The conversation about black women wearing their natural hair, especially at work, isn’t new. Rather, wearing our natural hair is part of us black women embracing our authentic selves. Yet, these embraces have triggered certain people into thinking they can give their unwanted opinions regarding our choices. After all, black hair just like black bodies, has a torrid history of being weaponized and politicized to suit a variety of agendas.
As a black woman who wakes up early every morning for work, my hair should be at the bottom of my list of concerns. Yet, unfortunately, in this society, it’s on the top, both literally and figuratively.
When I first entered the post-college working world, I felt pressured to present a certain image to my boss and co-workers; the image, of course, being a non-threatening black woman who is both smart and ambitious. And of course, that included chemically straightening my hair as a means to “tone” down my appearance. The choice to conform to this image is one that many black women face in the professional world. Sadly, often it's a choice that has already been made for them, especially for those who wish to climb the corporate ladder.
For some, natural hair or braided (Afro-centric) hairstyles are considered “unprofessional” because black hair is seen as a negative or uncivilized when compared to more Western aka white, Eurocentric beauty standards. Although I personally never believed this, my actions reflected otherwise as I hid my natural hair. Over time, I realized that to be successful both personally and professionally, I had to embrace my authentic self through my appearance and actions. Real success would not come from conforming to something that was never meant for me in the first place.
A few years later, and now I proudly rock a small Afro or African braids. I have worn my natural hair in interviews, meetings, and deal closings. Better yet, I really don’t care what others say or think (although I do appreciate the positive feedback I get when wearing braided hair). I love my look because it is a cultural fit to who I am as a black woman and it’s healthier for my hair and self-esteem.
Not to mention, there’s a clear double standard here: If my white co-workers can come into the office sporting dragon tattoos (BTW, dragons don’t exist), I should be able to wear my hair the way it grows naturally out of my scalp.
I think this is a fair trade.
HOWEVER, one common annoyance shared among black women is how our hair has the power to hypnotize our white co-workers into either touching or asking wildly inappropriate question with our consent. Questions ranging from “ May I touch your hair?” or “Is that your real hair?”
Take my advice, if you like our hair, then just say so, but don’t ask questions about how we create our hair, because honestly, it’s not your business!