America is still obsessed with the afro

The New York Times recently decided to take whiteness on a virtual trip to the exotic. In two pieces in the last week or so, the newspaper has published one op-ed and one article on black natural hair, specifically the complicated, peculiar Afro!

The article explores how people are now starting to view black people who sport afros with some relative form of humanity. It summarizes how the hairstyle is no longer seen as a militant rejection of American principles whiteness. The 21st century afro is a kindler, gentler form of self expression.

So, rest assured, white people. You now know the man or woman with an afro sitting next to you in Starbucks won’t pull out an AK-47 and start shooting random white people.

The op-ed, written by Vanity Fair writer and editor Bruce Handy, explores the writer’s experience with wearing his own afro during the 1970s. Both pieces use the backdrop of Dante de Blasio, son of New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, sporting an afro in his father’s campaign commercial as a catalyst to once again dive into the complicated world of black natural hair.

The article discusses how the afro is somehow more tamed, and the people who elect to wear afros are not the typical eco-conscious, Afrocentric people you may think of when you conjure up an image of a black person wearing an afro. Handy’s op-ed goes through how he accidentally discovered he had an afro, but grew tired of how his hair became his “public identity.”

The truth is, this was less a dramatic change of heart than the inevitable cresting of a rising wave of resentment toward my own hair. What began as an act of self-assertion had become instead a protracted, inertial wallow in self-abnegation — a curse (!!!!!!!!!) I had brought upon myself like the be-careful-what-you-wish-for moral from a fairy tale. Not that I would have put it that way then. When people asked, I just said something like, “I need a summer job.”

I hope Dante de Blasio continues to enjoy the attention he gets for his hair, but that it never comes to define him. Playing around with one’s “look” is a natural part of growing up — I suspect I am not the only modern young person to have survived a hair-driven existential crisis. But it’s time to move on when your hair or hat or ivory-handled walking stick or whatever affectation becomes bigger than you — figuratively if not, as in my case, almost literally. In an urban landscape more awash than need be with handlebar mustaches, Rutherford B. Hayes beards and tattoos the size and colorful intensity of large-screen TVs, this is an epiphany that I hope will be shared.

Must be nice for Handy to be able to dabble in the exotic and later shed that marker once he had just a sip of what black people have to go through when we decide to step out in public with our hair in its natural state.

Every few months or so, we see articles such as these that seeks to break down blackness for white folks. Curiously, these mainstream media outlets always neglect to explore the social, economic, political capital black folks are in danger of losing once we reject the prevailing forms of beauty. These articles are merely designed to give white folks a glimpse of one part of blackness, but never propels mainstream American to ask themselves *why* natural hair continues to be lampooned and rejected in many circles.

Sure, the afro and other natural hair styles are being accepted in some circles. However, there are plenty of black people, particularly black women, who can give mainstream American many tales how they have to negotiate racist, often ridiculous hair questions and dodge white folks’ presumptuous attempts to grab at our locks. The gaze is conspicuously never turned back onto whiteness and its role in dictating whether or not society at large will accept or reject black natural hair.

Handy’s op-ed is classic whitesplaining to the masses. Since he had the misfortune of having hair that caused him to be spotted from yards away, he feel it’s his role to school Dante de Blasio on how he should not allow his natural hair dictate how he runs his life. I mean, he only sported an afro during his rebellious late teens, so he is the go-to person when it comes to telling black folks how to navigate a racist world that routinely tells us the hair on our heads is inherently hideous and should be tamed.

What’s interesting is Handy (who says he feels kinship —BULLSHIT — and concern for the younger de Blasio) references “playing around with one’s ‘look'” as if Dante de Blasio has the privilege to determine how whiteness views him and his afro. While Handy had the luxury to decide he didn’t want to be a spectacle, whiteness does not extend that opportunity to black people with natural hair. Wearing our hair in its natural state, which is an outright rejection of whiteness and its standard of beauty, automatically propels mainstream America to view us as anomalies and a threat.

Dante de Blasio will not have to allow his afro to define him because whiteness has already done so with its binary concept that anything juxtaposed with its standards is labeled as The Other.