The Black Hair Series
Galaxies swirl. Atoms spin. All things in the cosmos operate in spiritual motion — a spiral movement, that is. A curl, if you will. Eyebrows raise at the sight of these natural affairs. The terrifying force of a tornado. The otherworldly twirl of a whirlpool. The coarse and kinky, nappiest strands of negrohood. What was once seen as the good, the great, godly textures of ancient eras long gone, has now been rendered second-rate, second-hand, undesirably bland … that is the undulating nature of Black hair. As Black authors Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps harrowingly declare in their collective "Hair Story," "When you believe you're inferior you're much easier to control."
The mechanisms of mass programming, white supremacist propaganda and the ideological imperatives of industrial capitalism have historically worked overtime to put forth these fabrications. It is no mystery that Black hair, for hundreds of years, has been as brutalized as Black people. Hardly trimming away at our own treacherous mis-education, we stay stuck, entangled in despair, in deception, so entrenched by the detriments of a spiritually/spirally deficient society, divorced from the realization that our hair in its most fine, most natural state is divine. As Black author SuZar puts it, "hair is the receiver and transmitter of divine emanation it makes you receptive to spiritual forces."
Our hair — the highest part of the body — is holy, speaking wholly to our soul, the universe and dimensions beyond. The stories of old, of Samson, of Medusa, those told by the Rastafarians and the Afrikans of the Nile, could not deny the numinous nature of the nappy. As Numbers 6:5 utters, "he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow." We know, now, the evolutionary basis for tight curls, as Bill Bryson describes the body, "being the most efficient kind because it increases the thickness of the space between the surface of the hair and scalp allowing the air to blow." Though the earliest of peoples were right to think that these kinks and curls unfurl into something greater than mere a biological buffer. Our hair is an antenna. Its spiral energies, swirling at great speeds, indeed, acts as a magnetic mechanism for spiritual ascension. And the cultivation of these coarse spirals surely grants one growth in their spiritual facilities.
How else would a people enslaved, abused and brutalized, tortured and tormented, mistreated and beaten find the means to see and be beyond material circumstances? The collective spirit of Blackness is one that defies such impossible odds. This is a spirit that moves towards harmony, remains rich in rhythm and valiant in verve, unmoved by the matrices of mass control, the white power structure and Western hegemony. And nowhere better is this extraordinary persistence exemplified than in the hallowed hairs of Black people.
Fade in on The Black Hair Series. Hello! It’s time to dutifully de-condition. Moisturize our soul. Reclaim the harmed parts of ourselves that, once healed, make us whole.
To all you beautiful people,
Welcome to The Black Hair Series.
Our mission was to create a body of work that showcases the multifaceted nature of Black hair and how hair journeys differ across hair textures, styles, skin tones, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and all walks of life. We sought to do an investigation on how Black hair interacts with our intersecting identities, conflicting standards and stereotypes, virtues and vices, as well as material and spiritual perspectives. In the process, we formed pertinent bonds with our many participants, barbers and stylists.
In the late fall of 2022, we conducted photoshoots, video shoots and interviews with 16 Black students at the University of Michigan to learn about their personal hair journeys. In addition to this, we interviewed 2 barbers and 2 hairstylists based in the greater Detroit area to learn about how they came into their careers of treating and tending to Black hair.
This project has been an eye-opening, hair-raising process for the three of us, marking the compilation of hours upon hours of interviews, hundreds of gigabytes of photos and countless number of days spent designing and developing our final product. We are ecstatic to finally be able to share it with you all.
So… take some time to explore the website! (Eric Lau didn't spend a week developing it for y'all not to!) It is the culmination of all the content we've produced over the course of three months. On this page lives the stories of our models, barbers and stylists. We hope their words resonate with you forever as you dive, spiraling into the mystifying phenomena that is Black hair.
Peace and Blessings,
Udoka, Karis and Akash
So it seems we’ve arrived at a hairy situation. As centuries of sorrow, shame and self-hate have placed us densely against the perdurable odds of a white power structure, hell-bent on denying, decrying the bountiful, blessings of Blackness. Are we not afraid to believe ourselves beautiful? To dare, to deem ourselves dark, and glance ourselves glamorous, not despite — nor in spite — but because of our deep-rooted divine right to do so? To know so.
Ion really know … though the apprehension which arises as eyes look in the mirror, mixed at loving what you see, seems to me to be a maniacal product of mass programming. But don’t worry … they got a product for that! They say, you too can be beautiful if you’re stocked full, got plentiful money and time, eternally assiduous in your efforts to fall aligned with the designated politics of desire.
So in the morning, we soon bolt, beyond the bloodshot eyes, bound to bathe in the waters of sink and shower. Gathered at this most ungodly hour are our most malicious thoughts. The I musts, I needs, I oughts to do this to my hair, my face, my teeth, my skin, my body, my mind, my soul so others will like me, look at me, love me. How do we reconcile the hours above, days behind and years unwinding down a path of pity, of powerlessness, of pain? Shall we refrain from refreshing these woes, these hurts, these split hairs that we wear? I fear any action otherwise would pale in comparison…
To liberate is to spiral out of control! New developments occur in utterly perplexing ways. Utterly perplexing waves which come crashing down, derailing the wretched detriments, the dualistic tendencies of terror. The many stages of progress exist in the precious parts braided and braved, this gelled-back journey in which our world reels whirled. In every instance, we stand, swirling, meandering in dialectical amalgamation from future to past. Always ebbing and flowing. But we been knowing this — as these curled truths unfurled long before… we were conditioned otherwise. It’s all been there. It’s all been hair.
MiC Columnist Karis Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MiC Senior Editor Udoka Nwansi can be reached at email@example.com.
MiC Photographer Akash Dewan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.