During this recent dip in the economy, many Black people have been forced to endure the dogged job hunt chase. Many of us are qualified (or over-qualified) citizens with plenty of talent and credentials. However, by being Black we are placed in a unique situation of double-consciousness. In the case of black women, we face a somewhat triple- oppression having to deal with our color, sex and socio-economic statuses. One key factor in the job hunt fiasco that specifically affects Black women is our hair. On countless blogs, websites and forums the questions continue to be asked, “ Is natural hair unprofessional?” or “Should I straighten my hair or wear a wig to get a job?” I have seen a plethora of answers and there is always the dreaded conclusion that we must alter ourselves in order to gain employment.
However this issue is much deeper than being about employment. When are we going to realize that the more we continue to alter ourselves to please “others”, the more we are succumbing to the sub-human state of existence that is being placed upon us? This is an issue of forcing the world to recognize our humanity, our God given right to exist the way we were created. When we change our hair, skin or body to please other people we are in essence saying, “You’re right, there is something wrong with being Black.”
When is the last time you saw a discussion about Caucasian women afraid to wear their hair straight for fear of unemployment?
You’ve never seen it because it doesn’t exist. European phenotypes are unfortunately perceived as normal. Meanwhile, African phenotypes are viewed as abnormal in a society that is predominantly Eurocentric. This is why multi-million dollar companies such as Nivea can create advertisements referring to Black hair as “uncivilized” without seeing anything wrong with it. However, this can change and it’s changing more and more everyday. It takes persistence, even in the face of hardships, to make the world respect our right to humanity. We are not three fifths of a man. We are human beings on this planet and we have a right to exist fully and completely.
The more we allow ourselves to be disrespected, the more we will continue to face blatant and overt discrimination concerning our hair, skin and bodies. Furthermore, do you really want to work for a place that does not respect you or your heritage? Wear your hair kinky, curly, straight, bald, twisted or braided but please do your hair the way it pleases you. Not someone else. Let us stop apologizing for being Black. We have to make the world recognize and respect who we are, as we are, unapologetically.
Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JAMAiwuyor.com. Email JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.
35 thoughts on “Stop Apologizing For Being Black: Natural Hair In The Workplace”
We are so afraid to be ourselves, its ridiculous. Black folks do need to stand up for themselves more. I have permed hair but I love to see my sistas with the fros and the twists. We shouldn’t try to hide it or be ashamed.
It ridiculous how wearing natural hair for a black woman is considered inappropriate for work. How can being natural be so inappropriate? The problem is stemmed from the lack of understanding of our hair and unfortunately we add to this by continually rejecting our natural hair to adopt Eurocentric ideals. Black women need to put down the creamy crack and get back to be proud of being black. There’s nothing wrong with our hair is beautiful. AND stop watching L’oreal commercials as they were not made for us.
I think the issue is clean and neat. If your hair is styled no matter what style I think that will pass. The way you look influences your confidence which is what ultimately gets the job.
I love your comment and statement! I’ll never be in fear to allow anyone to make me feel less then a man! I’m black and I’m proud! I’ll say it loud! I’m BLACK AND I’M Proud! We are smart, we are talented! But, america want to keep us on lower side of life! They don’t want us to have the same as them! That’s why the world shows it’s ugly face on Fox news, anyone listening should know! You can only be your own boss! Don’t try working your way thur this economic situation! They did this to see us suffer! But, I wont allow them to overlook me! I won’t stand for any of this nonsense! Neither should anyone of us! If women march men will come! We’ve had a million man march! We need a march for equality in America! No jobs for African Americans, higher food cost, gas goes down, then back up after a few days! It’s a damn shame we’re dealing with these action in the 20 Century! America, is suffering cause it racist ways! Look at the fires in Texas, Water floods around the country! It’s a sign! That life must change or the people in these lives must change!
I don’t have a problem with natural hair in the workplace. I think that we need to help others understand that this is who we are. We should not have to change to “fit in”. We deserve positions based upon our skill level, not how well we are able to fit into a certain look.
However, I just would like for us to do this responisibly. I think we know the difference between we have a natural look and we just rolled out of bed and didn’t feel like it.
