On a plane recently, as is so often the case, during which slumber just wouldn't come, I read through as much as I could digest of a great book given to me by one of my best friends, I looked around in my smashed confines known as seat 25F despairingly and opted for a movie. I had already been woefully disappointed. WOEFULLY disappointed by the Batman, Superman situation on a separate flight and wanted to make sure I wasn't hoodwinked into wasting my time again. I turned ... or rather positioned my head in a way that I could delude myself I wasn't going to suffer from eye strain, (which could, you know), lead to mother's warned of blindness!
My choice: Mr. Dynamite : The Rise of James Brown.
I'm not a huge James Brown fan, nor am I ignorant to his influence in musical culture today. For instance, as soon as I heard and then saw the music video of Janelle Monet's hit song Tightrope (the lyrics of my life), her toe tilting, lightening fast spins, acreage covering slides and emphatically joyful hands punctuating each stated move, made me acknowledge - this is James Brown's "daughter"!
I know a few James Brown songs from my father, a vocal man who, as I never realized when I was growing into myself, was constantly teaching and influencing his children through attuned and political - subliminal messaging. I'm not joking! The man silently but constantly "spoke his mind". A few years ago, I remember my father seemed to get hooked on James Brown's "Pappas Got a Brand New Bag" I've listened to that song in its entirety several times trying to figure out what my papa was really trying to say. Still haven't figured it out.
In this documentary I learned that James Brown had a hell of a lot to say. His showmanship, driving bass lines and repetitive lyrics demonstrated his creation - James Brown. My interpretation of James Brown's musical journey were statements about his creation.
I am good enough, (1957's Try Me)
I am better than what you think I can be, (1963's Please, Please, Please)
I AM a man ( 1968's Say it Loud - I'm Black I'm Proud).
Through his music came the outward statements that showed up on his head. Funny how hair is strong statement of what is going on internally. James Brown cut his hair, chemically straightened with then used congolene, aka conk, a hair straightener gel made from lye, and embraced his natural hair, encouraging others to do the same - The fro!
Over time other men, beatniks, hippies, anticonformist grew their hair to demonstrate solidarity with each other against "the system".
Across the world hair is a power statement. We think, at least I did, that these statements of hair are not so much political anymore but ones of self-expression. I mean we're not exactly fighting "the man"... are we? But hair, I assure you, is still very much a statement.
To cover ones hair or not to cover,
To dye one's hair blonde to match an expectation of "superior" standard of beauty or not.
To straighten ones hair to pass the "pencil test" or not.
Wait.. what test?
Recently the New York Times featured an op-ed piece White Schools vs. Black Hair in Post-Apartheid South Africa which opened my eyes to the pencil test. In apartheid South Africa, under the Population Registration Act of 1950, subjective measures like the pencil test, were used to determine whether the person was to be classified as black, white, colored, or Indian. The test simply instructed the tester to put the pencil in the test subject's hair. If the pencil held its place or fell through would determine into which of those "neat" categories the test subject fell.
I wonder... was there a velocity measure? Was this a Ticonderoga pencil? Was the pencil sharpened,? Should the test be conducted with a pencil that had an eraser? If so, unused or used and to what degree?
Complete and utter foolishness!
Okay - so that was the 50's. How about today? Evidently, vestiges of that offensive and degrading legislation still exist. Young men and women are still being barred from school examinations, being told that their natural black hair styles are "untidy".
Ummm... what about Bob Dylan's hair above? Would the head of that recent Nobel Laureate have passed the pencil test? How about being barred from examinations for untidiness?
Hair is still a statement. It changes the way you look. It effects the way people look at you. What statement are you making? Like it or not you hair is speaking for you. Check out the link to this article above and let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Unfortunately, at this late hour - my hair is saying nothing powerful or kind about me! HAHA!