Over the past decade natural hair has grown in popularity among the under-30 black female crowd. Many of us have decided to step away from relaxers and bone-straight hair in favor of quenched and defined curls. Although, it’s “just hair”, it can’t be ignored that we’re taking part of a pivotal moment in history. But how do these changes affect our professional lives? We are still occasionally stopped in our tracks and faced with other people’s ignorance and cruelty, which is why it’s an unspoken rule in many black homes not to show up to job interviews or work with big hair, braids and even locs in some cases.
In May 2012 I worked as a dental assistant for two Russian dentists. I arrived to work a bit early on this particular day and instead of the compact bun that I usually wore, I donned an afro ponytail because I hadn’t gotten the chance to put my hair up and my first patient wasn’t set to arrive for another 30 minutes. Almost immediately after I removed my second arm from my jacket I was met with laughter, followed by “You look like one of those…what do you call them? The dolls with the hair…a troll doll baby!”. Not 10 minutes after that occurred, I was pulled aside by the less willing to joke and more stern dentist who told me “you have to wear your hair organized”. This took place in front of other employees and was quite embarrassing. That would not be the first time I had contemplated making it my last day. Instead, humiliated, I twisted my puff and put my hair in the bun as I had intended to before I was tag teamed by the Black hair police.
My opinion on natural hair in the workplace is this; If your hair gets in the way of you completing your work, then it should be clipped up and away from the face so that you can work efficiently. I also practice what I call “natural hair etiquette” so that if my hair physically gets in the way of someone, let’s say at a movie theatre or train, then I’d gladly move it out of the way. But it seems widely accepted that you must appear ‘harmless’ or unpolitical in order to be successful or maintain employment, so much so that I’ve had women come up and tell me of all the successes I could have if I straightened my hair, and how much nicer I’d look. But why is natural hair — the hair that grows out of my head — seen as political, ‘edgy’ or dangerous in the first place. I have always worn my hair straightened or in a compact bun while searching for work and I’ve even removed braids to look for work as well. But is it right? Am I letting the negative ideals of others determine my behavior? And is changing my hairstyle a fair price to pay for success?