Note from BBT: Since about March of 2020, our lives have been effectively changed. I sometimes wonder what the overall costs and damages have been since the outbreak of the so-called coronavírus. I mean, sure we can look at this in terms of the sheer numbers of cases and deaths around the world, but I don’t think we can calculate the true costs as, of the millions of lives that have been lost, each of these people had an individual story of the effects that go far behind the financial aspect. Lives and families have been affected and changed forever.
I can say, with cross fingers, that I don’t know anyone in my immediate circle that have become ancestors due to this monster of a vírus, but I do know people far closer than six degrees of separation. Recently, as a black American living in Brazil, I came to learn of the death of another African-American who had spent much of the last few decades of his life building links and living among not only black Brazilians, but also black Colombians.
I never knew this brother personally, only online for a number of years but his influence has been shown by a long list of people have been personally moved after hearing of his passing. One of the last messages I saw on one of his social network platforms appeared to be from a cousin who requested that he send an update because the family was concerned. I can’t even imagine what his family must be going through at this moment having one of theirs pass away in another country.
Another story is one from here in SP, where the cousin of my wife’s cousin’s wife recently passed away from in her early 40s. As her husband has passed away young as well, also in his early 40s, a few years ago, her two teenage children now have no parents.
Totally unrelated, but as I am speaking of people dying from a “big disease with a little name”, I must also mention that today marks five years since the passing of one of my all-time favorite musicians, Prince Rogers Nelson. Of course Prince didn’t die from the “rona” which hadn’t appeared at that point in 2016, I just threw that in as the line is from one of his biggest hits.
I’ve distanced myself from covering the news of this devastating vírus as it’s simply too depressing to keep talking about and I will continue today by discussing another side of it. As hard as it may be to fathom, but there have been positive things that have come to pass from thr spread of vírus. Millions of people have transitioned into Home Office, a new reality that countless companies were staunchly against just a few years ago. People have also been able to spend much more time with their families than usual in the past year.
Then there are the black men who have learned to see the beauty of their own cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair), perhaps for the first time in their lives because of their time being slightly away from the public. As many of you know from my reports, black Brazilians have been taught to hate or at least reject their natural hair textures for decades because of Brazil’s obsession and preference for the European phenotype and society’s regular ridicule that comes with it.
Influenced by several factors, including exposure to American Hip Hop culture but also the black Brazilian women’s movement for the acceptance of their natural hair, in recent years, black Brazilian men are also learning to not only accept their hair as it is but also exploring various possibilities in terms of hairstyles. A few years ago, in São Paulo, I remember seeing more than a few brothas rockin’ the Killmonger look worn by Michael B. Jordan in the Black Panther film, which was released as Pantera Negra in Brazil.
Black men are rockin’ afros, dreadlocks, twists and other styles may not seem like a big deal, but when you understand that just as recent as a decade ago, and in reality, still today, wearing natural black hair even slightly above scalp long was a huge no-no in Brazilian society, you also understand why this is such a big deal.
During the quarantine, black men let their hair grow for the first time: “Transition”
By Nathália Geraldo
Every day, Danilo dos Reis Oliveira, 33, got up out of bed, got dressed and left the house without worrying about looking at his hair. During then quarantine, the digital publicist and podcaster is letting his strands grow, so before hitting the streets, he needs to stop in front of a mirror to fix them into “a shape”. To go to the supermarket, for example, he fixes his hair with his hands, while deciding whether, at the end of social isolation, he will wear dreads or braids.
Danilo has always been vain about his body. “You don’t have to think that I’m less of a man for that.” But his hair that he shaved every 20 days, was not part of his vanity routine. In social isolation, unable to go to the hairdresser, that changed. And he’s not alone.
As with the movement of women who returned to having natural hair a few years ago – popularizing and strengthening capillary transition processes – black men are allowing, for the first time in their lives, that their kinky and curly hair gain texture and meaning.
Self-knowledge, “afro-esteem” and the fact of being at home longer (for those who have the possibility of doing a home office), away from potential racist glances, are the reasons why, in the middle of the pandemic, they rediscovered their hair.
In this text, black men are loving themselves.
