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Brandon Scott’s afro: Hair does not make the mayor | COMMENTARY

Mayor Brandon M. Scott provides an update on Baltimore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic along with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, right, in front of City Hall.
Mayor Brandon M. Scott provides an update on Baltimore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic along with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, right, in front of City Hall. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Mayor Brandon Scott’s perfectly round and combed out Afro has caught the attention of many and caused a buzz around town — and even a bit nationally. The style is certainly distinct in the suited-up world of politics, and, at first glance, indicative of a COVID world, where lots of us are wearing our hair a little longer than normal. Except this afro isn’t just reflective of somebody skipping the barbershop. It is deliberate, with expertly-shaped edges. A statement.

And people have all kinds of opinions about it, from the person on Twitter loving the “quarantine solidarity hair” to someone declaring on Election Day that “tonight’s real winner is Brandon Scott’s hair” and another stating that his hair was “fireeee.” Others saw it as a point of racial pride. Pulitzer-winner Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times posted Mr. Scott’s official head shot with this message: “This gotta be one of the Blackest haircuts in mayoral history. Much respect.” The racists had things to say not worth repeating. Then there was the chorus of naysayers calling for Mayor Scott to cut his crown, the sooner the better.

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Sorry for those folks, but Mayor Scott said the afro is a keeper. He first started growing out his hair when barbershops were shut down to stop the spread of COVID; as an example that getting a haircut was a threat to public health at the time. Then as time wore on, the longer hair felt natural and comfortable to him. He had sported lengthy tresses most of his life, cutting off braids after graduating college because people told him he couldn’t get a professional job with them. It was one of the decisions he regrets most in life; it was if he had cut off a part of his soul. So, when people, including his parents and staff, started telling him to get rid of the afro if he wanted to be mayor, he resisted — strongly. Why should he have to change his look to fit an image of what a mayor is supposed to be? And so the afro lives on. That’s the message he gave sixth graders he spoke with as his first official mayoral duty. It seems even the middle school generation was interested in his hair. “Don’t let anyone tell you that your hair determines what your amount of success should be,” he said. “It is about who you are as a person, what your abilities are, how you treat people.”

Mayor Scott is right that a public official’s hairstyle is the last characteristic constituents should worry about. Really, who cares? Just like it should be of little concern what designer pantsuit the first lady is wearing. What matters is how Mr. Scott is going to tackle the city’s consistently high homicide rate; how he will deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic and how he will bring back pride to our battered city. But we also like that our new mayor is pushing against the idea of what a traditional mayor should look like. For Mr. Scott, the afro symbolizes black pride and he is proud of his “unabashed blackness.” And as he says, representation matters. “What does a mayor look like? A mayor looks like someone who tries to make the best decisions no matter how they wear their hair,” he said. He’s not the first Black public figure to stand up for their authenticity. Symone D. Sanders, who has been hired as chief spokesperson for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, has also shown she is not willing to sacrifice her true self. She has talked over the years, including in a recent book, about not fitting the traditional mold of a political commentator with her curvy body and “bedazzled” nails, but choosing to continue to go against the grain.

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The state of Maryland and Baltimore both recently enacted legislation that made it easier for everyone to be their true selves, making it illegal for employers to discriminate against someone based on hair texture and style.

As for politicos, best practice is to stay away from talk about physical appearance and pay attention to more substantive policy issues. And stop asking Mayor Scott to cut his hair. Shortly before his grandmother passed away last month, she told him she liked his hair. He just needed to trim, or fade, the edges up. So that is what he did, and that is how he will continue to wear his hair — in her memory.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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