Chapter 9: Of Wigs and Weaves, Locks and Fades: A Personal Political Hair Story

When in 1997 a young white third-grade teacher in Brooklyn, New York is threatened with violence by African American parents for reading the black vernacular performative children’s book Nappy Hair to her African American and Latino third graders, and when the African American author Carolivia Herron receives death threats in email for writing such a book, hair, among African Americans, is a big deal—far beyond the temporary associations of “big hair” and a “bad hair day.” When young African Americans with dreadlocks risk losing their jobs or are denied access to a southern restaurant, hair is clearly a big deal. The gender and racial identities connected with hair are well documented in literature, music, film, and popular culture. Indeed, hair tells us about ourselves and our relationship to the world. Through this lens of hair, the personal becomes radically political and the political becomes intimately personal. My personal hair story is also a story of American race relations, both past and present.