How often does it happen that Jews are represented in Dutch media in a cultural and productive way? Last weekend it did: a positive and fun newspaper item about Jews! An almost casual item in which Jewish fashion and lifestyle briefly met Jewish/Black intersectionality and solidarity. It was titled ‘Jewish and a bunch of curls: the Jewfro’ and playfully described the writer’s personal family history related to this hairstyle. Hair, hair!
Jewfro refers to a round untamed hairstyle of curls worn by Jews that references the Afro. The style and corresponding name were coined in the 60s and 70s when prominent Jews started to wear their hair this way, curling in with their support for the civil rights movement and Black liberation in America. Barbara Streisand wore it, and Bob Dylan, and (later) Lenny Kravitz. The Flemish/Jewish author who, according to her website, is on the lookout for ‘stunningly original assignments’, weaves her grandparents’ story with the socio-economic reality of changing neighbourhoods and the Jewish/Black solidarity movement that was built in these years. It is a sharp and crisp attempt at retelling this solidarity story through the seemingly lowbrow prism of hair fashion.
So where are we today with our kinky hair? Interestingly enough, the writer does not manage to make the leap from the 60s to now, nor from America to the Netherlands. Besides two contemporary examples (Dutch television celebrity Katja Schuurman and Belgian director Adil El Arbi) who are both not Jewish, the writer does not even attempt to explain her chosen line up beyond their pride in wearing curls. More than that even, it feels like a missed opportunity to leave untouched what the Jewfro might mean in a (Dutch) Jewish context today.
In fact, we are (fashionably) comfortable speaking about issues of intersecting solidarity and Jewish culture when this lies in the past and across an ocean: Jewish/Black solidarity around the time of the civil rights movement in America is a well known theme. But there is always this danger of a romanticization of the past rather than an affirmation of the present. An active and local looking and prodding might reveal that there are in fact Jews still wearing their Jewfro with pride. It might reveal that there is a line of continuous Jewish-and-other-minorities-with-curly-hair-solidarity connecting between continents. And with just a little imagination one could reframe or reread into the intersectional landscape the story of hair as pride. Hair as a connective tissue between communities. Empowering our Jewish curls as both an identity affirmation and a solidarity statement at once.