Long Hair, I Don't Wear: Bringing New Meaning to 'Do You'
By Joey Johnson - October 22, 2012

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(Mybrotha.COM) - Whether one rocks the current hairstyles of today (like the fro-hawk, the Rihanna-inspired asymmetrical bob, or the resurrected "bro fro"), or the throwback styles of yesteryear (calling all House Party and Jheri-curl fans), it must be admitted that social life is simply incomplete until he or she attains the right " 'do." While most people will readily concur that everyone does not have the face, confidence, or character to rock as many hairstyles as the umbrella princess herself, they also must admit that everyone has tried his or her fair share of experimental hair-dos. My advice – you have to 'do you (hair-do, that is). I remember walking into my eighth-grade classroom after self-inflicting that briefly-popular Ginuwine sideburn on my face, only to have my friend tell me "Just stop honey, 'cause it ain’t working for you!" Needless to say, I had to get off that pony, recoup, and come back with something more commonplace to convince everyone that I was still that "same ol’ G."

Eighth grade was definitely my experimental year. It was 1998, and Xzibit had not yet become the revamping famed star that he is now. Even so, I knew about him and tried to "pimp my 'do" with cornrows one day (happy that I had even gained enough courage to grow my hair out that long), and I only achieved more embarrassing memories. Being different in my hometown was frowned upon. I guess it is because I grew up in a small redneck town, and I say that with the utmost sincerity. One store in town was even named the "Confederate Redneck Station," and the nearby football team is the "Rebels." You have to ask if someone is your cousin before asking them out on a date, and I believe I saw Jeff Foxworthy drive through a couple of times just to take notes and get new material. Too bad I couldn’t rock the mullet – maybe I would have fit in better then.

Anyway, I was often the only black student (the term "African-American" had not yet caught on, so I was still "black" back then) in class. I took many advanced placement classes and was in the gifted program. Therefore, I was by default the "go-to" guy for all questions about the black race, like "Why y’alls 'un talks the way yer do?" But, I was also the butt of many jokes from my black friends because they said I was trying to be white. I was criticized for sitting with the Saltines (in efforts to be PC, I inserted a euphemism here) at lunch. I didn’t feel that I could win for losing. So, my hairstyle journey in many ways represented my path to finding my connection with the black race. I just wanted to fit in and be normal.

I never understood why when a black student does well academically, many of his black friends call him a sell-out. I also never understood why when there is only one black student in class, the teacher feels obligated to ask him or her in front of the entire class how a particular story about racism or the Antebellum South makes him or her feel. You know the situation; it’s when the teacher says, "(insert name), how do you feel about the use of this blatantly derogatory term – the (clears her throat) "N" word in Huck Finn?" Then everybody slowly and awkwardly turns around to stare at you, awaiting you response to the teacher’s stumbled-upon "black" question. I don’t know how many times, when all eyes were on me, I wanted to start spouting out "I ain’t a killa but don’t push me!" I wonder if that would have satisfied their appetites. Really, what were they expecting me to say?

Toward the end of my eighth grade year, I finally settled on a simple mini-fro. And, before I cut it all off that summer, I cut a hole straight down in the top of it – so I could place a Coke can in it. I used my head to solve the cup-holder crisis that arises at high school football games. Speaking of high school, I found out that summer between eighth and ninth grade what 'do worked best for me. I needed the low-cut fade, with a little more hair left on top. With this look, I could lock in the waves the night before if I wanted to, and I could also put in a little Blu Magic for that glossy shine whenever I felt froggy. I went from feeling like an outcast to being so fresh and so clean, clean. I had finally found what hair-do fit me best, and I rocked it all during my high school years.

Reflecting back on it all now, I can see many things in hindsight. For instance, whenever I wore my hair in braids, plats, or an afro, I was treated with less sincerity by teachers, business people, and other professionals. I judged this based upon the criteria of how much time the professional would spend talking to me, how often he or she would look around to see who else was noticing us conversing, and how helpful he or she was with the issues I had. In case you are wondering, yes, I actually had nothing better to do in my small town than to observe how different people reacted when I dressed a certain way or wore a particular hair style. I still do this occasionally; however, I will keep the instances in this essay strictly limited to my observations with different hairstyles.

I also noticed that I got more compliments whenever my hairstyle was kept short. I was told things like I looked "neat" or "professional." This is the main reason for my wearing the short-fade haircut throughout my high school years. Not everyone can look as suave as Larry Fitzgerald with the braids. Now that I have graduated from my undergraduate college and will begin medical school this year, I am able to take these experiences with me and teach them to others. I am a counselor and advisor to our state and national award-winning college minority program – "Brother to Brother." We recently won the "Chapter of the Year" award at the national Student African-American Brotherhood convention in 2012. I teach the students in our program the importance of presentation and perception.

I do not teach them to cut their hair if they have braids, plats, cornrows, or "bro fros." I do not teach them to try to "fit in" with a particular demographic group – regardless of their ethnicity, race, or heritage. But, I do admonish them to find what style fits them best – and rock it! And, of course, I ask them to do so with integrity.

Braids, high-right low-lefts, cornrows, and fancy, sinuous Ginuwine-sideburns did not work for me; however, it may work for someone else. One day, my present hairstyle will not be possible for me to wear (I currently sport an all-over number 7 guard-cut). As I age, I may have to do the "Cesar" cut. I might even get depressed and do it to the extreme – the " 'do" that Bozo the Clown has made famous – just to prove that I still have hair that can grow somewhere else on my body besides my nose and ears. But, regardless of the hairstyle – you have to "do" you. Ethnic hair and fashions are beautiful. I love to see women of color take pride in their hairstyles, as well as men. However, sometimes we must keep within certain parameters in order to get where we need to go. This fact should not go neglected; Jay-Z’s hair proves my point. He can certainly wear it as uncombed as he wants to now and is still respectfully deserving of the title "Mr. Carter." But, before he got to where he is now, he was recognized as the sharp-dressed, well-groomed rapper with plenty of intellect.

In conclusion, I have learned that the hairstyle is as important as the clothing that one wears. We all go through experimental stages with both. However, once one finds the style (in both hair and clothing) that works best for him, then he should perfect it – giving it a unique flavor within respectful parameters. I have learned in life (through experimenting with many different hairstyles) to experience, grow, learn, take constructive criticism, and modify when necessary. But, I do not ever let someone tear me down for what I have to work with. I will work with what I have and perfect it. And, I will do so not just with my hair – but, in all areas of life. Thank God for my hair, and thank God for my style I have found! My hair and its many styles have helped me become who I am today – a confident, mini-fro sporting, African-American male medical student who is happy to share his story!

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