Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
TriceEdney – My life in California was punctuated by some of the best vocalizations ever recorded. Among these were the songs recorded by the awesome group, “The Fifth Dimension.” Although it was not their sole source, many of their more popular songs came from the musical, “Hair.”
Hair was a Broadway musical that explored the hippie counter culture of the 1960’s. It dealt with the sexual revolution of that period, and mirrored the growing public dissatisfaction with the involvement of the United States in the Viet Nam war. Stated mildly, it was controversial and provocative.
Through history, the hair we wear has, for the most part, also been culturally controversial and provocative. Hair, and its specific length or form of grooming, has been symbolic of womanhood or manhood, status, privilege, cultural and authority. For me, as well as for many others, it once said, “I’m Black and I’m proud.” Biblically, hair has been both a blessing and a curse. Absalom, the rebellious son of David, was hanged by his own hair in an oak tree. For Samson, hair was a blessing from God and the source of Samson’s great strength. Most know the story of Samson revealing the secret of his strength to Delilah, having his hair cut by her, falling victim to the Philistines, and his renewal as his hair re-grew to its original length.
Hair, or the lack thereof, has had significant impact on how war is waged. Until the discovery of the health implications of hair and the disease associated with too much of it, military authorities gave it little notice or concern. Before WWI and chemical warfare, US soldiers routinely wore beards. When the need to provide a barrier against chemical exposure by deploying gas masks was identified, the shaved-face became a standard for military grooming. Once out of the military, many came home and grew hair on their faces, above their lips, on their chins, and hair of every length on their heads!
For African Americans in general, the past 50 years have demonstrated the use of hair as an instrument of beauty, a form of personal decoration, and a statement of philosophical expression. Granted, some just wear it for style. I would imagine some do it because the cost of haircuts and shaves has grown sky high and they can’t afford them! For those who’ve paid even minimal attention, the trends of hair wear and care have created significant discussion both inside and outside our community.
Many African American men have used the wear of facial hair to symbolize their “manhood.” This facial hair establishes social boundaries beyond which Black men refuse to allow adversaries to move. One rarely hears the pejorative term “boy” used overtly or directly any longer, especially towards men who have obviously moved beyond childhood.
Now comes the unbelievable case of Andrew Jones of Amite, Louisiana. Andrew is a straight-A, high school valedictorian and star athlete, who was denied participation in his high school graduation. He was stripped of his cap and gown and not allowed to deliver his valedictorian speech or stand with his classmates at graduation. His heinous infraction? He failed to comply with a previously un-enforced rule disallowing facial hair on students! Guess God made a mistake! He also wore “dreads!” I imagine that, too, was a factor in the decision to show a young Black man who the boss is.
The principal says he was just following orders from the school board. There’re other cases in history where someone used that Nuremberg defense and we know the tragic consequences. Contact the Tangipahoa Parish school board to demand an apology to Andrew for denying him the most important graduation in the life of many young Black men. (email@example.com). Andrew also needs a good lawyer!
Dr. E. Faye Williams can be reached at: 202-678-6788; or at: www.nationalcongressbw.org