I agree with many of the comments. I have been natural now for about 14 years. Though my hair has been the source of many conversations from non blacks, I don’t think it has hindered me from job opportunities. The key is professionalism.
I’m quoting a great ancestor, KEN Bridges….”if we knew who God made. God decided to make us people of African descent. How could God make us first unless he loved us tremulously?” We MUST have a Billion $ march…’give and buy Black’. (always capitalize B when referring to our people).
I love this piece! If you know me,I also love me and my hair! I have worn my hair natural for thirty something years, something which I began doing as an undergraduate at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and while I matriculated there, no one made me feel unappreciated, unloved or less of a person. Maybe it is because of the way I perceived myself. As a matter of fact, I erroneously had my hair permed for about six years trying to please some other individuals. I was uncomfortable and unhappy. When I returned to my natural, I loved it. True, there were a few off color remarks made by some fellow “educators;” however, I had to consider the source. Remember: No one can make you feel inferior unless you allow it. Such reactions towards an indvidual’s hair in the workplace are absurd!
I wear sisterlocs and I have been locked now for four years. I love it! I should have done it six years ago! I am the first in my department to get them, but now there are three of us. Yes, there have been curious comments by white folk but most think they are just braids with extentions. The shock for them is that it is all my hair, even though they knew I already had long hair (probably thought it was a weave). So now they have had to open their minds and accept that our hair is beautiful. So when are we going to accept it?
Great article – I agree entirely with the sentiments and have posted a link to it on my Facebook page:
I love this post. I have natural hair, but I do press it sometimes. However, I also wear my hair in double-stranded twists. I’ve been in corporate america for awhile, and I’ve never had an issue with people accepting my hair. In fact, I had colleagues that loved the fact that I changed my look and would vote on the style that they liked the best.
I’m in management consulting and have been in senior roles for some time now. It is gratifying to wear my hair in twists (or curly), and let junior consultants know that it is ok to be their authentic selves. I only started pressing my hair within the last year or so, and I never had a problem getting a job wearing my hair in natural styles. So my sistas….don’t fear getting a job because you are being your authentic self!
Thanks for the article. My hair is in its natural state all the time and I have not ran into a problem at work thus far. If anything, it has my own apprehensions that might have caused me to straighten my hair. Most of the time the other races compliment my hair style when I think it’s unwarranted, but that’s because they would really like to do something “cool” to their hair. Self-doubt is one of those things that only we can deal with. At times we are our own worst enemies. I had one young lady tell a guy friend of mine that she actually loves my hair and wishes she could rock the style. She didn’t understand why so many black women wore straight weaves anyway.
Peace and Blessings,
Yeah its a issue (am natty for 8 years), but i tell everybody I rather be a dread than wear a ‘Caesars,’ Boxes, and Fades (no disrespect), which is really revealing about the issue you have raised as cultural dominance, on a “deeper” level.
Great blog, I think its courageous when a black woman decides to go natural and rock a fro. Our society places so much emphasis on first impressions, when you see a sista with natural hair some people automatically assume that she’s ” pro black” and understand who she is as a black woman, however I do not think that is always the case. More women are going natural because it is becoming more socially acceptable. I dislike it when women who are natural try to down play those of us who choose to wear our hair straight or permed. Just because my hair is permed does not mean I dont know who I am or have conformed to fit in to society standards of beauty….
Good Day; I too wear my natural hair but up until 2 months ago I was wearing it straight. Unfortunatley I have noticed that not everyone is accepting of the “natural” hair (mostly us) but I refuse to allow their insecurities keep me and my hair in an unhealthy state. I love my coils!!!
Sharon, not everyone is accepting of natural hairstyles. I had a friend who applied as a Master Teacher in a southern state, and did not get a good response, because of her hairstyle. She had curly twists. She had more than one interview, on the last one, she wore a wig to the interview and got a better response, and she got hired. She is now back to her curly twists.
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All the best,
(Author of the children’s book, “Nappy!”)
