“I was on set and I told hair and makeup that I was thinking about getting locs and the whole room of white ppl said NO,” the comedian and influencer wrote on his social account. Jay admitted he was immediately “confused” by their reaction, but the confusion turned into astonishment once he asked them why. “Name one actor w dreads, you won’t get any jobs,” Jay then admitted was his peers’ verbatim answer. “My feelings was hurt,” he wrote to close out the tweet.
While Jay’s experience might come as a shock to many, for others, it sounded all too familiar. Outside of the legal history of lawsuits from black women and men who have been fired and targeted within the workplace for sporting their natural locs and the many discriminatory federal laws that aid in this sort of racial discrimination, there’s also a long history of social discrimination and shaming of black hairstyles in everyday life.
For the majority of black people, switching between hairstyles such as locs, faux locs, weaves, and lace fronts has always been a part of our culture. Black hair, along with all of its versatility and complexities, is sometimes not only about aesthetic or protective purposes but also a form of self-expression and boundary-pushing against non-inclusion.
But in recent years, there has been a spike in the amount of monetization and co-opting of this culture. When traditional Fulani braids are renamed as “Bo Derek” braids by Kim Kardashian, and when yaki-hair textured braids and cornrows are celebrated as innovative or avant-garde by high-fashion editorial covers but still labeled as “unprofessional” or “uncastable” on women and men with darker skin, a much larger issue is raised.
As someone who grew up firsthand seeing my peers be measured socially and economically for their weaves and braids, as well as a firsthand observer of hair discrimination within the school systems, where black children are often told aesthetics related to their own personal expression are inherently bad, Jay’s experience triggers a much-needed discussion.
Nowadays, everything about black culture is lauded — but not valued on black bodies. This “acceptance” of black attributes and black aesthetics coupled with the shaming of black women and men points at something more systemic. Something as pragmatic as hair can have much larger systemic effects, and the ill-informed comments made to Jay Versace do indeed have a much larger racial and cultural subtext.
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue