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‘Deeply Rooted’ Identities: Expression...

‘Deeply Rooted’ Identities: Expression Through Hair

The importance of Black hair and its tie to identity is something I only recently began to fully understand and experience for myself. Having grown up around predominantly Hispanic and white communities, my blackness was never something that was addressed directly, yet there were always subtleties poking at it. Coming into college and being able to actually see and talk to more Black people, I have been trying to acknowledge and embrace my blackness as much as possible, making it clear that it is an important part of my own identity. In this photo story, I had the opportunity to talk to people in the Black community about their Black experiences and the role their hair has played in developing the identities they now hold high. 
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Daniella Asapokhai

“I grew up with my hair in braids or relaxed, mainly just because it was how I thought I should wear my hair.”

Do you remember the first time you took control over what you wanted your hair to look like?
“Freshman year was the first time I wore my hair naturally, not straightened…It was personally a big step in embracing my own hair — I got to experience how to manage natural hair, and then made a conscious decision of continuing getting braids because it’s easier and I can be more creative with colors and styles.”

Lawan Aladefa

Lawan and I spoke about being part of a community that takes dress and appearance seriously and how it feels good to be able to show out, especially adding to the pride when you know that it’s because of something you did yourself.

Do you feel like a lot of your identity comes from how your hair looks?
“When my hair is long, I feel like an entirely different person…It’s a whole process every time I cut my hair: I have to commit fully or else I won’t get it done, so when I start I just go straight down the middle.” 

Kyndall Hadley

“I’m going to watch a movie and take out my braids tonight…It took way longer than I thought.”

What’s your relationship with your hair?
“I feel like I got a pretty good relationship with my hair… I find it frustrating because it’s a lot of effort, but I’ve grown to like it a lot more since I was younger. Taking care of my hair is time I HAVE to take to myself, and it’s become very peaceful and relaxing.”

How do you usually style your hair?
“After washing it, I put it in french braids for a few days, since it’s a protective style, but then I’ll take out the braids and wear my curls out—I wanna keep it cute but also need to avoid dryness.”

Do you think changing your hair changes how you act?
“I’m gonna have to go with yes… my hairstyle definitely impacts how feminine I feel.”

Chestan James
A big thing I never realized was, that just as a person changes as they age, hair can develop and transition in more ways than just falling out or graying. In talking with Chestan, I found that his relationship with his hair went through a similar transition as mine did. 

“I grew up with less curly hair, and it was never really long…On my dad’s side, all my family had like a one… And I never realized my hair would grow like this. Then I grew it out in like 10th grade because I was like, man, I want to get waves, and my mom would say ‘you can’t get waves.'”

“I think that was an internal struggle for me, because I wanted to embrace my curls, and when my mom said I’m not able to, it kind of held me back–like, really? I’m Black and can’t have curls?” 

“When I grow my hair out and it’s curly, I feel like I’m able to embrace my blackness even more… Even my family back at home, when they see my curly hair they like ‘oh shoot I didn’t even know it grew out like that!’ like ‘yeah, I’m Black. too!'”

Leana Lindsay
Was there a point where you started taking more direct control over how you wore your hair?
“Somewhere at the end of high school, beginning of college, I said ‘I want to do what I want,’ and then I started to wear my hair how I wanted… It wasn’t for the best at first, but became something that was kind of fun: it was really cool to meet other black people and share hair care tips and learn different things.”

When you change your hair, does it change how you act or feel?
“It makes me feel excited, I’m trying something new… At first, I used to think it was stressful; there was this shift in that mindset from ‘I don’t want people to know it’s not real’ to ‘people know it’s not real so why not have fun with it.’”
Jesse Noss, Photo Courtesy of James Lilkendey Photogtaphy
I’ve fallen in love with my hair in the few years I’ve been growing it out for. I love being able to do different things with my hair, whether it be getting it braided or just putting my curls up in a bun. I think the most confident I’ve ever been was when I still had my pink braids. 
The more I pay attention to and embrace my hair, the more in touch with my blackness and my true identity I get. 

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