How Do I Look In My Durag?
"Share Your Story" submitted by Anwar Zane
Everyday I wake up, same routine. I open all of the windows to allow air flow throughout the apartment. I drink water. Walk to the balcony. Then I check my phone for messages from my mom. On this day she sent me a link to a Twitter video (I don’t have Twitter, but she does), and what I saw filled my body with pride and joy. This image was a gem for my cultural consciousness.
The video was a large group of black men on a college campus wearing assorted colors of durags, I’m talking every flavor and fabric. The group had on “silkys”, velvet, extra-long capes, logos, folded, and tied - ever so nonchalantly, but immaculately done. The 7-minute video depicted iPhone footage following around one guy who was the “wave check” mediator. The mediator went from person to person and asked them to remove their durag and allow the world to see just how much brush time they’ve put in. If the waves were ”360’s” or “Spinning” you heard a chorus of “ohhhhhhhhhh” in amazement, if the waves were mediocre you didn’t hear any hate, just a couple of laughs, maybe a “you gotta keep brushing” and a low volume “ahhh”. This video left me with an inner glow radiating from my heart, one that could only be attained by my eyes witnessing the reclaiming of what is inherently ours.
Damn. But you don’t know what a durag is, do you? You don’t know what “waves”, “silkys”, “velvets” or a “cape” is? Not even the least idea as to what “spinning” or “360” means? It’s all good. Say less.
I spent summers at my Grandads house in upstate New York. I love this man. My only gripe - he brushed my hair hard as humanly possible. I didn’t understand until I was back home with my parents and one day I noticed my mom cutting off the top portion of some old panty hose. You know what followed? She brushed my hair equally as hard, it was as if she inherited my Grandfather's arm strength. She shampooed my hair, moisturized it, brushed again and then proceeded to put that old panty hose on my head. She introduced me to the “stocking cap”. I resisted wearing it for a while because every morning I’d wake up with an indent in my forehead spanning the circumference of my head. My mom said “boy, just keep it on your head, that line will go away”. My mom, my dad, my grandad, they wanted me to have waves. The purpose of the stocking cap and moisturizer was to hold my curls in a linear pattern. My naturally curly hair would be brushed forward and then pressed tightly with the stocking cap to hold it in place. After so many brushing sessions and stocking cap usage, Well those linear follicles got wavy like the ocean, and soon started to cascade down the sides of my fade, I was witnessing a tsunami. I looked in the mirror at my raven, velvety tresses and liked how the light hit that pattern. I was a “waver”. I brushed my hair day and night, and learned how to let it grow for a month and let it “wolf”. The waves were there, but when I went in for that next haircut and that barber hit me with the number two Caesar (haircut same length all around), it was “360’s”. Waves all around my cranium, it was tough. I drowned a few people, some became seasick, some experienced motion sickness... in the end, they made it to shore. The waves yielded many fellow wavers, and surfers alike, to “wave check” (someone asks you to take off your durag to see how wavy you are) me. High seas always.
Ok so now we all know what waves are. We have established that the brush strokes are the “hours in the gym”, the moisturizer, “the protein” and the “360’s”, the “muscle” you reap. You also know that your mom might have a stocking cap for you. Great.
So where were we? New York again. Upstate. My mom has four brothers and two sisters. That equals a clan of cousins. My older cousin “Blue” had a barbershop near the recreation center where I played basketball in the summer. Blue was the first person my mom let cut a design in the back of my head, a Nike “swoosh” and once a “Batman” signal. I was certain Blue was the coolest person I’d ever meet. He had the most infectious smile and radiated positive energy. One day on my way to basketball, my mom makes me stop and get a haircut from Blue. I take the same walk from my Grandads up the hill, cross two intersections and make a right. I cross the street at the corner after looking both ways, like a good 10-year-old. On this day I crossed and opened that door and was blinded by the reflection from a royal blue headdress this King was wearing. A Pharaoh in my eyes. So regal in this ancestral headwear. A garment suitable for life and the astral plane. I was already obsessed with Egyptian artefacts at this time and I thought “Blue, Blue is King Tut. He looked so regal in this ancestral headwear. The sheeny fabric covering his whole head was tied in a perfect knot in the back, with a long cape ( long tail end of the durag that sits on your shoulders like angel wings) - like an element sitting perfectly on his shoulders. I thought, what is this elegance? Well my friends, my cousin Blue told me it was a “durag”. I needed one of these joints.
