Natural Hair and Professionalism. An oxymoron?

Unfortunately, in my opinion, that sentiment still exists, although I do believe that fewer Whites and more Blacks actually believe it to be true. If you haven’t noticed recently, Black women with kinky hair dominate the same commercials that are cast by all White ad agencies (that is the only time you’ll hear me giving Madison Avenue props). It’s mostly Blacks, not Whites who have internalized the hype from 100 years earlier and who just won’t let it go.

The aspiration to straighten and lengthen our hair wasn’t all bad. The money that was created from Black businesses like Madame C. J. Walker, Dudley Hair Care Products, and hundreds of thousands of Black beauty parlors has done some good for the Black community. It also led us to experiment with our hair and pave innovative roads in hair fashion. But our obsession with straight flowing hair has also caused us to allow some people to take advantage of us financially.

As a woman who chooses to wear my hair in natural styles, it’s disheartening to me that I receive more negative comments from Blacks about my hair then I’ve ever received from Whites.

That’s not to say that White people don’t still feel nappy Black hair is hideous, but they aren’t as vocal about it and when they are, they’re usually condemned as racist. Remember the White staffer from Glamour magazine who told a group of lawyers that ethnic hairstyles were a fashion don’t when it came to corporate dress? She was reprimanded and the editor and managing editor of the magazine was made to apologize publicly on her behalf.

Meanwhile, day in and day out, Black women and men tell other Black women and men the exact same things without any condemnation.

Now, having said all of that, I’m going to contradict myself (Hey, Blacks are not a monolithic group and my opinions don’t walk a straight line either). The unemployment rate fell to 9% recently, but it is still 15.7% for Blacks not including the under-employed, marginally attached, and discouraged workers. The reality is that your chances for getting a job and getting promoted are lessened when you don’t conform/assimilate to an ideal, predefined standard of appearance in certain industries. Is it right? No. Is there something you can do about that? Yes. If you’ve demonstrated that you have an incomparable work ethic, you can tame your company’s most challenging projects, and you’ve dotted every I or crossed every T on your resume but you still aren’t getting hired or promoted, then you have three choices: 1) Change industries 2) start your own company or 3) conform and straighten your hair and/or cut your locs.

At any cost, as Indie.Arie once reminded us, we are NOT our hair, and if you cut it, it will grow back. And that’s just what you can do once you’ve proven your worth and scaled the company hierarchy. At which point you can start hiring some of those people who were in your shoes and make sure they don’t have to walk the “fine line” in order to make the cut.

  • What do you think? Can natural hair and professionalism co-exist? Or should we all expect to conform when we take (or apply for) positions in various companies? Should it matter how you wear your hair as long as you present yourself well? Join the conversation by leaving your comment below.

 

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