Sometimes I feel that we put too much emphasis on hair. I am black and proud of it. I wear my hair straight meaning I flat iron it. I had relaxers/perms when I was younger, because my mom didnt like combing my hair. SInce I was a senior in high school, I decided not to use chemicals in my hair any longer. My hair is to my shoulders and its thick and full. I have no idea of what it means to go natural. I feel I am going natural without the use of a relaxer to straighten my hair. I have spent years trying to find the right products to maintain my hair. Its very time consuming dealing with my hair, do I want to go natural because I am denying my culture by flat ironing my hair. No. I love bieng black and I love me! So changing my hair to natural so that I can be more black makes no sense to me. Sistas who wear it straight, are still black, sistas who wear weaves are still black, sistas that wear theyre hair natural are no blacker…….Nonsense, be true to yourself. Wear your hair however you feel comfortable….
Love your comment. And let’s face it, some Black women have looser curls than others looking nearly straight. To me that’s the whole beauty of being – the diversity of looks within our culture. I do wear a natural/afro. For me it’s easier. I like it short.
I wear a natural, and have for several years now. I sometimes think of wearing it straight for a short time or wearing my wig. A year ago I struggled with the thought of wearing my wig (which I had come out of) for an interview within the same company. Then I thought this is who I am. My voice sounds “black” so they “know” I’m black. Guess what? I got the position. I was hired based on my skills and what I could add to the team. Whenever I do decide to go straight or wear a wig it will be to have a different look. PS. the straight will be temporary – no relaxer.
If you think that natural hair is not professional, and you want to be professional you might as well go on and bleach your skin too, take a course on being what ever race you think is professional. Don’t be mad at your own race/ or the race you trying to portray because you decided to step out of your race. Don’t get me wrong people I love the human race. We are all Gods people. It starts young learn your history and teach the young our history.
I think this is of interest to people unable to speak about it. I can’t tell you how many people with beautiful, wonderful healthy hair cut it all off in the job search because of fear of rejection. Clean and healthy is important. Aging will do enough to reducing your precious locks over time so enjoy them. Sometimes the military look is required. Never apologize for another day of living no matter what your current condition or station. It is all God’s style: fat, thin, large, tall, short, clever, blessed, talented, nerdy. No other mammal agonizes about being unlike another mammal. No one owning a Great Pyrenees or a St. Bernard, thinks they should be treated, fed or managed like terriers. Thrive. Be healthy, be well. Endless Blessings.
I wear my hair how it grows out of my head, that is how I was born, that is how I was made, and I really don’t care what anyone thinks about it. Every morning when I look in the mirror, I thank God for the beautiful, extra curly hair on my head.
Wow, Jessica Ann, I so appreciate this post. I used to be a News Anchor years ago and know there would have definitely been some issues had I shown up one day in NATURAL FORM.
Now, as I’m doing some local TV hosting, the thought did cross my mind as to what they would say when I showed up with CURLY do, as I transition through TO my natural hair state.
However, I have never been more CONFIDENT in who I am and HOW GOD CREATED me, so I stand in agreement with you and say “preach and teach on” my sister.
Oh yes, shared it on twitter and about to share it on FB as well.
I am natural, I wear whatever afro style I am in the mood for and trust I have many LMAO … and I work for a cooperate co. Hope this helps.
It’s a shame that having big curly hair is considered unprofessional. I love black hair and I encourage black women to wear their natural hair. Im not a big fan of women that wear weave, if you are a black women and you take good care of your hair there’s no reason why u should have to resort to wearing wigs or weave. But umm cornrolls are ugly. afros look good, but for the most part that big curly hair is sexy on black women! Take care of your hair keep ya hair lookin’ good. If you take good care of your hair and you mate with someone that takes care of their hair the result will be offspring with good black hair 😉
I am black and nappy. My appearance is important to me. It is my presentation and speaks volumes. I wear sculptured locs. On job interviews, I never worry about changing my hair. I do, however, style it for the experience. I pin them up, pull them back, make them curly, but I never hide them. I also wear business attire. As far as my “black coat” my beautiful God-given complexion, I would not change it—if I could. If a company will not hire me because I wear natural hair, it is too rigid for me.
