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‘Colin In Black And White’ Manifests the Power and Politics of Hair for Black Athletes

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A few years ago, I was on a flight to an academic conference for a research presentation.

A few minutes after sitting down, an older Black man sat next to me. He struggled with his seatbelt and strategically positioned himself in his seat, noting to nobody in particular how small the seats were on the tiny plane. He finally resorted to leaving his right leg outstretched in the aisle, and as he got comfortable, he perched his bright red NC State Wolfpack ball cap on his right thigh.

He turned and asked me several questions, eventually asking what I did for work. When I told him I was pursuing my doctorate degree, he got excited. “Go ‘head girl! You get that PhD!,” he exclaimed while reaching out his hand for me to shake. “What do you study?”

“College sports, actually,” I hesitated, as I often get mixed responses when telling strangers, especially men, of my research.

“Ohhh shoot,” he said with a grin on his face. “You’ve done it now.”

I quickly learned that he played basketball in college and was one of the first Black scholarship players on the NC State team.

“We couldn’t have mustaches when I played,” he reminisced, recalling his days in college and the ways his membership on the basketball team, even in the 1970s, impacted which behaviors were allowed and which were not. “But we decided we were gonna grow them anyway… That lasted all of TWO WEEKS! We ain’t wanna be riding that bench!” he burst into laughter as he remembered their attempts to manage coaches demands and their own personal desires. “We did grow our hair out though. There was a rule on the team that the players couldn’t have their hair past their ears.”

“But your hair grew up and out, not down?” I interjected.

He pointed in acknowledgment at me.

Continue reading over at First and Pen.

This content has been brought to you by First and Pen in partnership with TheHub.News. First and Pen “amplifies local sports stories from voices of color to the national conscience…”

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