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Normalization of Natural, Black Hairstyles in the Work Place

by Lorraine Jones

The harsh reality in the world is that most people do not start on the same playing field in many aspects of life, including the business world. When you walk into a job interview, your nerves and adrenaline sky rocket as you enter the building. You’ve memorized the perfect response for every possible question they may ask you, running it over and over in your mind. Your resume is impressive and you're ready to proudly rave about all of your achievements. 


But in some situations for Black people, the second you step into the doorway, your interview is over before it even starts. You proudly and confidently strut into the room to make a good impression but all the employer sees is your hair; how tall and wild your afro looks, how out of place it is in the office. They don’t listen to any of your many accomplishments because they are distracted by your voluminous hair. All they’re thinking about while you're speaking is how often you wash your hair and how unprofessional it looks in their business. All they see when they look at you is dirty, unkempt, and ghetto. You are not the right image for their company. 



Do kinks and curls define a person or their work ethic? No. Then why do some many people judge each other by their appearance? It takes a person one-tenth of a second to determine whether they want to do business with you. Studies have also shown that the better your appearance, the more respect you obtain and the higher you rank in interviews and work opportunities. But who’s responsible for the definition of ‘better?’ Who defines what professional and acceptable hair looks like?


Believe it or not hair definitely plays a part in how people treat you. People of color definitely turn more heads when they flaunt a puffy and voluminous nappy afro as opposed to straightened clean cut hair. When a person has dreadlocks or braids, there are automatic concerns about their hygiene from the ignorance of others. “One assumes that locks equate to poor health habits and bad lifestyle choices. So much so that locks are referred to as “dred” locks because that’s how much they are frowned upon,” said Tamika Scriven, founder of Allure Wigs Inc



Black professional hairstyles need to be normalized in the business and corporate setting. Often common hairstyles for people of color are considered unprofessional, distracting, unkempt, and ghetto. Negative stereotypes are sometimes the only perception people have of Black hair and the Black community. Each and every natural style for Black hair is warped around some negative cliché. “Extensions are seen as uneducated. Locs are connected in some people's minds with the drug culture. No one thinks that these styles are simply a part of Black culture and ways of styling our hair without damaging it,” said Scriven. Unconscious bias denies them a seat at the table that most people don’t even realize they are sitting at.  



Only seven states in the U.S. have a law in which it is illegal to discriminate because of hair: California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington. The fact that we even need a law to stop discrimination against hair speaks volumes about our culturally -insensitive society. Black people are punished because the rest of the world can’t resist the urge to gawk at their natural hair. A law against hair discrimination seems ridiculous but it is the harsh reality of our nation. Black people are denied jobs, forced to leave school because of “distracting styles,” and constantly told that they aren’t beautiful because of their hair.  


Ghanima Abdullah, Beauty Consultant at TheRightHairstyles.com, thinks that society views anything tied to original African culture as ‘too ethnic for a corporate setting.’ To her, racism is pure and simple. Having natural Black hair being considered unacceptable in many settings makes you wonder why something as simple as hair is so triggering for some people. Hair is part of who we are and a large part of Black culture.


Not being able to wear your natural hair or be yourself in a job interview in fear of being rejected because of the stereotype they think you are is damaging. Black women have to raise our heads and focus on what we are capable of. “Hair is part of the self-expression of an individual, the way it is worn impacts the perception others have of you. That can't really be helped. What should be countered is racism when it's connected to the perceptions of our hair when worn in its natural state. Our hair is part of our ethnicity,” said Abdullah.

“We believe that culturally Black hairstyles are considered unprofessional for the same reason why our names are considered “ghetto.” Simply put, America was built on racism and the people in charge don’t necessarily look like us. Therefore, our styles do not conform with what is considered to be the ‘norm,’” said Scriven. “Although race should not correlate with what is considered professional or not, it often does. For example, I have seen an instance in which a Black woman was reprimanded for wearing a silk scarf on her head. However, a White Jewish woman would wear the same scarf and actually received a compliment for looking ‘fashionable." Society sets different standards for different races in terms of what's acceptable and what's not. Kim Kardashian can wear cornrows and braids and the media claims it's cool and trendy but when a Black woman wears the same braids it's considered distracting and ghetto.


“No other ethnicity has our hair, so no one else is expected to go through harmful processes to get flat hair. So yes, professional hair is a racial issue for us,” Scriven explained. Black women have to use chemicals and extreme heat to manipulate their hair to fit the corporate image and White beauty standards. It is not natural for Black hair to lay flat; therefore, these tactics can have long lasting damaging effects on the hair. Black women undergo hair breakage and severe heat damage from trying to meet an unrealistic standard.

The social pressure Black women are under push them to fry their curls and scorch their hair with heat to look the standard of what is acceptable in the workplace. A Black woman is 86% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work. Black people feeling at home in skin that will never fit. Black women can straighten their hair for hours and hours but it will never fall as effortlessly as a White woman's because that's not how it's meant to be. It's meant to be a different brand all of its own, coarse, thick, and beautiful. 


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With the rise in the BLM movement so has the dramatic increase of self-love in the Black community, causing more Black women to wear their natural hair with pride like a lion's mane. Black women wearing their hair in its natural state is a public declaration of self-love and reclaims what it means to be beautiful. It's so important to highlight Black beauty because throughout history we have not been looked at as the beauty standard. ‘Black is beautiful’ has been a cultural revolution since the 1960s, urging Black people to embrace their culture and be proud of their skin. It takes confidence and courage for a Black woman to enter a room unapologetically herself, free of hate and conformity, her natural and best foot forward.


Black women who are struggling to fit the standards of mainstream culture have a negative effect on their self esteem. The Allure team believes that confidence in Black people as a whole is low. “Hair is not the main factor behind why we are not equally represented in executive roles, but it for sure does play a part. That is why we created our bespoke line of luxury lace wigs. We want to empower women with the freedom to switch up her look and either stand out or blend in, while making a bold fashion statement with a natural unit,” said Tamika Scriven. Scriven believes that a way to help normalize Black hairstyles is by owning our own businesses and supporting one another. I can’t stress enough how essential representation is for the Black community, in the media, in the government, and in the business world.


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A professional hairstyle should be defined as anything that is neat and orderly. Some common Black natural hairstyles that should be considered professional are a simple updo with your edges gelled back, fresh and tight box braids or cornrows, a picked out and voluminous afro, and so many other styles that take so much time and effort into doing but still aren’t accepted in a corporate environment. 


All hair is ‘good hair.’ We need more nappy hair representation because nappy hair is good hair. We need to breathe life into every kink and redefine the stigma around Black hair. It’s not ‘just hair,’ it's our pride, our legacy, our beauty.


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