Is there a Place for It?
by Susan Walker of Earthtones Naturals 
I attended a natural hair party a few weeks
ago and one of the women made a comment that struck me as interesting.
 We were discussing products and she informed me that her hair needs to
be “neat” for work. She works as a graphic designer in a corporate
office. When I asked her to clarify what she meant by “neat” she told me
that she couldn’t have her hair “out” and made a wide gesture with her
hands indicating that it couldn’t be big. Her hair was blow-dried
straight and flat-ironed to encourage the sleek, straight look she was
going for.

My conversation with her had me thinking about my own natural hair
experience and working in a corporate office with other individuals who
are not black. I realized that at no point in time did my boss, the CEO
of the company, or anyone in Human Resources ever say to me that my hair
had to be styled a certain way. In fact, when I did the big chop a few
years ago and feared going into the office with my textured hair, my
mind was instantly put at ease when I received compliments about my new
look. It was then that I realized that a lot of time we as naturals
often put parameters and limitations on how we think our hair should
look and be styled. I realized very quickly that I had the problem with
how my hair looked thinking that it wasn’t “professional” enough,
inappropriate or too “wild” for the workplace.

Why is it that natural hair appears to be looked upon unfavourably in
corporate North America? I understand the negative stigma attached to
natural hair historically and the psychological vestiges of slavery when
it comes to hair types and texture. And I guess some of us have been
taught – either through media images, society and members of our family –
to loathe the appearance of natural textured hair and have affixed
negative adjectives to it. Historically when black hair was
straightened we were seen as more likeable and agreeable, and less
unruly and uncivilized. Much like skin tone, the more “white” we
appeared, the more comfortable others were with us and the more accepted
we felt. My husband likes to say that relaxed hair makes Caucasians
relaxed. While there is likely some truth in this statement in the 21st
century, I wonder if it doesn’t have more of an effect of making us
(the wearer) relaxed around other people who don’t have textured hair.
It’s sad really but feedback from other naturals has indicated that
other black women are more critical and negative of natural hair
than white people. Is this the self-loathing that is so apparent with us
or is something else at play here? I’m not sure. A controversial
decision was made by the dean of Hampton University Business school to
ban the wearing of dreadlocks and cornrows by men in the classroom due
to the “unprofessional” look of these styles. He defended his decision
by stating that the ban has been effective at helping graduates find
work. Is he right or wrong, I don’t know. But the decision goes back to
what hairstyles are deemed to be acceptable and professional in the
workplace, especially the corporate environment.

It still takes work to appreciate, be thankful and grateful for my
hair texture. The availability of hair products and resources that
assist in the proper care of our hair has helped tremendously. And
because of the number of women deciding to embrace their natural hair
textures, there is strength in numbers. We still have a lot of work to
do to see our hair as an adornment of beauty rather than something to be
scorned at and tamed. I love my hair because of its versatility; I can
wear it straight and sleek or big and curly, and everything in between
if I choose to. I see all of these styles as a representation of who I
am and my hair hasn’t been a deterrent to me achieving success and
advancement in my career. However I understand that this may not be the
case with every woman who chooses to go back to her natural roots. I
believe that this inability to wear our hair in specific natural styles
can be an obstacle to the emotional advancement of women who are really
trying to love themselves completely. I could be wrong but I definitely
think it’s worth the discussion.

What do you think? Is wearing your hair natural looked down upon in your workplace?