The Headwrap

by Judith Meyerowitz

As a very small child, Jasmine had watched her grandmother fold the piece of cloth into a rectilinear shape and knot it on top of her head. It looked like a crown. It was very old. She loved to hear the story again and again of how it had been passed down from generation to generation. However, she never saw her mother wear it. When she asked her why, she would firmly say, “We are in America. Not Africa! We are in the North. Not the South!”

As she entered her teenage years, Jasmine was increasingly drawn to the beauty of the headwrap and curious about how it was made. Threads of multiple colors intertwined to create the traditional design. Her eyes followed with wonder the thin black and green cone shapes which rose into the gold and red sky. She thought about the weaving process.

She had watched with fascination on YouTube, men working the loom. The threads of different colors wrapped around their toes, the red brown soil and sweat of Africa mixed in with the colors.

She couldn’t figure out the spacing of the design. It was as if the weavers’ bodies knew where to place the threads, as if their feet danced the rhythm of mathematics. It was a striking piece of Kente cloth from Ghana.

Jasmine’s family was part of the Great Migration. Her great-grandparents had journeyed from Mississippi to Chicago following WW1, while the headwrap had journeyed from Africa to the South with slavery. It had gone from expressing African identity to symbolizing white power and enslavement.

She had seen the headwrap taken over once again by white America in the form of “Black Mammy” in old pancake ads and on servants in old movies. She felt demeaned not only as an African American but as a young African American woman.

She struggled with her own thoughts while also trying to understand her mother’s discomfort. She was in America and the North but how she saw herself was bound to the history and diaspora of her people. She had recently seen an exhibition on representing the Black model at a local art gallery. The theme was portrayed over time and between continents- Europe and America. She read the introduction: the purpose was to “explore aesthetic, political, social, and racial issues”. Beautiful and strong women looked out at her from the walls in headwraps.

Jasmine had never worn the headwrap. She went to the mirror and as if part of her body memory, her grandmother’s movements came back to her. She completed the crowning knot and got on the “L” that would bring Jasmine to her first class at the University of Chicago.

Judith has taken several writing and poetry study groups since joining. She thanks Voices and particularly the members of the Flash Fiction writing workshop for which this piece was written.