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Justice Thurgood Marshall

On this day in 1967, Thurgood Marshall was appointed as a United Supreme Court Justice, the first African-American to ascend to this position.  Did you know that Thurgood Marshall’s light skin and hair impacted his reputation?  Hair has always been an identity marker, something that may signal inclusion or exclusion; acceptance or rejection.   Thank goodness for all of us, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was appointed.  Our country would be a different land without his brilliant legal mind.thurgoodmarshall

Here is an excerpt from Juan William’s book, “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary” that underscores how hair and other elements of appearance impacted Justice Thurgood Marshall:

“RUMORS FLEW THAT NIGHT. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark had resigned a few hours earlier. By that Monday evening, Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall and his wife, Cissy, heard that the president was set to name Clark’s replacement the very next morning. At the Marshalls’ small green town house on G Street in Southwest Washington, D.C., the phone was ringing. Friends, family, and even politicians were calling to see if Thurgood had heard anything about his chances for the job. But all the Marshalls could say was that they had heard rumors.

    T1521520_28As Marshall dressed for Clark’s retirement party on that muggy Washington night of June 12, 1967, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. Years ago some of his militant critics had called him “half-white” for his straight hair, pointed nose, and light tan skin. Now, at fifty-eight, his face had grown heavy, with sagging jowls and dark bags under his eyes. His once black hair, even his mustache, was now mostly a steely gray. And he looked worried. He did have on a good dark blue suit, the uniform of a Washington power player. But the conservative suit looked old and out of place in an era of Afros and dashikis. And even the best suit might not be strong enough armor for the high-stakes political fight he was preparing for tonight. At this moment the six-foot-two-inch Marshall, who weighed well over two hundred pounds, felt powerless. He was fearful that he was about to lose his only chance to become a Supreme Court justice.”

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Watch Tina’s Television Interview!!!

I was recently interviewed by Emily Rooney on the WGBH Boston show “Greater Boston” about the army’s ban on particular hairstyles.  Here’s a link to the show:  Tina’s WGBH interview. Please let me know what you think!

Now, for a litle bit of trivia.  Who is this?

gene anthony ray fame newspaper report 1983

Post your answers in the comments section before you watch the video!

Once you watch the video, you’ll understand why this particular image is in this post!!!!  

  • Erica Addison

    Leroy!!!!

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SBD Days: Some Days All You Got to Do Is Stay Black, and…. by Petra E. Lewis

Kevin Ryan Headshot - ColorIn Black America, at some point the following is almost a universal scenario: Someone will tell someone else they “have” to or “need” to ________ [INSERT BLANK DIRECTIVE]. And that person will sassily reply (tone of voice the equivalent of hands akimbo, and sometimes hands actually akimbo): “All I got to do is stay Black and die!”

This for me is the genesis of SBD Days: ones that are obligation free.  I’m one of those people who works (hard) constantly, my ambition almost a flaw. And when SBD Days come, they come vengefully and unapologetically: I sip hot chocolate and catch up on literature. Cruise the web and LOL (the stupider the post, article, or video, the better). I have no desire to see significant others—that, after all, would be an obligation—an obligation–when all I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know.

Kevin Ryan Headshot _ B+W

SBD Days are lovely, lazy things when I allow myself to luxuriate in sloth, and contribute to the unraveling fibers of American society by ignoring the Protestant Work Ethic. Curiously, I don’t have SBD Days when I’m on deadline. Why? Simple: Mama didn’t raise no fool–plus I carefully guard my professional reputation.  SBD Days that fall on client deadlines are greeted with tough self-love—and a big stick. Hot chocolate and lethargically scrolling through hipster posts on Guest of a Guest’s Facebook page do not pay the bills.

However, SBD Days do sass and trash hair rituals. Due for a wash, a detangle, a deep condition? What? (Suck teeth.) All I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know. And guess what? My hair is just fine. I even get compliments. Race is irrelevant. Everyone deserves at least one SBD Day in their lives. Just become courageous enough to be selfish and put your peace and sanity above all else.

P.S. I was supposed to scribe this post two months ago, but I decided: All I got to do is stay Black and…. Well, you know.


Petra E. Lewis is a writer, author, entrepreneur, Tastemaker, and Synergist who lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The first novel in her trilogy, The Sons and Daughters of Ham, Book I: A Requiem debuts February 2014, www.hamnovels.com : : @tastemistressp : :  http://on.fb.me/1fUwRNo https://twitter.com/TastemistressP

  • verta

    yes. yes. yes. we all need SBD days!!!

