Black Women’s Natural Hair in the Workplace
No More Discrimination Against Naturally Afro-Textured Hair in Professional Spaces
Black women's Hair is not a workplace debate. Yet, most workplace conversations surrounding hair happens to fall on the shoulders of black women everywhere. It’s not a conversation about whether black women should straighten their naturally afro-textured hair, remove their braids before coming to work, or even cut their dreadlocks off completely. The conversation is a matter of implicit bias and prejudice against black women in professional spaces.
Where do We Draw the Line?
It would be generous to say there is a fine line between black women's hair and politics. If there is a line there at all, it’s about as thin as a single strand of silkworm silk. Hair among black communities has deep roots in spirituality, social status, and various other forms of expression. The U.S. has long sought to police black women's hair as a way to oppress and socially categorize black women. For example, in the 1700s black women were required by law to wear their hair in scarves as a way to indicate they were a part of the slave class. This was an attempt to strip away the unique qualities of afro-textured hair and mask the enticing beauty that black women's natural hair presented. Their natural black hair was garnering too much attention among upper-class men.
It would seem this form of prejudice has become deeply ingrained in the system today. Professional spaces are still overstepping the boundaries of black women's hair, seeking to control and manipulate how they can or cannot present themselves at work. Just in 2010, there was a case for a woman named Chastity Jones. This case arose as a result of a workplace demanding she removes her dreadlocks before being hired. Dreadlocks are widely known among the African American community as a form of deep spiritual connection and even protection. This shows just how quickly afro-textured hair can become frontline news. Sadly, like many other black women, Chastity Jones has still not received justice for being discriminated against in the workplace.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The implicit bias against black women's hair in professional spaces needs to be brought to the surface before it can be removed. The natural hair movement that was sparked in the 70s by black women has rekindled its flame in recent years. Black women are working hard to embrace their naturally textured hair after decades of conditioning. Black women are tired of feeling like they have to straighten their hair to fit into certain spaces. It’s not healthy for a black woman to feel like she has to chemically alter how her hair grows from her head just so that she will be treated with baseline respect.
Why is it 2023 and black women still have to explain that their natural hair is not up for debate? Not how it’s washed, not how it’s styled, and NOT how it’s worn daily. No one should need to explain to their boss at work how their shower and haircare routine works at home. Personal grooming choices are just that, personal. Especially considering most concerns about the cleanliness of natural black hair are hidden forms of discrimination.