Vann R. Newkirk II created a priceless moment of viral black joy in September 2014 when he tweeted that he was "Declaring this week #DuragHistoryWeek." In his original thread, he shared a series of tweets that featured photos of black men and women wearing du-rags, specifically a vintage shot of 1950s entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. wearing one backstage. In the early half of the 20th century, du-rags were originally used as a hair accessory to preserve black hairstyles and were ordinarily only worn around the house. Decades later, black people chose to wear them outside and with intentional style; they showed a refusal to abide by a certain societal standards. The Twitter celebration commemorates du-rags in any form or fashion, and on Monday, Twitter came together for the third year to pay tribute to the important accessory.
Each year, the moment brings a lots of laughs and creates a proud and safe space for the black community to bond over the common cultural treasure. Some of this year's participants tweeted legendary #DuragHistoryWeek highlights like R. Kelly's wavy baby blue durag and the infamous vine of Remy Banks walking away as he trails a majestic chocolate "full body" cape.
Newkirk spoke with The FADER today over email today about what it's like to start a viral movement, what the hashtag means to him, and how it encourages unapologetic blackness of all kinds.
What's your first memory associated with a durag? What's your personal connection to this hashtag?
My first memory of a durag was not being able to wear one. All my favorite hip-hop and NBA icons wore them, and my parents forbade them, even in the house, for most of my childhood. When I was finally allowed to wear them it kicked off my own journey to understanding and embracing my own hair and identity, and also to rejecting respectability and old-fashioned views of acceptable blackness.
When you started it in 2014, did you plan for it be a reoccurring event on Twitter?
I didn't expect it to even trend, let alone be big that year or for multiple years. But I think what its endurance shows is that we are always looking for ways to share and find joy in our collective experiences.
How would you say wearing Durags in public speak to how unapologetic this #hashtag is? The black community established the trend and we've reclaimed them again in recent years.
I hope the lesson here is that it's cool and beautiful to be whatever kind of black person you want to be. You can be an intellectual who wears durags with the capes out. You can be a barber with a baldie. You can wear dreads in corporate finance. The little things that we often run away from because they validate stereotypes or make us look like "regular" black folks are to me things we are know seeing and realizing that we can enjoy without shame or hiding them.
How does starting these types of viral movements on Twitter aid creating both comical and safe online spaces for Black people? How have the different types of reactions that you've seen reflected that type of solidarity?
Hashtags like these help us all realize that there are people with the same sort of experiences that we're often taught are needed to be hidden or suppressed. So on Twitter they help build a safer community where we don't have to code-switch or deny the pieces of who we are. And that holds for whether you choose to wear durags in public or whether you hate them. There will be trolls and such, but I think social media has done so much to extend black comfort spaces in our lives.