“Hair Story” Authors Ayana Byrd & Lori Tharps Talk Black Hair

“Hair Story” Authors Ayana Byrd & Lori Tharps Talk Black Hair

So what’s the big deal with black hair? How is it different from the nappy mess called a “jew fro?”

Here’s a link to a podcast called the AYG Report

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focusing on black hair from our peeps at Blog Talk Radio. Let us know what you think of it and if the program answers questions or resolves issues, or (at the very least) is interesting.

Happy to Be Nappy

When I was an adorable little white Jewish boy growing up in New York, I always had trouble with my hair.

Couldn’t comb it, couldn’t part it, couldn’t make it lay down any which way you can imagine.

Example of a jewfro

Welcome to my Jewfro: Able to withstand coconut tcb, olive oil spray, johnson’s magical jerry juice, and whatever else you might throw on it.

My hair-dream, as you might imagine, was to have hair like everyone else. I wanted hair that was bright blonde, that would stand out like somebody standing behind you and holding a flashlight.

I wanted to get that attention and be on all the sports teams, be “cool.”  I wanted to feel accepted and that I was able to fit in. Hair had something to do with that, certainly. Especially when it stood straight up at times, and then looked like a flock of birds had attacked it, other times.

My hair was what I later learned was called (lovingly enough, of course) a big ol’ “jewfro.” It was a tangled, thick, natty, mess of black cord that couldn’t be combed (unless you wanted to rip hair out by the roots, which wasn’t happening then and sure ain’t happening now).

As I matured and got older, the jewfro only grew out more, and got more difficult to manager. Nothing worked to make it workable. Coconut TCB, olive oil, black gel protein, cocoa butter. They smelled good, but didn’t do anything for the hair.

I recall vividly once trying some kind of new tuity-fruity spray that I had purchased at a beauty supply store in downtown Norfolk, Virginia a long time ago. It smelled of candy but accomplished absolutely zilch. I still had an unmanageable jewfro mop of black wire strands, only now it smelled like bubble gum ice cream. Great.

It wasn’t until much later, as a teenager, that I learned the wonders of Vaseline from my friend Joe (who came from a very large black family to rival anything out of Tyler Perry‘s imagination).

His afro was very similar to my jewfro. The only difference was that he had somehow figured out how to manage his. Yes, the jerry juice dripped down all the time like a mini-waterfall, yes it stained the back of wherever he sat, and yes, he was always spraying it with the stuff and picking it with a giant, bright red plastic pick that was (also) always dripping wet. But, hey, he was the epitome of tough and cool, and his hair worked. Mine stood at attention.

Eventually, I learned to use Vaseline combined with black protein gel (and repeated applications of the concrete-like mixture) to make my hair manageable. But by then, it was already beginning to thin.

Thank God.

Now, I slap a handful of liquid soap atop the ol’ dome, run a razor across it, and put on a few drops of African’s Best and I’m off to the races with a shiny, smooth dome that smells like baby powder, and my beautiful black wife says is dead sexy. I feel tougher than John Shaft and more confident than Kojak.

What’s my point with the back-story you ask?

Just this: No matter how you cut it, no matter how you compare people or types of people, we all share very similar stories, struggles, and triumphs. By learning about black hair, I learned how to manage a wild jewfro. And by learning to love black women, I learned to empathize more with people from all walks of life.

There’s a lesson there somewhere.