Identity – all of the things that indicate who we are – is a crucial part of how each of us engages with and understands the world. It impacts everything from the way we dress to the way we vote. Our identities (biological, situational, chosen, etc.) often indicate similarities and differences between people, and can promote the formulation of groups. These groups can serve to strengthen our self-understanding and enhance our sense of community; they can also serve to separate and divide us from others who do not share our identity.
When we’re divided by our differences, xenophobia can emerge. Additionally, we tend to remain ignorant of our commonalities and thus resistant to collaboration toward collective betterment. Ignorance is often at the root of fear, fear is often at the root of anger, and anger is often the trigger for violence. By learning more about one another, we can begin to alter this progression toward violence.
However, being asked directly about one’s identity can often feel invasive, rude, or even threatening. To explore our respective identities, it’s important to find entry points that are revelatory without being too invasive or otherizing.
I believe that hair is one such entry point.
Hair can reveal a great deal about our identity. Its texture and color; the way we cut it and care for it; how we wear it or hide it… it all demonstrates something about who we are. Hair is also something that everyone has (or, in the case of my dad, something that everyone has had). Consequently, conversations about hair are accessible to all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Approaching an exploration of identity through the lens of hair enables us to engage in a dialogue that promotes learning, celebrates diversity, and bridges cultures.