Either this is proof that The Atlantic is officially out of ideas to write about, or we’re seeing the latest example of social justice insanity that I wrote recently has to be about to jump the shark in American society. The title of the piece? “The Racially Fraught History of the American Beard.” I kid you not. Beards are now to be considered an integral part of our long struggle for racial equality in America. From the article:
“What follows is the lost story of American facial hair… it concludes with the advent of the beard—a fashion born out of desperation but transformed into a symbol of masculine authority and white supremacy.”
About 4 years ago, tired of annoying students mocking my lack of a defined jawline, I decided to grow facial hair. I would hardly call it a beard because I keep it trimmed to more of a stubble. But it’s facial hair nonetheless. I had no idea that what I perceived to be an act of self-conscious desperation was actually my subconscious lurching towards the patriarchy and Klan.
Luckily, The Atlantic saw fit to re-up this article from 2014 because this was such a critical contribution to our national dialogue:
These appeals (to grow facial hair) were especially persuasive at a time when America was in an active period of exploration and invasion, ranging from the U.S.-Mexican War to the ongoing Indian relocation and genocide. These projects were aimed primarily at peoples whom white Americans believed to be incapable of growing facial hair.
But the “manly appendage,” as one commenter grandly called the beard, also served a number of important functions closer to home. As historian Sarah Gold McBride contends, beards were one response to a growing women’s rights movement, typified by the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Faced with threats to their prerogative, men grew beards “to codify a distinctly male appearance when other traditional markers of masculinity were no longer stable or certain.” The 19th-century beard may have sprouted from a fear of razors and a distaste for black barber shops. But it grew into a symbol that set white American men apart from smooth-faced foreigners as well as powerful women at home.
I remember when I was just out of college starting my teaching job being concerned that I would inadvertently make a joke, use a term, or offer a pop culture reference that I wouldn’t realize was offensive. Be it racial, gender, sexual, I knew that my somewhat sheltered bubble of an existence to that point had left me somewhat vulnerable and naïve to those things.
Seventeen years later I’m no longer concerned about it, even though the environment today is far more sensitive and far less forgiving for such missteps (just ask NASCAR driver Conor Daly who lost a sponsorship because it was discovered his dad used the n-word decades ago). I don’t worry about it because it is simply not within the capacity of any mortal man to keep track of all the social justice no-no’s and faux-pas that now surround us.
This revelation that my stubble is actually a latent appeal to the patriarchal racism of my ancestors is the latest example. Sorry, but I’m not shaving. The judgment of my jawline by sassy teenagers is far more concerning to me than the relentless judgment of social justice crusaders.