  • Petra

    LOL, Verta–yes, we do! BTW: I greatly enjoyed your first-ever post for HAI.#greatstuff

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I’ve been on hiatus but I’ve been working on hairasidentity.com, conducting research on hair as identity and editing a ton of interviews I’ve conducted on the topic. Stay tuned as I share some interesting insights. :)

It has been a LONG time since I’ve written a blog post and, during that time, three key things have happened!  First, I’ve been working on Hairasidentity.com.  I hope that you like it.  It’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get it to its current state and I love the progress we’ve made.  Of course, things can always be better so please share your comments on what you like and don’t like about the updated site.  A special shout out to 99designs.com for helping me find a designer for my new logo.  Specifically, Rudi4911 was amazing and did a great job creating a logo that captures how hair is both a physical and psychological reflection of our identity.

Second, I’ve been conducting research on hair as identity and I’ll be sharing various study results on the website.  Results?  Well, let’s just say that we have our work cut out for us as we work to create a society where all hair types are embraced in professional settings.  I have some ideas on how to bring this about and I’ll be sure to share my thoughts and research insights.

Third, I’ve been developing content for the website by interviewing various personalities on how hair reflects identity.  For example, I’ve spoken with human resources professionals, hair stylists, judges, students, administrative professionals and people I met on the street.  I am NOT a video editing expert and it is taking me FOREVER to get the interviews the way that I want them.  Rather than wait any longer, I decided to upload what I have and work on it from there.  One thing I’ve learned about entrepreneurship is that action is required!  Happy New Year and I look forward to reconnecting with many of you.  J

Tina_DSC1519

  • Erica addison

    Tina, I’m so excited for you! I can’t wait to find out what is really going on in the natural hair community. Transitioning is tough and I need all the help and encouragement possible! Thanks for all your help.

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Facial Hair and Identity: A Male Perspective

As I was shaving my face this morning I thought of Tina Opie’s post on hair and identity. She raises some interesting questions. From a male perspective, I know that the expectation in a professional setting is to either be clean-shaven or if we choose to wear a beard/mustache, the expectation is that it be neatly trimmed.

Hello everyone,

I recently wrote a Post on facial hair and I am delighted to publish commentary that I received.  Mr. Amir Reza wrote an interesting personal piece on his experience with facial hair.   Here it is; I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

“Men and Facial Hair” by Amir Reza

As I was shaving my face this morning I thought of Tina Opie’s post on hair and identity. She raises some interesting questions. From a male perspective, I know that the expectation in a professional setting is to either be clean-shaven or if we choose to wear a beard/mustache, the expectation is that it be neatly trimmed. I recall when I stopped shaving a few years ago during vacation and decided not to shave before returning to work – that period when your beard hasn’t fully grown in and you are not clean-shaven is interesting – there were colleagues that loved the facial hair and others that didn’t care for it. There wasn’t much in between. Most everyone had an opinion one way or another. There were many questions; was I going to grow it indefinitely? Would I consider a goatee? What did others think about my new look?

Mr. Reza sporting a beard

There were also joking comments about my identity as a Middle Eastern American and what facial hair meant in light of the stereotypical terrorist suspect. This makes me think of that period after September 11, 2001 when the Department of Homeland Security instituted color-coded threat levels and profiling of Middle Easterners (in particular young men) was prevalent. I recall half-jokingly commenting to my friends that if the color code was “orange” or higher I would definitely shave, lest I be profiled as “one of them.” Maz Jobrani (an Iranian-American comedian) has a funny segment on this topic – “you don’t want to be Middle Eastern and show up at the airport with a beard!” (watch here minute 3:50 of this youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYlaIxNX01Q ).

Returning to Opie’s blog on facial hair, it seems that facial hair is a political & social matter for men, whether you are running for office or trying to navigate society (east or west). As for me, I ended up shaving my beard/mustache eventually, not because of my colleagues’ comments, but because my two-year old daughter didn’t want to kiss me because I was too itchy!

Mr. Reza sans beard

What do you all think?  Please share any thoughts that Mr. Reza’s story triggered in your mind.  Thanks for reading!

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Professional Hair

I wonder if each of you can describe what “professional hair” is in your particular industry? Please comment and let me know: 1) the industry in which you work and 2) how you would describe professional hair and unprofessional hair in your industry. It would be great if you even have a picture to illustrate your point!

