One thing we’ve learned from our #EBONYPower100 honorees is that Blackness can be expressed in a multitude of ways. We’re making our mark on everything from the entertainment industry to the corporate boardrooms and beyond. Social media is no different.
In 2014, writer Vann R. Newkirk (also a contributor to the EBONY brand) created #DuragHistoryWeek to celebrate one of the most important fashion statements in Black America. EBONY.com caught up with Newkirk to find out how the trending topic got its start, finding joy in times of chaos, and celebrating our culture in the digital space.
EBONY.com: How did you come up with the idea for #DuragHistoryWeek?
Vann R. Newkirk: I came up with the idea two years ago right after the first wave of Ferguson protests. Black Lives Matter was coalescing and there was just a sense of just being depressed and disheartened in the community and needing to find some way to heal. I always viewed my Twitter community and “Black Twitter” as more than just online friends, but as an integral part of my community, family, and mechanism of self-healing. So I always try to do things—sometimes very silly things—that make people in that community happy and help heal them. I was thinking of some silly, positive way to rep our culture in that space and it turns out that thing was on my head at the time.
— Vann R. Newkirk II (@fivefifths) November 7, 2016
EBONY.com: For those who don’t know (or understand), why is the durag so important to Black culture?
Newkirk: The durag is important both for its practical purpose of 360 waves and hair protection and also for its symbolic importance. Because Black hair is so peculiar and has had such a prominent role in the demarcation of Black culture—and in white shaming of Blackness—I find that items connected with Black hair almost become like talismans. Durags especially had power from that and from hip-hop culture, where they became unmistakeable symbols. For me, they were also a bit of taboo because of those connections, and I know lots of respectability politics for young Black men centered on things like durags and sagging pants, and keeping expression of those things to this side of Du Bois’s veil. So to embrace the durag publicly is to both embrace a symbol of the most potent piece of Blackness and reject at least a little bit of respectability politics.
EBONY.com: With all of the #BlackGirlMagic in the air, Black men’s perspectives can some times get lost online. How do you see #DuragHistoryWeek making an impact?
Newkirk: I want to emphasize the #DuragHistoryWeek is for everybody! Rihanna has been doing the Lord’s work in the durag community, and we celebrate bonnets and headscarves as well.
— BreeSummers (@Breliloquy) November 7, 2016
But I do think for Black men it’s important both to embrace our hair and the items that symbolize it in a way that black women have done, because we don’t realize how much of our own internalized anti-blackness and shame is rooted in our hair. And I think embracing durags, Afro picks, and all the styles our hair can grow moves us a step forward to realizing that our hair is art and that we as Black men are as entitled to understanding the beauty within ourselves as much as anyone else is.