Still, you ask, “but what is a durag”. The durag is a piece of fabric used to keep a hairstyle in place, It keeps your “hair-do” neat and in place. Waves, cornrow, braids, twists, knots and locs. It keeps your hair from becoming unkempt. A durag is a more functional, upgraded version of a stocking cap. The durag comes in various materials, most popular being silk and velvet. The silk or “silky” runs about $3-$5. The velvet might cost you $7-10. The velvet is heavier but is lined with silk. My advice, just cop the silky.
Who invented the durag? I can’t think of one person to credit for this, but I can tell you that the first signs of durag were in sub-Saharan African countries. The fabric was used to protect the head from the desert sun during a heatwave. They were also present during slavery when slaves would wear scarves over their heads to absorb sweat and protect their scalp from the sun while working in the fields. The durag came to prominence for the masses in the 1930’s - 1960’s when it became popular to perm (chemically process) hair. The fabric helped keep the hair “layed” and presentable.
Where can you buy a durag? Every major city in America. If you can find a bodega, corner store or beauty hair supply spot, there’s a good chance you will find a durag nestled in an overhead compartment or below the combs. I’ve been living abroad for the past few years. In Berlin I was only able to find them at the “Afro shop”, a shop usually owned and operated by African immigrants, or stores with the words “urban” or “hip hop” somewhere in their description. I always looked for the immigrants. In Tokyo where I live now, fortunately, I’m stacked up because I’ve seen some astronomical prices for a durag. If you do want one in Tokyo, there are many places that they can be found. Shrug. You do what you gotta do to keep that hair fresh. If you sense you’re in the right store and need a clue as to where the durags are, look for a long rectangular box with the profile of a black man with a confident smile that draws you in closer to the image and makes you wonder “will the contents of this box, in fact, motivate me to go shirtless and have someone snap a picture of my profile with this small piece of Mecca adorning my crown? Perhaps. Buyer beware, there is magic in that box.
The durag has become commonplace in the public eye thanks to social media. The popularity has assisted in dispelling negative connotations associated with the durag due to visibility. Society had a way of shaping the image of a durag as being something seen on a “gangster” or a “thug”. The same negative images that presented controversial dress code adjustments. The durag was banned by the NFL in 2001, and the NBA in 2005. The predominantly black sports leagues outlawed a piece of our identity. The fabric is embedded in your head as perhaps something you’ve seen a black artist wear during a performance or perhaps your favorite athlete. The Durag is just a garment sometimes attached to the black body, but by no means negatively affecting the mindset of the individual wearing it. The durag was explicitly listed as grounds for no entry at a bar on my college campus. Many black parents have told their kids not to wear the durag outside the house because of the negative connotations associated with it due to insensitive media. In present day people are sometimes viewed as “tacky”, “ghetto” or “hood” for wearing the rag outside of the house. Rappers have always embraced the durag. In the black community, hair has always been an integral part of our identity. Our hair is our crown and it must be protected. We want it to be neat, but some of us don’t want people outside their home to see them wearing this garment because of the commonplace stigmatization of this ＄2 fabric. It’s worn by criminals, thugs and whatever mugshot you see on your television. I urge you to erase that criminalizing agenda from your cerebral. Insert Rihanna on the cover of British Vogue wearing a black durag tied in the front. Fill your mind with the image of Solange Knowles at the Met Gala wearing a heavenly durag that simply read “My God wears a durag” on an extended cape. When you hear “durag” I want you to simultaneously hear Solange singing “black faith still can’t be washed away, not even in that Florida water” as she did in her song “Almeda”. The murky waters of society could never dilute my ocean. My faith stays neatly intact under my rag. The waves yield tides to wash away my daily anxieties. The durag is my Yarmulke.
The durag, however, is not bulletproof, it’s never shot a bullet nor deflected one. The viewer often has their thoughts mislead into believing that the durag is villainous, when in fact it is the durag is the wavy hero in this ocean we call earth. The durag is a soft piece of fabric that I use to cover my hair when I sleep. I wear it when I want to remember and honor the people that were forced to shun this fabric because of societal insensitivity. I wear a durag because it makes me feel regal, for it is my crown in my kingdom of the black narrative, to never be renounced and each time someone asks me why I wear it publicly, I recite these bars from Jay-Z’s “so ghetto” in my head.
So I'm cruisin' in the car with this bougie broad/
She said, "Jigga-Man you rich, take the du-rag off/
“ Hit a U-turn, "Ma I'm droppin' you back off“/
Front of the club, "Jigga why you do that for?“ Thug nigga 'til the end, tell a friend bitch/
Won't change for no paper plus I been rich.
The wealth is in the ancestry.