The other day, I blogged about model Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin. I talked about how proud I am of her for sporting her naturally coily hair on the runway and in fashion spreads. Of course, I do recognize that not all of us are in the fashion or entertainment industry.

Having said that, I wonder if each of you can describe what “professional hair” is in your particular industry? Please comment and let me know: 1) the industry in which you work and 2) how you would describe professional hair and unprofessional hair in your industry. It would be great if you even have a picture to illustrate your point!

For example, in academia, I’ve noticed that women in particular seem to be more comfortable wearing their natural hair. Natural might mean gray, curly, kinky, straight, wavy, blonde, black; however it NATURALLY grows out of the head. Also, what is it about academia that might affect how professors wear their hair?

  • topie

    Hi Sherry! Thanks so much for your comment. Have you ever seen unprofessional: hair coloring? dreadlocks? braids? long hair? I guess I'd add that it's anything that looks unkempt…the thing is, who determines what is and isn't unkempt?

  • topie

    Happy New Year by the way!

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What We Can Learn From Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin

I imagine that the pressures of modelling must be overwhelming at times. It must be much easier to go with the flow and blend in with all of the other models. That is why I admire Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin, a French model of Caribbean descent (both of her parents are from Martinique according to information I found about her). Why do I admire Ms. Augustin? Well, among other things as the pictures illustrate, she sports a head full of coily hair. In my opinion, she ROCKS HER FRO! It could be said that Ms. Augustin’s mane is remniscent of an earlier super model, Ms. Peggy Dillard.



I imagine that the pressures of modelling must be overwhelming at times. It must be much easier to go with the flow and blend in with all of the other models. That is why I admire Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin, a French model of Caribbean descent (both of her parents are from Martinique according to information I found about her). Why do I admire Ms. Augustin? Well, among other things as the pictures illustrate, she sports a head full of coily hair. In my opinion, she ROCKS HER FRO! It could be said that Ms. Augustin’s mane is remniscent of an earlier super model, Ms. Peggy Dillard. Don’t know who she is? I’ll be sharing more details about her in an upcoming post.

What can Ms. Augustin teach us? Well, I’d argue that if she can make her coily and/or curly hair part of her brand, we can all think about how we can do the same. Granted, we don’t all have model looks, nor do we all work in the entertainment / fashion industries. However, perhaps we each can revisit an unstated (and sometimes stated!) assumption that straightening our tresses is a necessity if we desire to project a professional image.

TOP IMAGE: http://bit.ly/LG6u3q

BOTTOM IMAGE: http://bit.ly/NIzgwb

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You should really reflect how the client’s top executives look

“You should really reflect how the client’s top executives look.”Say what?!I was taken aback by the comment because I was dressed beautifully in a tailored suit and donned a cute natural hair style.At the time, I was working as a management consultant on a work project in one of the largest private firms in the United States.The comment came from one of my project leaders.How do you react to such a comment?Perhaps she was referring to the fact that I was wearing a red suit?Or, was she talking about my hair? That is one of the challenges of being in a society where your beauty is often devalued:you don’t know if such comments were intended to be personal and related to immutable characteristics (e.g., YOU need to have straight, long hair) or general and related to things that you can change (e.g., NO ONE should ever wear a red suit).As our conversation continued, I picked my mouth up off of the floor and realized that her comments did in fact seem to be about my hair.Wow.I took a deep breath and weighed the thoughts whirling in my mind.Should I blast her?Should I say nothing?For those who know me in a professional setting, you know that I picked a diplomatic way, but direct way, to let her know that I thought her comments were ridiculous.I said, “Wow, that’s a…different perspective.What if we were working at Black Entertainment Television?Would you be willing to shave your head and wear a short hairstyle a la Robert Johnson?”A blank stare greeted my gaze.That was the end of that. Well, at least she didn’t say anything else. But, I’m not so naive to think that her authentic beliefs were changed as a result of our exchange.

Was this a one-off situation?I think not.The article in this link suggests that other Black women have been and will be subjected to insensitive comments about their hair in the workplace:http://ybpguide.com/2007/09/02/natural-black-hair-not-glamorous/.The picture of the beautiful, professional Black woman was copied from the same article.

What do you think?How would you have responded to my situation?To what occurred in the article?Have you experienced such behavior in the workplace?How did you react?To those who are non-Black, how would you have responded if you witnessed this situation?