it or not. Imagine if Beyonce, Rihanna or Nicki Minaj did the big chop? Better yet, Michelle Obama? Ok, let me stop!
There is no doubt that the big choppers of that time were politically motivated. Afro-textured hair is a distinct black feature that they used to symbolize their pride in their identities as black men in the midst of racial oppression. I find it interesting that one of the stereotypes that natural black women encounter today is about them trying to make a political statement with their hair (see: 10 Things ‘Natural’ Women Wish People Would Stop Assuming) ,but the same does not apply to black men anymore.
Natural hair has become the norm for black men, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Despite trends that have come and gone (from the Jheri Curl of the 80s to the S-Curl of the 90s), black men have no problems reverting to their roots. The issues that men deal with today have more to do with styling than texture. For instance, some men feel uncomfortable wearing braids, twists or dreads in the workplace and some fear the stigmas that society has placed on these styles. Nevertheless, I’m sure Sam Cooke is smiling ear-to-ear wherever he is. The days of the process are long gone!
Do you know any men who battle with their hair texture? Or do you have male family members who did the big chop? We’d love to hear about it, comment below!
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