Cabelos crespos, ok?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the closed doors of barbers and hairdressers placed concern about aesthetics at stake. Each reacted in a different way and shaving the head, dyeing the hair, intensifying hydration care became common “quarantine outbreaks”. A not so silent portion of black men, however, decided to bet on a more natural re-encounter: letting their hair grow to see how it would look.
“My hair was never an issue and I liked it very short. Two years ago my friends told me to try letting it grow. And I just thought it would require different care; I saw my 18-year-old brother who colors, shaves his hair, changes his appearance all the time…Until the quarantine arrived,” says Oliveira.
In phase 1 of the process, Oliveira says that he only washes his hair and dries it. He hasn’t yet bought specific products for his type of hair, “which isn’t that curly,” and has been counting on help from his friends to choose afro cuts for when he can visit a beauty salon again. “And I want to see what suits me best, braids or dreads.”
For the researcher and content creator of @ afroestima page on Instagram, Mauro Anderson Baracho, the new quarantine look, leaving the strands on top and shaving the sides, is a triumph. At 36, he revisits the painful process of having heard racist assaults since childhood that cabelos crepos was “bad” and “ugly”. His black parents straightened their hair. Baracho, in turn, left his hair shaved “very low”. I really wanted to let them grow, because I didn’t even know if it would be a black power (afro) or if the strands would weigh down.
It’s for this reason that thinking about the possibility of doing dreads or visiting a braider when the pandemic ends is, for him, something unprecedented. “Even when I resisted and let my hair grow for a year, when I was in my early twenties, I didn’t have that concern to take care of it. In fact, I was ashamed to go to the hairdresser, I trimmed it at home. I thought it was not worth taking care of.”
The first attempt, therefore, he was surrounded by difficulties. “I heard criticism about my hair at home and at work. So much so that, on the day I cut it, everyone greeted me at the company and a white girl suggested that I should always keep that cut.”
From “use the clippers” to “leave it like this”
For Baracho, the transition from shaved hair to hair growth is associated with issues that are almost always under-encouraged by black men: security, self-care, afro-esteem. A result, he says, of access to knowledge about black masculinities, a theme that he frequently proposes in his Instagram profile.
“When I appeared in lives or in videos with hair like that, people started to compliment. Today, I have more security and self-esteem and I recognize that, while black girls talk about hair transition, it seems that for men there is no such issue. But there is, yes. So much so that, sometimes, when some went to take on their natural hair, they either already had less hair or had gray hair.” It’s the racist stereotype that “those with long hair are messy” acting directly on the aesthetic choices of black people.
Now, the content producer has added new care to his routine, he says. “A man usually uses the body soap on his hair. I received a handmade shampoo and hydration kit and, since then, I have taken it two or three days a week to use it,” he comments.
We’ve heard for so long that our hair is ruim (bad), that you think you don’t have to take care of it.
Black fetishism, transition with aloe vera
The same change in looking at himself is the case of the publicist Esdras Ferreira, who also has his hair long for the first time in his life. “I thought it was time to rethink and understand the reasons for not letting it grow. I saw the other as beautiful, and I started to see what we had aesthetically in common,” he explains, highlighting that the collective participation in discussing black masculinities also aroused his firmness in not shaving his hair anymore, four months ago.
“Quarantine is being an opportunity to look at myself in a way that I had never done before. Bald, I used to project myself with braided hair, but never imagined it would be now”.
The transition, says the publicist, has everything to do with the way he puts himself in the world – and how the body of the black man is seen. For that reason, doing it while working from home may have made the process easier. “I tried a few times before the quarantine, but there’s a thing for me to work in office environments. There are rules that are put in place and, yes, you suffer from looks. What may not happen to those who have black power, because there is a fetishism with puffy afros,” he says.
Nobody supports you at the beginning of the transition. And it’s a painful process.
The judgment of the other, analyzes the publicist, only changes when the hair has “a shape”. “Then they started saying that it suited me, complimenting me”.
For him, the relationship with his hair is one of discovery. “I am enjoying the process so much. There’s the thing of waking up and having to comb it, I keep touching it and I even bought aloe vera.” And, wait, there will be many men with braided hair out there. “I plan on braiding it in a few months. But right now, I realized that it became the target of self-care, a part of the body that I started looking at – and automatically, it makes me look at the whole and the fact that I need to take care of myself.”