For the first 15 years of my life, every haircut I had was mostly the same.
My dad and I would go out on the back patio, pull out one of the grey chairs from the table and he’d get the extension cords and clippers. I got the same haircut every time: a buzz cut all the way around. Everything the same length.
After we finished, the clumps of black, curly hair would be swept off the concrete and everything was cleaned up.
Besides the rare cases in which we’d go to Supercuts or Snip-Its, we stuck to the routine.
On Monday, I made the decision to cut my hair for the first time. While it certainly was due to the fact that I badly needed a haircut while being stuck at home because of the coronavirus, it was also a culmination of all my efforts over the past two years to reclaim my hair and culture as a black man.
Growing up, I didn’t know anything about my hair or how to maintain it. I think it’s safe to say this was very much a product of the environment I was in. I was adopted, grew up with two white parents, lived in a very white town and didn’t really have any black friends.
I’m going to be honest, I didn’t use a hair pick until my sophomore year of high school. I had no idea this was something I was supposed to do. Sure, I kind of noticed it looked bad. I was a side-sleeper as a kid, so when my little afro got somewhat long, I’d wake up and half of my hair would be flattened to my head, and the other half would not be. I figured there was nothing I could do about it, and besides, I found that it’d look relatively normal by about halfway through the school day.
I started actually picking my hair consistently during sophomore year of high school. I’m not sure how I finally realized I needed to do it, but I did. To end sophomore year, I got a flat top and fade for the first time. And I went to a decent barbershop.
I mostly stuck with this hairstyle until the end of 12th grade. There was also a weird phase during junior year where I’d get a single line on the side of my head. I’m not sure what went on there. I also really loved wearing V-necks that year, so yeah, mistakes all around.
Senior year of high school, I was still going to barbershops that were just OK. Then I started dating my girlfriend, Courtney, who is also black. Let me tell you, she put an END to all that. I found an actual quality barbershop, and then did the same when I came to Lincoln.
Having been in more black environments with my girlfriend’s family and having plenty of conversations about it, I really developed a desire to own my blackness.
In October of my freshman year of college, I decided to get dreadlocks. My dreads symbolized a substantial change in my life, as they came during a time in which I was finding myself. As I started writing poetry about blackness and finding community on campus, my dreads were a symbol of acceptance. Twisted up in those locs were years of struggle with identity, and I felt like I had taken another step closer to finding me.
About a year has passed since then, and now I’m here, cutting my own hair. It wasn’t the best haircut, but that isn’t really the point. Each movement of the clipper brought to me a power I owned but never used: a sense of reclamation, individualism and expression. There’s a story in this low-quality high top fade. As I inevitably change hairstyles in the future, that story will grow as well.
Black hair is an art form in the sense that it has the ability to tell stories. Stories of struggle, triumph, or any other emotion. There’s a story somewhere in the curls of each hairstyle that differs from person to person. There are few greater joys than being in ownership of that art, ending the sense of disconnection between something that is quite literally connected to us.
In a way, this isolation has proved to be a chance for my hair and I to re-introduce ourselves after a long time of neglect. I mentioned that cutting my own hair was a culmination of my efforts to own my blackness for the past two years. And it is that. Although I have plenty more to learn, this almost feels like the end of a chapter.
But, at the end of every chapter comes a new one, and I’d say this is a snapshot of a transition between the two. Despite me feeling as though I’ve completed a circle, I’m aware there’s more to learn about my identity, and I’ll navigate that as we go.
And, if I’m lucky, by the time things are relatively normal again, I might be able to give myself a decent fade.
Take it easy,
Assistant sports editor