| 03.19.2018

“An extension of you” – Moscow community discusses the culture of African-American hair


Raised by two adoptive white mothers, University of Idaho sophomore Jessy Forsmo-Shadid found a hairdresser who best fit her needs when she was just eight years old.

“She”s like my auntie,” Forsmo-Shadid said.

Forsmo-Shadid, junior Izaiah Dolezal and senior Olivia Balemba led the “Standards of Beauty Workshop: Behind the Afro” Wednesday in the Idaho Commons. The workshop addressed cultural perceptions of African-American hairstyles in today”s world.

After a short presentation where the students covered the history of black hair as well as the connections between black hair and employment, social interactions and other scenarios, the workshop shifted to a discussion-based lesson with audience interaction.

One of the questions first asked by the presenters addressed the instant judgments made by strangers when they see someone with a classic African-American hairstyle, such as afros, cornrows or dreadlocks.

“When you see someone with dreadlocks, do you automatically assume that they smoke weed?” Dolezal asked.

Dolezal said the stigma that dreadlocks smell bad stems from people of other ethnicities putting their hair into dreadlocks even though their hair isn”t built to have them.

Recalling her childhood, Forsmo-Shadid said her hair was put into cornrows by her hairstylist when she was a little girl, and she was made fun of at school because her hair was different from the other children. She said she remembered a rumor that she glued her braids onto her head because her scalp was visible. Ironically, she said, cornrows are now a popular style.

One of the guests of the workshop said though many people of other races and cultures are now taking on common black hairstyles as a “revolutionary” fashion statement, when actual African-Americans go out with the same hairstyle it”s seen as a negative thing.

Forsmo-Shadid said many classic hairstyles worn by African-Americans are becoming popular again, including dreadlocks, cornrows and afros. She even said the flattop, a haircut that was popular in the “80s, might be making a comeback.

“I think the flat top should stay respectfully buried,” Dolezal said.

The workshop also covered the struggles of African-American people in Moscow. Balemba said she mostly ordered her hair products online because there are so few options in any local stores. Dolezal said he doesn”t even get his hair cut in Moscow – he goes to Lewiston.

A trip to the barber shop is no small affair either, Forsmo-Shadid said. She said one hair appointment can last a whole day.

“It”s like an all-day process,” Forsmo-Shadid said. “I have to bring water. You have to be prepared to be there all day. Clear your schedule.”

A guest said most people in Moscow and in Idaho don”t know how to approach subjects like this, even though many are curious. Forsmo-Shadid said when people come up to ask if they can touch her hair, she uses the opportunity to educate the person about herself and her culture.

Forsmo-Shadid said it”s important for people to ask permission before touching someone”s hair. She said many times complete strangers have touched her hair without asking. Forsmo-Shadid said she isn”t sure why some think that”s an acceptable thing to do.

Forsmo-Shadid said she loves her hair. She said her hair is a reflection of her personality, as it is for many people. The African-American culture has long held pride in their hair, and people should continue to love their hair no matter how they choose to wear it.

“You can tell a lot about someone from their hair,” Dolezal said. “It”s an extension of you.”

Erin Bamer can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @ErinBamer

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