An elegantly dressed Darnell stood afront the bathroom mirror. He surveyed himself, sweeping up from his shiny shoes to his starched slacks, while securing his belt around his tucked shirt. He eased in and agreeably eyed the clean coif of cornrows atop the razor straight lines of his sideburns thinking: “Lamar hooked me up on the strength”. At hearing his name, Darnell slowly walked out and stood. His best, business voice diffused the room, right after his cologne, and richly extended: “I am Darnell Johnson”. He looked confidently at the lady facing him who glanced, turned, and then threw a rushed response into his cloud of confidence. “We’re no longer hiring for that position”, she spat, ” but I’ll keep your application”. Darnell stood halted as his high leveled and he turned to leave. “Another one coming in here with them braids looking like a thug outta jail”, he heard her say behind the closing door.
The importance of braided hair has not been translated from African American history into the consensus of corporate America, yet the niches of this nation uphold the heritage of this symbolic style. The intertwining of three, thin strands of hair unravels a multitude of meaning related to religion, life and family in ancient Africa. Kings and queens, with their thick locks ribboned into beautiful braids and crowned with adornment, were revered by their people. Thus, this association to royalty deemed the braid esteemed and left it forever marked with majesty. Hair pinched into line and pattern was worn in tribal tribute and increasingly complex design and artistry grew out of emphasis on aesthetic. The website, sdt.rpi.edu, reports in the article, “History of Cornrow Braiding”, that: “Hieroglyphs and sculptures dating back thousands of years illustrate the attention Africans have paid to their hair. Braids were etched into the back of the head of the sphinx.”
The Middle Passage carried over custom with its cargo. Struggling to keep with their identity, slaves wore braids in America. The article, “History of Cornrow Braiding” further explains: “Like many other ‘Africanisms’ in the new world, knowledge of African hairstyles survived the Middle Passage. Heads were often shaved upon capture, ostensibly for sanitary reasons, but with the psychological impact of being stripped of one’s culture. Re-establishing hair styles in the new world was thus an act of resistance; one that could be carried out covertly”. This resistance has trended into tradition.
Citizens from the civil rights era to the hip hop generation have donned braids to define themselves. Like Venus and Serena, we bead and bejewel them and like Janet and Jaheim, we fuse them into our fashions, rocking them every which way from Poetic Justice dookey braids, to silky dreads, to micros, to the Alicia Keys, right down to the historic cornrow.