Tag Archives: GQ

Short and Proud? GQ Grapples with Black Men and “Rebellious” Naturals

by Latoya Peterson


My boyfriend brought home the GQ with a three-quarters naked Rihanna on the cover (for obvious reasons), but warned me against reading the articles.  (He’s a staunch Esquire man.) Ignoring his advice, I decided to flip through the magazine – and the first article in the “Grooming” section immediately catches my attention. In “Say It Loud – Keep It Short and Proud,” Knox Robinson reveals early on in the piece that he sported dreadlocks for close to 14 years.

He describes cutting off his dreads as the acceptance of a life transition:

I was at the start of my thirties and dutifully undergoing the transitions of that age—the arrival of a son, new career moves. With a radically new appearance, I felt distinctly like a man who’d escaped through the back door of a burning building and used the second chance to set out on a completely new path. Old acquaintances stared right past me on the train, and at parties women who once denied my advances wondered who I was.

Which is cool – people tend to use their hair as markers of transitions.  Growing the hair long, chopping it short post-break up, altering it with dye, eschewing dye for the natural color, giving up relaxers or embracing lacefronts, these are all parts of the personal choices (informed by our politics and society) that are small tiles in the mosaic of our identities. And indeed, the transformative aspects of a dramatic hair change cannot be underplayed – a friend of mine recently cut off the locks he had been growing for more than a decade.  But that reason was wrapped up in feeling stagnant in a life and a relationship he no longer wanted.  So the cut, to him, symbolized moving away from the person he used to be, toward the person he wants to become.

However, Robinson takes his piece into strange territory when he starts his analysis, completely disregarding the politics of hair and instead concluding (emphasis mine):

We’re now experiencing a restoration of black cosmopolitan glamour last witnessed fifty years ago, and the guys who define that sensibility are dudes like Usain Bolt, Lewis Hamilton, LeBron James, and yes, Obama. I see their close-cropped hair as marks of men singularly focused not on rebellion but on changing the game, or more acutely: results. It’s hair for the man with a job to do rather than a comment to make.

I am amazed that the conversation around natural hair still focuses on the idea of “sticking it to the man” instead of an expression of culture or just a personal preference.  And I am also amazed that so many people still see natural hair as a barrier to professional progress, or a lack of professionalism or focus. I’m often fascinated by the attempted control of people through their hair (see: teachers cutting children’s hair; indigenous children being barred from school for wearing their hair long, the contempt shown to men who wear their hair long because it isn’t “‘masculine”) and how this control is often dressed in the language of “growing up” or “being professional.”

Articles like this one just remind me of how far we actually have to go.

GQ’s Jim Nelson Frankly Talks About Race in His Editor’s Letter

One quiet evening, my boyfriend broke the relative silence in the living room by reading aloud:

Remember a long, long time ago – it almost seems like a recession and a half ago – when Barack Obama first came (via Kenya, of course) to power?  Remember how certain hope-doped commentators predicted that his election would finally allow Americans to have a frank discussion about race?

Something different and less hope-inducing has happened.  His presidency has allowed us to talk around race,  to talk about it constantly and subliminal, without ever truly discussing it.  And by doing so, we’re proving how much distance we have to grow up.

I held up a hand to stop him.

“Wait, that’s in GQ? The one with the Michael Jackson cover?”

Oh yes. Jim Nelson, GQ Editor, dedicated his editor’s letter to discussing how far conversations about race have fallen. And stranger still, there aren’t any articles specifically dedicated to race in the issue. Perplexed, I checked out the letter for myself. After all, isn’t this Jim Nelson of “Asian Whores” fame? Back in 2007, he raised some ire by using the term twice in his editor’s letter. Later, he told Page Six he was merely ” skewering a Western attitude that one ought to find noxious. The notion that Westerners can have and exploit whatever they want.”

Hmm…not quite there with that one.

Yet, while reading over the letter, I was struck by how much Nelson seemed to just get the roots behind racial hysteria.  (Or at least, when the issue is reduced into discussions of black and white.)

Here are some of Nelson’s greatest hits:

[The birthers] do not seek documents; they seek time travel, a machine to shoot them back to the magical time when black men could not get elected. For them, this supremely white fantasy of No Change is more important than silly matters such as health care.

Everywhere you look, people keep making batshit-crazy comments about race and ethnicity, stream-of-consciousness-style, as if the election had unleashed some Freudian anxiety in the cultural air.

Then [Pat Buchanan] made his more ignorant racist claim yet: “This has been a country built basically by white folks.” Which, apart from ignoring the entire history of slavery, is the subtext of every song I’ve ever heard by Toby Keith.

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