Twist your neck to steal a peek, walk up close for a better look, then try to figure out the meaning behind Yvonne Green's salt-and-pepper...

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CHICAGO — Twist your neck to steal a peek, walk up close for a better look, then try to figure out the meaning behind Yvonne Green’s salt-and-pepper mohawk.

Yes, that kind of mohawk.

“It’s hard to pull off,” the 57-year-old said. “When I first started wearing it, people would laugh. They thought it was strange.

“But now I get, ‘Mama, that’s cold. You’re killin’ it.’ Now I get positive energy from it.”

The mohawk, a solitary strip of upright hair down the middle of the scalp, has long been associated with punk rockers and other counterculture types.

But recently the hairstyle has popped up on young and old men and women in the African-American community. New incarnations vary as widely as their fans: The mohawk can be shaped with gel, shaved into a tidy patch or braided and pinned in place.

“It’s a trend, and it’s for people that want that urban persona,” said Michael Wilson, director of admissions at Cain’s Barber College. “It’s a statement: ‘I’m not hip-hop. I’m not punk rock. I’m not rock ‘n’ roll. I’m just urban, and I have a fashionable haircut.’

“It says, ‘I’m not afraid to try something different.’ “

The modern mohawk

The new take on the mohawk, which originated in Native American culture, shows how urban culture can absorb an old style, or borrow from another one, and infuse it with new meaning, Wilson said.

The name came from the Mohawk tribe in the Northeast, and the single patch of hair distinguished Mohawks from other groups, said Lanita Jacobs-Huey, an anthropologist and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California.

“What’s interesting is, here’s a style playing out in all the ways black hair can be worn,” said Jacobs-Huey, author of “From the Kitchen to the Parlor,” a study of African-American attitudes about hair.

“There are mohawks with braids, dreadlocks, chemically treated hair, dyed hair, natural hair. It’s not the mohawk we’re accustomed to — it’s a different interpretation.”

So often, political meaning is applied to African-American hairstyles, she said. But sometimes the trends are just about looking sharp.

“The mohawk is simply a testament to black people’s creative approach to hair,” she said.

Modeling the style

No one knows just how the style hit the streets. But Chicago hairstylists believe it came from hair shows where beauticians displayed it to show off their creativity.

At the shows, the mohawks were modified with braids, locs and twists. The fin in the middle was often dyed playful shades of blond, brown and red, and curled, flipped and meticulously shaped with gel.

Then the look popped up on models, music icons and celebrities who wouldn’t normally be affiliated with the style. Some time back, music mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs briefly sported a short mohawk.

On Tyra Banks’ show “America’s Next Top Model,” she routinely assigned the style to one of her aspiring models. Her most famous protégé, Eva Pigford, still sports the look.

First the women started wearing it, Wilson said. Then men started doing it, too.

It works for them

When Lance Tate walks down the street, women take notice, he said. They can’t help but check out his precise cut. His curly black hair is trimmed close on the sides and thickens in the middle of his head into a 2-inch-wide mohawk.

“It tells people I don’t care what they think,” he said. “I’m a man who does what he wants.”

The 29-year-old doesn’t even mind paying twice as much to keep up the style, he said. It plays into his persona.

“It looks nice on me. Ladies know that. They see me.”

Green, the 57-year-old holistic health consultant, started wearing the mohawk 10 years ago because it made her look edgy and defiant.

“When I got it, I liked it,” she said. “But at that time, it was weird.”

The longer she wore it, the more she learned about its origins. People would stop her on the street and tell her what the style meant for Native Americans. Others would show her pictures of Kenyan and South African women wearing a similar style.

“People of color all over the world wear this style,” she said. “Sometimes we do things unconsciously, but it’s rooted in who we are.”

This summer, Green said she saw others sporting her look.

“I smile to myself,” she said. “I’ve waited long enough to be in style.”