Dante de Blasio’s towering Afro, a supporting player in his father’s mayoral campaign, riveted attention once more last week when it caught the eye of President Obama. Introducing Bill de Blasio at a Democratic fund-raiser in Midtown, Mr. Obama digressed to point out, “Dante has the same hairdo as I had in 1978. Although I have to confess my Afro was never that good.”
Nor was it as voluminous, or as apparently devoid of a political charge. As 16-year-old Dante implied in an interview with DNAInfo.com, an online local news source, hair is just hair. “Some people want to take photos and I’m really just happy,” he said. Others want to reach out and touch it, and some did at last week’s fund-raiser, their enthusiastic petting prompting the elder de Blasio to joke that he might have to call security.
The mayoral candidate was doubtless aware that Dante’s outsize hair placed him in a league with a current generation that has adopted what once was a badge of revolt as an emblem of style’s cutting edge. Resurgent in films and television and the streets, inspired by a galaxy of pop culture idols, the Afro today seems friendly enough, even downright disarming — a kinder, gentler “natural” pretty much shorn of its militancy.
Images like those of Halle Berry’s tightly coiled halo or Nicki Minaj’s poodly pink Glamfro on the cover of Allure last year have played a part in resurrecting the hallmark style. Hoping to stand apart from her more famous sister, Solange Knowles last year chopped her chemically processed hair to reveal the wedge-shaped Afro that has since become her signature. And the actress Viola Davis showed off her natural curls at the Oscar ceremonies a year ago after walking most of the red carpet season in a wig; Prince poses regally in his Afro on the August issue of V magazine.
Even the customarily conventional Oprah Winfrey stepped out to front the September issue of O, the Oprah magazine, in a 3.5-pound wig that spanned its cover nearly edge to edge above the cover line: “Let’s talk about HAIR!”
The style’s current iteration bears little kinship to the anti-gravity hair flaunted in the late 1960s by Angela Davis, Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver and other icons of the Black Power movement. “In the ’60s the Afro was looked upon as ‘Wow, you’re stepping out there, you’re really going against the grain,’ ” said Andre Walker, the man who fluffed Ms. Winfrey’s wig into its umbrella-size proportions. In contrast, “When I talk to a lot of the kids from this generation,” he said, “the whole civil rights movement, it’s very vague to them.
“I don’t think they really know the meaning of how radical an Afro was in the day,” Mr. Walker added. “It’s a different time now.”
Though his father wore an Afro in the 1970s and ’80s, 16-year-old Noah Negron, a high school senior in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was not bowing to family tradition or the politics of a bygone era when he decided to grow out his hair. “I’m an environmentalist,” he said. “That’s where the locks come in. It’s like all natural.”
Reluctant to treat her hair with potentially damaging lye, another Brooklyn resident who identified herself only as Tamar A., declared: “This is just how my hair grows out of my head. I’m not trying to make a statement. I’m just more comfortable being who I am.”