A Thinkpiece on Thinkpieces (And Durags)

Photo by John Edmonds

Photo by John Edmonds

By Jaylin Paschal

Originally Published on Medium

For me, developing content isn’t just about publishing something everyday, or all the time, or on every topic, or even after every event. In the words of The Fashion Law Editor-in-Chief Julie Zerbo, “content for the sake of content” has never been my philosophy.

I don’t like to thinkpiece everything. I only like adding to a conversation if I’m saying something meaningful; something that’s not just a restatement of a point, but a fresh perspective.

When we thinkpiece everything to death, it creates a chatter; a noise that drowns out new perspectives and valuable inputs with redundancy. Essentially, we create cultural clutter, forcing each other to shift through more than what is really necessary to find written gems. Furthermore, we remove the luster and interest of a story. By the time the seventh headline on the matter comes across your timeline, you’re over it. Which is why I’d rather not add to the wave of thinkpieces destined to wash over us unless it’s something I really feel compelled to share.

This cultural clutter of thinkpieces also runs the risk of romanticizing and then ruining the magic of certain cultural elements. Take, for example, a beloved black cultural staple — The Durag.

Before reading several articles on the durag (like this one on GQ, or this one on i-D or this one in The New Yorkerwhich are all 1) good reads and 2) written by black writers) the most I had really thought about it was on the spelling. Growing up, I’d seen several of my older cousins wear them faithfully and would always think, “Durag? Du-rag? Doo-rag? Do Rag?” That was where my intellectualization of the item stopped. The question was never why they wore them, or what they meant, or which aspects of blackness they symbolized, or how those symbolic aspects were criminalized by those outside the culture who saw my cousins as “thugs.”

Of course, that knowledge came with age as a sort of “street sense” knowledge that you learn by living. Again, I hadn’t intellectualized it much, if at all. But for the last year, I’ve seen art pieces, installations, projects and, of course, thinkpieces dedicated to the study of the durag. And I’m not gonna lie — it’s been a bizarre experience for me. Not to understate the cultural significance of a durag (trust me, I get it) but to read white people likening them to “crowns” and using words like “adornment” to describe tying them — it’s odd.

The first time I ever considered a durag more than just that was when I constantly heard people aruging over whether or not Allen Iverson should’ve had one on on television; I noticed how both black and white people keen on respectability politics responded negatively to it. But even then, my thought wasn’t “Let that black king wear his crown,” but moreso “Why are you trippin’ over this nigga trying to protect his hair?” The durag wasn’t something I studied to understand, just something I “got.”

Since then, I’ve loved seeing the durag in public. To me it’s a signifier of unapologetic blackness. Which is why that viral video of the black schoolteacher showing young black kids how to tie a durag was so precious; which is why seeing LeBron James drink wine in his durag is so satisfying. This cultural staple should be celebrated.

My fear, though, is that we will analyze the authenticity out of it. That once we associate lofty buzzwords like “royalty” and “headdress” with a f*cking durag that it’ll lose it’s realness; which is the only thing about it that connects nameless black elementary school teachers with one of the best athletes in the world — the authenticity. And here I want to quickly note that by saying this I am not suggesting that feelings of importance and regality are not valid or “real” feelings in the black community, but rather that through items like durags these feelings go without saying. It’d be like your uncle in the gators and suede telling you that he’s fly — it kind of ruins it.

I’m concerned that we will thinkpiece the hell out of it and then wonder why white girls are walking around the outlet malls in baby pink appropriated versions of their own. “Durag” has crossed their timeline five times now in cutting-edge style articles, so they must be the new big thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Forever 21 started trying to sell tie-dye or taco-printed durags for $12.80.

Creating a cultual clutter on the topic of durags is not celebration as much as it is using a relevant topic for clickbait.

What I’m getting at is, if you have nothing to add to the durag conversation — why add a headline to the roster of pre-existing content, instead of simply sharing and responding to the valuable perspectives which have already been issued? In my own personal experience, I really really wanted to write about Beyonce’s Lemonade, but I knew that nothing I published would have brought any take that I hadn’t already read to the table. My voice was just chatter on the subject; more appropriate for intimate conversations or a quick thread of tweets.

Let’s try not to create content for the sake of content; try not to write about trending topics for the sake of the click.

Jaylin PaschalComment