01 Dec The Problem With Natural Hair At Work
2020 has been a lot. We’ve had a lot of difficult conversations to last a decade all wrapped into one year with the ugliest bow on top. One of these controversial conversations has been directly tied to the systematic oppression towards Black, Latinx, Muslim, LGBTQIA, African and many other minoritized communities from around the world.
And by now I’m sure you’ve had plenty of conversations about Police Brutality and the KKK but one conversation I don’t see spoken about enough is the discrimination Black people have in the workplace because of our hair.
You see it is challenging enough to be Black in predominantly White environments, as we’re constantly compared to the Black celebrities, athletes, and other entertainers people see on TV. (Tweet this) But not only are we compared to these public figures, but we are also expected to live up to and act like them.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be as athletically gifted as Lebron James or be able to rap better than Lil Baby, but that’s not happening anytime soon and I don’t have any interest in following that path. Yet even though I don’t give off any impression that I want to be a rapper or professional athlete, one of the first assumptions people make about me is that I can play like an NBA All-Star or drop a freestyle out of nowhere.
Now, this may sound like a harmless comparison and for the most part, you’re right. Unfortunately, the assumptions about what I can do or how I will behave don’t stop there.
I am a Black man with locs flowing all the way down my back. When people look at me, they don’t just think of me as a source of entertainment. Oh no, I’m also associated with smoking weed, having trouble with the law, and not having the same skillset or level of education as others in the workplace.
Now if everyone truly minded their business, I wouldn’t care what I was associated with. However, the perception of Black people, and the way we grow our hair has a direct relation to decisions that affect employment and how we are treated in the workplace (Tweet this). In fact, your idea of what Black people should look like ties into sexism, racism, and whether you want to believe it or not, your idea of how I should look, walk, and talk reinforces white supremacy.
I know that sounds like a wild accusation but stay with me for a moment. I’ve interviewed over thirty people for my show, Boss Locks, to document the stories from Black leaders all around the world to learn about their experiences working while Black and their perspective on natural hair.
During one interview, I spoke with Mac Alonge, CEO of The Equal Group, about his observations as a Black man with locs in professional environments and he said, “For white people, there was no mold. You can be scruffy, you can have long hair, you can have short hair, you can wear suits, not wear suits, it just doesn’t matter. But for Black people, you have to fit into this one box and if you don’t fit in then you’re not professional.” (Tweet this)
Deandre Arnold, Gabrielle Union, Ruby Williams, ‘Z’ Virgo, Chastity Jones, and Kahlil Mitchell are just a few of many people who have experienced hair discrimination in America, the UK, Jamaica, and other countries around the world. In each of these cases, the only issue that their supervisor or hiring manager had with them was that they didn’t think their hairstyle was good enough for their school or workplace.
Does that sound professional to you?
Does it seem right that something Black people have in common with each other is that our natural hair could lead us to be suspended, fired, or prevent us from getting a job even if everything else we do is picture-perfect?
Now, hair discrimination is not punishable by law as other forms of discrimination are, but we’re almost there. In the US the CROWN act, a bill that protects natural hairstyles in the workplace and in school, has been passed in many states and may soon be introduced federally. But that’s just in the US, and if this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we need to work together on a global scale and luckily there is a way to have your voice heard.
We need to do more to hold our elected officials to protect Black and many other communities of colour in the workplace and at schools and you can do that by not letting these conversations die, sharing information and resources with others, and by signing petitions that fight for justice.
Here are some useful links you can visit to learn more about how you can get involved:
The CROWN ACT petition: https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/help-make-hair-discrimination-illegal
Walter is a millennial based in the US using his expertise, curiosity, and insecurities to create a space that addresses the obstacles that Black employees and business owners face in the workplace.
He does this through the global Working While Black group and through his podcast, Boss Locks, where he speaks to Black leaders and CEOs to learn about their personal/natural hair journey and experiences working while Black.
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