- Photo courtesy of Michael Chrzan
By Michael Chrzan, Michigan in Color Contributor
Published January 20, 2015
We’re told that college is an amazing time in life of being able to decide who you are and what you will stand for. Just as important as finding that identity is deciding how you will show your passion to the world. For me, this self-expression has taken many different forms, but most recently it has taken form in something deceptively simple — what I decide to do with my hair.
Hair is a powerful way for someone to express themselves and their creativity. We see plenty of people (especially in Ann Arbor) who share a part of themselves through their hair. Whether it’s through color or style — hair is a vehicle for creative expression. In my experience as a Black man, however, my hair was something I have always seen as having to be controlled. There was no room for creativity; a brother had to be clean-cut to be respected. This often presented a significant problem for me and my biracial curls. Curls that — regardless of my efforts to control them — refused to stay tamed or cut low.
So what was I to do? In high school, I despised my curls. They were a burden; a relentless aspect of my biology that, without fail, grew back to the height of a giraffe’s neck every two months and had to be trimmed down. I couldn’t go around looking like “that,” and my (mostly male) peers and some (mostly male) members of my family would never let me forget that. I never thought too much of these expectations of my hairstyle. I just saw it as something that was expected, because to be seen as a “mature” Black man with a future, braids and curls wouldn’t cut it. After all, didn’t I look good with a clean cut? It was a dichotomy: either my hair was cut and respectable or curly and disheveled. There was no middle ground. At least, not one I could find.
Coming into college, I held on to that contempt. It was a rare day when I would let anything besides an exam come between me and a cut when “needed.” However, as the years went on and I became more aware of ideas of social justice through my peer groups here at Michigan, I started to reflect more and more on my identity and what it meant for me to have parents that don’t match. I thought more about how that tied into my expression of self. What did it mean for me to be biracial? What does being biracial mean for anyone, especially for those with different combinations besides Black/white? Does it mean I become “less Black” because I want to acknowledge all of my heritage(s)? Are my curls a dead giveaway that I’m not “just Black”? These are questions I am still struggling through and ones I’ll probably never be able to answer (because we hardly discuss biracial-ism in this country), but questions I am happy to know to ask.
As I have grown more inquisitive into this part of who I am, I have also struggled with how I want to express it and how to take pride in my biracial identity without lessening my pride for other parts of who I am. Over the past two years, I’ve done this through letting my curls grow out in the winter and taking more pride and happiness in them. I mean, what’s not to love; they’re warm, they’re soft, they’re fun to play with and slide my hand through when I’m thinking. This year, though, I decided to take it a step further and try something different that had a huge impact in that regard (albeit unexpectedly) — I got a high top fade for a haircut.
Now, at first, I got this haircut solely for the purpose of keeping some of my curls on my head. But as I began to move in the world with the new doo, I began realizing there was a new feeling I had. A feeling of completeness that I hadn't experienced since I began exploring my biracial identity. For the first time, I felt like my hair expressed exactly what I wanted it to. With the clean-cut sides and the flourishing locks on top, I felt like my hair expressed the conflicting pieces of my racial identity that I had been trying to consolidate for a while. And while neither of us — me or my hair — has it figured out yet, trying to untangle an identity wrapped up in conflict and warring sides compressed into one person will be a lifelong journey I know I will enjoy, even as my comb gets caught through a couple of naps up top.
Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.