It is not just important that I have a job. It is also important that I believe in the company’s mission statement and that I feel that the company is a good fit for me. Being neat and clean is always appealing. I read a few articles about companies who actually fire blacks for wearing dreadlocks. They said it was associated with rebels. The same companies said they didn’t want people with Mohawks and tattoos. So the blacks wearing locs at those companies walked away wearing their locs and licking their wounds. The law states that companies are not required to hire people whose presentation misrepresents their companies’ image. I researched it because I wear locs.
My conclusion is: I want to work with creative people who think outside of the box. My presentation of me will always be neat, clean, and artsy.
I don’t apologize for being black and for having all the characters that come with it. In my opinion, if I did that I am dreadfully immature.
I am a Vice President in coporate america and have been transitioning to natural hair for about 6 months. I did the BC last week and the recepetiopn from my peers has been wonderful. I agree with some of my sisters on this page that most of the hesitancy on going natural was on my part. Me wondering how I would be looked at with natural hair after having long permed hair for the last 20 years. My new cut is clean and neat and I love my coils. I feel more confident than I have ever felt before. It seems I have adpoted a new “take me as I am attitude”. I am Black and Beautiful. I stand a little taller and strut a little harder. 🙂 See me in my natural beauty! However, I wlll be honest and say that while I was working my way “up the ladder”, I never considered natural hair as I thought it would hinder my progress. I am still not sure if that is true or not. Doesn’t matter anyway cause I’m here now! But, I will say that I wear my natural hair as a statment of who I am, my heritage, and the beautiful diversity of my people. I will not be invisible. I am a talented, skilled, professional woman with natural hair and so are my sisters. I wear my natural hair not only for myself, but for all my fellow sisters out there who will come after me. If I can help change the preception that natural hair is unprofessional in the workplace so be it. Black is Beautiful! Always has been, Always will Be!
I cut my hair short and wore it like that for 5 years because I could not deal with the “creamy crack” and heat styling any more. I am a professional vocalist and it created a trend in my area. I saw so many “Philly fades’ on women in my circle it wasn’t funny! Then, as it started to grow back in- I discovered that I had more of my Mother’s Native American genes than I thought and saw the cutest little curly Afro growing in. That caught on too and we are all sharing hair care hints. Having a younger Sister who is a professional stylist doesn’t hurt either because she convinced me to let it grow and kept it trimmed and helped me style it. We began to twist it and that made it grow even longer and healthier! I now have hair that falls to the middle of my back when it is flat-ironed and use a professional product line that protects and keeps it moisturized and looking good. When we twist it, it falls to my shoulders in a perfect spiral curl from the scalp to the ends. I have always gotten commentary from family and friends about my hair and appearance that positively reinforces my heritage and personal sense of style. I am delighted that I share my Mother’s hair texture and DNA. She was a Beautiful Woman. What I have not appreciated are the misguided and ignorant comments from Caucasian friends and fans who say: “I like your hair straight” or “now, that’s more like it”. “I am not my hair, I am not my skin- I am the soul that lives within” said India.Arie and I second that with all my heart and soul! I will never let someone else dictate how I wear my hair, what clothing I choose or how I present myself to the world. Take me as God made me or leave me alone. You don’t have to hire me- there is someone, somewhere in this wide world with taste and distinction willing to pay me to sing for them and be happy with who I am! Uhuru Sasa!!!
I have worn locks for about 5 years now, and it was a conscious decision because of my diabetes. I worked in a hospital for 10 years wearing perms, pony tails, etc. all the passable stuff. The moment I changed my hair the attitude in the office change towards me. Not that I cared, but it wasn’t too long after that I lost my job. I realized later that my hair had a lot to do with my desire not to look like everyone else or to conform to what is more acceptable. I could have easily just cut all my hair off and worn it short, but I decided to take it a level up. I don’t regret it, and my locs are now long and pretty, hanging down my back. I’m loving it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I have seen some of the most beautiful natural styles where I live. These women are really rocking the natural style and to me they present themselves in a I’m so glad that I am natural and free attitude. However, many people believe that you are not really natural if you color or press your hair.