September marks the month in which we switch seasons and step into the realm of fall fashion. In addition to transitioning away from summer style, the calendar change represents reaping the harvests of hard work as many eyes turn toward planned trips, holiday gatherings and personal time to reflect with close friends.
Considering this combination of anticipated moments, September stands as the perfect time to celebrate growth, explore our roots and engage in conversations centered around understanding the unique experiences that make us who we are.
That is why the September 2018 issue of CASSIUS is intended to take you on a journey to self-discovery through Exploring Our Roots.
Hair has symbolized, personified and challenged perceptions of black identity long before history books documented our journey to America. Prior to the perils of slavery, we existed as enlightened kings and queens who descended from storied empires that actively shaped the world – with hair representing an embodiment of our power and positioning.
Within various tribes in African countries, hair indicated a spiritual connection, representing a level of intellect and impact in the community. For men, harvesting long, healthy and curly hair was embraced as a sign of strength, wisdom and experience. The longer your hair, the presumably wiser you were, and the more respect you received.
Hair has symbolized, personified and challenged perceptions of black identity long before history books documented our journey to America.
Observing the evolution of black culture through the lens of modern day America, one could argue that hair is just as significant, yet for seemingly different reasons. Native rituals and traditions were abruptly discarded once Africans were forcefully transported as slaves to America, consequently stripped of their cultural identity and practices. These traditions were in turn replaced with judgements, regulations and projections that poisoned the purity of black images, refuting self-love in such a way that it uprooted this spirit of pride and turned black culture into a somewhat of a self-contained battleground.
However, the natural hair resurgence we see today is reminiscent of the messaging carried by the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. Activists such as Kathleen Cleaver, who famously coined the phrase ‘Black is Beautiful, led the rebellion against chemically altering Afro-textured hair in order to champion love for natural black beauty. Although discussions surrounding this topic are often powered by the female perspective, having your identity and self-worth measured by your hair is an experience that black men have faced as well.
“When I endured all of that pain —literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair — I joined the multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are inferior.” – Malcom X
It wasn’t until the civil rights movement that African American men were openly permitted to use their hair as a means to boldly express themselves freely. Strict hair laws were lifted during the civil rights movement and those who had the freedom took advantage of the opportunity — but not without an intense challenge. With the traditional customs of African hair care lost amidst the rise of America’s narrow and alienating beauty standards, black men began exploring their individuality in ways that either destroyed their natural hair or embraced it in a way that eliminated their ability to be accepted by society.
Over time, trailblazers like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Prince, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Snoop Dogg and other revolutionary artists earned recognition for unapologetically expressing their sense of style and personality through their hair. These men ultimately became trendsetters who pushed the culture in a direction that gave more flexibility to definitions of black beauty and masculinity.
One of our primary inspirations for this issue is a man who has devoted his life’s work to advocating self-love through black hair care and confidently accepts his role as one of the strongest voices at the forefront of this movement.
“The natural hair movement is so important because we don’t know anything natural, we’ve been taken away from everything we have, hundreds of years ago. So the natural thing that we do have, is our hair.” – Benny Harlem
Benny Harlem is an African American model, artist and activist known for having the World’s Tallest Hair, taking a stance of leadership that has expanded the scope of manhood and masculinity not just for men, but for women as well. His fearless and expressive approach has revived the aforementioned essence of long, healthy and unprocessed African hair.
Join us as we share the stories of nine dynamic men of color and their journey to self-discovery through exploring the evolution of their hair.