Natural Hair and Professionalism. An oxymoron? - Page 2 of 2 - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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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.

For more information on natural hair in the workplace:

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.


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