Of Afros and Culture Wars

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Michael Vick has walked back his previous statement criticizing Colin Kaepernick’s afro. My sports intelligence is admittedly pretty low, but I do know that Kaepernick’s protest has raised the ire of many in the football community. His bravery and direct action has broken into my corner of sky. I like and whole-heartedly support him. He is my favorite #wokebae.

There is a long history of sports as a vehicle for expressing civil rights protest. There is a pretty straight line from Jackie Robinson’s desegregation of baseball in 1947 to John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s black power salute at the 1968 Olympics to Kaepernick’s action of kneeling during the national anthem. The idea that somehow sports should be apolitical arena is a fallacy.

Another important historical note is that it has been a means of entrepreneurial advancement, from Madam C.J. Walker in the early 1900s to the present. Styling black hair has been a lucrative and on-going element of the black business world. The opening of barbershops and hair salons are a cornerstone of the community. It is a key element of African American achievement.

Vick’s initial statement about the afro invokes a long-simmering culture war over presentation of African American hair. The idea that somehow it is outside of a professional realm to wear an afro is somewhat baffling. It has been a long struggle to win the argument that natural hairstyles are acceptable in the business world. I suppose this is another flashpoint in the national conversation about what is and what is not acceptable.

The cool thing about hair, particularly for people of color, is that there is a diversity and dynamism of styles. I have, in no particular order, have worn the following hairstyles: bantu knots, cornrows, box braids, French braids, flat-ironed straight, and flat ironed and curled. I have also worn my hair in a big, beautiful afro.

I am team afro. Let those natural curls shine.

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