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Personal protective equipment

By QuaWanna Bannarbie

Those who know me know that I am a fan of styling my hair in an afro. I truly believe it is a glorious display of my natural crown. The afro has been described as “hair that defies gravity.” The afro stands at attention, in every direction, forward facing on the tops of our heads. To me the afro is a statuesque reminder that God has numbered every hair on our heads (Luke 12:7). The strands of my afro seem to know that they have the attention of their maker.

As we approach the winter months, you won’t see me wearing my natural afro out as much because the frigid air is not good for retaining moisture in my strands. (Yes, you are getting a lesson in Black hair today). To protect our hair from the harsh natural elements of the changing season, many Black women shift to wearing braid extensions and cornrows. We call this “protective styling.” Protective styling is meant to minimize manipulation of the hair because too much fuss with it when the weather is cold can make the hair brittle and break the hair.

Recently, I was heading into the Dollar Tree store on Centerbrooke Lane when I noticed two Black women who were wearing their hair in braids. The styles were quite elaborate and looked very nice on both women. Once I got into the store, I saw these same two women again. I was alarmed that neither of them were wearing face masks. I was surprised that they were not abiding by the store rules to wear masks inside the store. They put essential workers at risk.

As I left the store, I had a revelation about personal protective equipment vs. protective styling. I thought how interesting it was that these stylish women had taken necessary precautions to protect their beautiful hair strands, but they were not demonstrating that same precaution to protect their beautiful lives. It further occurred to me that our hair is dead cells. Which is more important to protect? Yet, they were walking around with nicely done braids and no mask on their faces. They were walking contradictions.

Let me be clear. I am not bashing Black women, protective styling or these sisters in my community. It is true that I am applying this tenet of wisdom as it relates to Black hair. Everyone can learn from this. These days, protective styling applies to our entire community when it comes to fighting the pandemic and reducing the risk of the spread of COVID-19. Whether you have natural hair like mine or not, we all should be more concerned about the protective actions we can take to protect ourselves and our community members.

The term personal protective equipment suggests selfish action, because PPE is designed to keep the wearer from harm, injury or infection. On the contrary, the wearing of PPE during this pandemic suggests that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When I see you wearing your mask, you are telling me that you love this afro-wearing mother of three even if you have never met me. When I see you wearing your mask, you are telling me that you are an obedient citizen, follower of rules and you can be trusted with my life even if you only passed me for the first time in the grocery aisle. When I see you wearing your mask, you are telling me that you believe in the sacredness of community and family. When you are not wearing your mask, you are as violent to me as Cain was to his brother Abel. When God asked him the whereabouts of his brother, he stated “Am I my brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9). May we heed the admonition of 1 John 3:12. Do not be like Cain who was murderous and evil with his actions. Please wear a mask and keep your neighbor out of death’s grasp.

QuaWanna Bannarbie is an adjunct professor of nonprofit leadership and management with Indiana Wesleyan University, National and Global. Connect with her via iamquawanna@thebiggerme.net.