Our friend Shawn has taken to wearing a voluminous Afro wig on social occasions, especially in the black community. Many politically conscious black women with light skin and straight hair do the same: it’s the only way to make sure people acknowledge their racial identity.

On this hot and steamy night at a crowded New Orleans club, the six inches of human hair attached to the synthetic fibres of the wig cap gather so much heat and sweat that Shawn excuses herself and goes to the ladies’ room. She is too uncomfortable to notice the other woman there. She bends over the sink, closes her eyes, pulls off the wig, and shakes it hard, trying to dislodge the sweat drops. When she straightens up, she sees the woman removing a wig too, shaking it, trying to dislodge the sweat drops, taking a comb from her purse to run through the wig’s long, straight locks, coaxing its limp ends back into their flip curve, and taking a paper towel to the bangs.

The mirror invites their eyes to meet. Shawn takes in the short, crisp frizz on her neighbour’s head; the neighbour takes in the dead straight, now crumpled shoulder-length hair of Shawn. Then, slowly, in near unison, they put their wigs back on and leave the bathroom in silence.

Margo Jefferson, “Negroland: A Memoir”.

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