So the other day, I was having a lazy, long lunch at Cafeteria with my ooollld friend Kibwe. Old. Old enough for him to remember me tumbling out of Key Club (a late-Nineties NYC staple), shrieking 112′s “Only You” at the top of my lungs and then walking smack into a “No Standing Anytime” sign (#blackoutdrunk).
Anyway, out of nowhere, we had an extremely illuminating conversation about black men and their relationship to their hair. Actually, let me back up. It wasn’t entirely out of nowhere. I hadn’t seen Kibwe, a crazy successful designer, in awhile — after working for every major house on the planet (the likes of Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta), he left NYC to get a fab advanced degree at Brown U. When he showed up to lunch, I was shocked to see that he had a good three or four inches of starter dreadlocks sprouting from his adorable head. He had long locks back in high school, but had basically had a variation of a low cut (ceasars, fades, teeny weeny ‘fros) since then. Cute!
And this was the convo that transpired:
Me: Kibwe! Your hair! Are you growing locks again?
Kibwe: Yeah, but it’s not for style, it’s part of a broader, more global cultural conversation.
Me: Oh Jesus, have you been reading Audre Lord or something? Did you become Rasta at Brown? Walk me through this.
Kibwe: Listen. As a black man…a black man who’s hair doesn’t wave if I rock a du-rag to bed…your hair is this thing coming out of you that you have to hurry up and get rid of before everyone sees it. If I have even a millimeter of new growth, I look like a slave. It’s “peasy,” “beady-beads,” “taco meat.” It communicates “urban,” there’s no other option.
Me: Fair enough.
Kibwe: I’m sick of the Ceasar. I need to see my hair. I need to learn to react positively to it, because the culture is not affirming me. If i keep cutting it, no one will adjust their thinking…including me. It’s like when you’re a woman who feels gross without lipgloss or something. You should try skipping it to learn to love yourself without it.
[In my head, I’m like “umm…never, buddy.”]
Kibwe: Also, just from a fashion point of view…I always wanted to have the “scruffy” option. White culture has the “scruffy guy you still wanna fuck,” like Johnny Depp. Black culture doesn’t. Locks and twists are just starting to kinda become cool, like with 2 Chainz and Wayne and Wale. There’s Lenny, but he’s always been the exception.
Me: Yeah, it’s like the whole dirty chic thing never works on black girls. We can’t wear fucked-up Uggs, or super-messy ponytails. We look homeless.
Kibwe: We’re expected to be clean cut, so as not to offend non-minorities. There’s no lane for a non-conventional black man (especially not for a gay one). Not if you wanna keep your job. Fuck that. I’m all over the new natural hair YouTube videos and shit. Have you heard of co-washing?
Me: Totally! It’s when you skip shampoo, ’cause it’s too drying. You use conditioner to both clean and moisturize you’re hair.
Kibwe: It’s everything, right? At first I’m like, co-wash? Like you need an extra set of hands? Like community-wash? As in you’re calling your girl, like “come get in the shower with me, bitch…I need support staff to wash my shit!”
And then we both fell out laughing and the conversation went way left. But it’s interesting, right? You tend to think that the black hair conversation solely belongs to black women, but it really doesn’t. Just thought I’d share. Love you, Kibwe. And I love you guys, too.