A theory is an idea about how something works. Something has gone through rigorous testing, observations, and experiments designed to prove the idea right or wrong. But in creative theory, the idea is grounded in a definition of creativity as producing ideas or outcomes. In creative theory, we exercise our expertise, creative thinking skills, and motivation. It is innovation with a creative BANG!
So here, in this space, we explore the creative theoretical evolution of the durag and its relationship to the Outdoors.
There have been various theories aimed at explaining how this piece of cloth has evolved over time. So much so that historians, reporters, and bloggers all propose different aspects of what has now become Durag theory. Suppose we widen our scope and think of the Durag in conjunction with the Outdoors. In that case, we learn to see how two "things," The Du-rag and the Outdoors, share many similar feelings and associations for people. When we combine the two and see them as one, they will conjure thoughts and feelings that can make us shutter and experience bliss simultaneously.
It has been written that we can trace the concept of the Du-rag back to the headscarves that women used during enslavement to keep their hair in order. And let's go back further still, to the First Italo-Ethiopian War. We can see them worn by Emperors and Kings such as Emperor Yohannes IV, below wearing the traditional head wrap of the time.
The evolution of the Du-rag is fascinating. It has undergone as many changes as the environment and individuals surrounding it, facing stereotyping, judgment, and misunderstanding of its history. This gloriously simplistic close-fitting cloth cap, wrapped around the top of the head and worn to promote the growth of long curly/kinky hair, waves, or locks..this innovative piece of material and its influence has grown like the oldest trees in the oldest forests from a single seed to become a cultural and historical phenomenon.
Soon after the time period of the Harlem Renaissance and throughout the 1960s and 1970s, during the Black Pride movement, Durags grew to become a fashion statement. And due to the cultural popularity of Durags, among Black men, they were swept into "criminal" stereotypes, and quickly became a state-sanctioned symbol of criminality.
In this world, in this time and space, we currently inhabit together, our society has a way of shaping the image of an item attached to the Black body as being something seen as criminal. This "outlawing" of the Durag, a piece of our identity, is rooted in Eurocentric design doctrines and practices. The Durag has always been an accessory made for and by Black people, and therefore, it is vilified. It has been condemned to the point where many Black parents have included the Durag in "The Talk" warning their children not to wear the Durag outdoors because of the negative connotations. And this is understandable. Those of us who grew up in the 1990s remember when the gangs of the American Northeast appropriated the Durag, and its "bad" reputation took precedence over its long-rooted and beautiful history. Unfortunately, white supremacy and the vilest conservative American authorities decided to wage war on this piece of Black culture under the guise of standardizing dress codes in school spaces, and the same thing happened in many public areas led by Black people.
For example, In 2001, the NFL banned players from wearing their Durags, on the field or at practices. The NBA followed close in their footsteps, banning Durags in 2005. In 2018 Eaglecrest school district banned Durags, stating "safety" concerns and the "well-being of the school." The Dean of KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate charter school in Boston says, that "du-rags are not a part of the school’s student dress code and could be seen as reflective of gang culture." and therefore are banned. In July of 2018, Edmonton Catholic School racially profiled an 11-year-old boy and accused him of being involved in a gang for wearing his du-rag to school. The stories continue in Effingham School District in 2019, Sioux Falls School District Roosevelt High School, in April of 2021, Lincoln High School in May of 2021, West Orange High School, in New Jersey in March of 2022, and Pasadena's Unified School District in 2022.
So, the question I pose to you is the creative exercise I am undergoing in my design practice of creative theorizing. How can we reclaim the Durag and its place in the outdoors as a symbol of Black Pride and Protection?
I don't have the answer for us. But I believe it can begin with re-designing it to proudly be displayed on one's crown as we walk, run, hike, swim, camp, bike, barbecue, or ascend a mountain peak.