Updated: 7 days ago
By: Reagan Williams
(Photo Credit: courtesy of Jay Washington)
A man who champions his family, self and tribe while marching to the beat of his drum.
Does our hair define who we are as Black people? Hair is a prominent feature people tend to notice and make assumptions about us as individuals, regardless of our educational background, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and our personality. However, Black men experience inaccurate stereotypes of who they are from people and society as a whole. Frankly, Black men consider themselves people who stand for what they believe in like many others.
Meet Jay Washington:
Jay Washington is a prime example of this while standing in his truth. He's a retirement and financial services professional with over 20 years of experience focusing on client relationship management. Jay has been judged throughout his entire life and career based upon his appearance and his hairstyle. However, Jay would describe himself in the following manner: “A man who champions his family, self and tribe while marching to the beat of his drum.” He is his “own man,” not defined by others for his hair. Here's his perspective and personal experiences of being a Black man in America and his hair care regimen.
1. What is your daily hair care regimen?
Before the gym, I comb through it thoroughly. I always hit the sides with 25 strokes each and 50 in the back. It’s a nod to my grandmother’s hundred strokes of the brush every morning at her bedroom vanity. After the gym, I rinse it daily in the shower to remove the prior day’s product. I wash it at least once a week. Sometimes I will just condition it-- especially after a couple days of the wet/curly look.
2. What products have you found that have worked for your hair type as a black man?
So many more than people would imagine! It depends on what I’m feeling. If I want my hair to look “unkempt”, I throw in some dry pomade (axe natural look is one of my faves!) and then run both hands over the top, so that it looks like I don’t care what my hair looks like. The irony! LOL If I want it to be as voluminous as possible, I use olive oil hair mayonnaise, pick it out thoroughly then use my secret weapons: white rain hairspray for hold and old school Proline Oil Sheen for shine. When I want the wet curly look, I condition my hair, leave it damp and then run protein gel thoroughly through my hair. Once it dries-- proline completes the shine. For a dry curl look, hair mayonnaise and about 5 minutes with my hair sponge. As you can see, I take my hair very seriously!
3. You have lived in different metropolitan areas of Indianapolis, Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia, how do you go about finding a barber?
I am constantly people-watching! When I’m new to an area, if I see a guy with a really good cut, I ask him. Hair guys understand the importance of having a go-to barber. We help each other out.
4. Why do you pick a barber versus stylist?
Ha-- black guys and barbers are peas in a pod. Plus-- I grew up believing that it was bad luck for a woman to cut your hair; my father had some weird beliefs. I have had female barbers though… one of which led to me committing a big No-No: cheating on my barber with another in the same shop. BAD IDEA!!! It doesn’t even sound right, a black guy going to a stylist. Together, we (Black men and barbers/barber shops) are an institution!
5. Can you talk about some hair-styles that you have had and why you chose them.
I’ve had most of the popular ones. The high top fade, cornrows, an afro, low caesar with a fade, modern pompadour, brohawk and the south of France (aka the gentleman’s mohawk). Currently rocking a combover with a hard part.
(Photo Credit: courtesy of Jay Washington)
6. What style/cut has been your favorite?
That is tough… I would probably have to say the brohawk, because it was very daring for a corporate guy at the time. It was probably my longest hair relationship-- more than a decade on and off. I really dig my current cut too. It’s a play on my brohawk, but much more dramatic. My barber calls it the “Dominican look”.
7. Do you feel being a Black man you are judged based upon your hairstyle or cut within your career of financial services? What has this experience been like for you at different companies?
Yes-- absolutely. When I first started rocking the brohawk, my barber called it the brohawk. He made it just low enough that you really had to be looking at it to see. I was working for a large company’s DC office- one of the company’s highest profile offices. I did my best to look people head-on and never turn my head in the office. Anything to prevent them from seeing my side profile in the office. My clients were used to my style. My CEO (who was African American) noticed it as we passed in the hallway and actually joked with me that only I could pull that off… and maybe his son. He asked me for my barber’s info.
Working in the midwest, it wasn’t even a thought. To be fair, appearance wasn’t very important at the company I worked for. Coming from the East coast, they expected me to have a bit more flare. They embraced it. I represented the company at many black tie affairs, mohawk and all. The same holds true with my current employer. My territory is New York City, so having my own sense of style fits right in.
8. Do you feel that people make judgements about you as a person, e.g., intelligence, education, or SES based upon your hairstyle/cut? Please share an experience.
Absolutely! While my employers either were from the start or eventually used to it, conferences were different. Typically surrounded by mostly older white males, rarely were they ready for someone like me to hit the scene. I have been given drink orders, as they assumed I was a part of the wait staff. Mistaken as security or a driver. Then I show them my conference badge and my ability to hold court with the best of them. The looks on their faces are always rewarding. A man can have a mohawk AND know his stuff.
“ I have been given drink orders, as they assumed I was a part of the wait staff. Mistaken as security or a driver.” - Jay Washington
9. There have been celebrities called out for cultural appropriation from Bruno Mars, the Kardashians to Adele. What do you think is the difference in terms of cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation? When do you think people cross the line?
These days, with “reality” TV and social media, style circles the globe so quickly. Many people want to hop on the hottest trends. I am a live and let live kinda guy. The only time I think it crosses the line is when it is done to mock someone. Where my frustration comes in is where something that originated in the Black or brown community is socially acceptable only after it has been copied by someone who is white, like cornrows after Bo Derek wore them in the 1980 movie “10”.
A member of the administrative staff at a company I worked for asked me if my mohawk was appropriate for work and I asked her if she’d had the same conversation with Chris, who had the faux hawk and blond highlights, or Chad who was an early fan of the messy bedhead look. That shut her mouth real quick. If you ain’t his woman or his momma, do NOT mess with a black man and his hair!
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