Out in the Open

'Bad' hair, 'good' hair and the question of belonging: Junot Diaz reflects on hair and race

'Our racial language centers on certain aspects of what we call our exteriors'
Author Junot Diaz says hair, like skin, is often used to exclude certain ethnic groups.

Hair as commentary on race often comes up in Junot Diaz's work. One of his most recognizable quotes, from his first short story collection Drown, explicitly addresses this point:

"Run a hand through your hair like the white boys do, even though the only thing that runs easily through your hair is Africa."

In conversation with CBC's Out in the Open, Junot Diaz said that to him, hair is like skin—a racial factor used to exclude or include people in certain ethnic groups.

The message from his family and the larger society around Junot was clear to him from childhood: there's bad hair and good hair; European and African hair; kinky and smooth hair.  

"Our racial language centers on certain aspects of what we call our exteriors. And hair certainly is a very key one, very fraught," Junot explained.

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