Late last year I wrote a piece (“The Nappyheaded Black Male Revolution Is On”) about changing my hair for the first time in over a decade, connecting my decision to get a fade and allow it to grow out to the creative hair decisions being made by black males (young and old) around the country.
And now, five months later—and five months without me taking any hair off the top of my head—my hair is its own entity. An unwieldy collection of tangentially related loose follicles, nappy curls and curly naps I have no damn clue how to maintain. I’m used to grabbing a brush and … that’s it. And now I feel like a parent helping his third-grader with his math homework, but the math is that godforsaken new math. Which means I’m constantly learning new techniques, new phrases to describe those techniques and new ways to bathe without getting my hair wet.
What else have I learned? Good question.
1. I apparently possess something called a “curl pattern.” And this “curl pattern” I possess is, apparently, a good one. As I alluded to in the first paragraph, many other black men are also trying unique (for them) styles and lengths for the hair on their heads and faces. And it’s not that uncommon for us to notice when another brotha is doing—or trying to do—the big-hair thing and for us to actually comment on it. So now add “natural-hair-related s—t” to the list of “things black men talk about at bars when we’re not talking about ass, Obama, ass (again) and DeMarcus Cousins.”
Anyway, a couple of guys have asked if I put anything in my hair to get my naps to nap the way they nap. Since I don’t really do anything to it, my answer is usually the same: “This natural-hair product called Slave Descendant.”
I mentioned this to a natural-haired female friend, that more than one guy has asked that question, and she replied, “Oh, it’s because your curl pattern.”
“You have a good curl pattern.”
“The way your naps curl—which is called a curl pattern—is actually desirable. Which makes it a good curl pattern.”
2. “Wasting product” is a thing people say. And it’s a no-no, apparently. After seeing it recommended in a few different places, I’ve been using Jack Black Beard Lube Conditioning Shave for my beard since at least last fall. Which is 1) easily the most metrosexual thing I’ve ever purchased and 2) a good investment for beard maintenance.
Sometimes when I use it, I have a little bit left over on my hands, and I put it in my hair. Because, I figure, if it’s good for the beard, it shouldn’t be terrible for the hair 6 inches away.
I told another natural-haired homegirl about this—98.6 percent of the black women in my life are natural—and she said the following: “Of course! You don’t waste product! That’s natural-hair rule No. 1.”
Apparently, black women with natural hair use hair products the same way Native Americans used the buffalo. Every single inch of it must be used, applied, incorporated, savored and prayed over.
3. Shrinkage exists … Of course, as a man, I’m very familiar with the concept of shrinkage. It’s why to this day the only thing scarier to me than a Trump presidency is a frigid swimming pool. But after washing my hair at night a few weeks ago and then going to bed and then waking up with my hair condensed to the size of an unusually large Brillo pad—my hair was basically the Brillo pad I imagine the Navy uses to scrub aircraft carriers—I realized that two very significant parts of my body can shrink to an embarrassingly low level if given the right stress.
4. … as do “bad hair days.” For the first 35 or so years of my life, I thought “I’m having a bad hair day” was something women invented as an excuse not to go to work or not to sleep in the wet spot. Because, to me, there was no discernible difference between what was deemed a bad hair day and a regular-ass hair day. I felt like Will Ferrell in Zoolander. (“Blue Steel? Ferrari? Le Tigre? They’re the same face! Doesn’t anybody notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”)
But now … I get it. Sometimes something as innocuous as an awkward sleep and a slight drizzle can have enough of a discernible impact on your hair that it’s perfectly acceptable to deem it a bad hair day. And those are days when hats and hoodies are preferable.
Fortunately, I have a ton of hats and hoodies. Because I’m a manly-ass man. Albeit one who puts stuff with jojoba and eucalyptus in his hair, but still.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.