Why is Black Hair Still a Civil Rights Issue in the Workplace?
Black people should not have to feel like their natural hair is something to be embarrassed about.
How many of us have given ourselves heat damage trying to straighten or perm our hair before heading to an interview, out of fear we won’t be taken seriously if we arrive with our hair in its natural state? Many can even attest to some of our own family members describing curly or kinky hair as “bad hair” and straight hair is “good hair.” Although things have changed for the better over time, textured hair is still considered “unprofessional” or “unkempt” in the eyes of many; particularly those with hiring and firing power. In some states, it’s legal to discriminate against job candidates because of their hair.
In order to shed light on the ongoing issue of hair discrimination, I decided to listen to the stories of women who have expreiced it first-hand and willingly shared their stories.
Asia M. Ware, Teen Vogue Editorial Assistant
“When I first started working in the industry there were a lot of times where I second guessed my hair. I remember having to do something on screen and I had cornrows and I debated taking them out and getting a wash and set so I could have more of a sleek look so that I wouldn't be deemed ‘unprofessional.’ Now, I rock whatever style because I believe that's the beauty in being Black, but it was definitely something I struggled with when I first started my career. I haven't been treated differently because of it, but there have been remarks made like ‘oh my gosh, how does your hair do that?’ or questions about applying weaves, or the infamous ‘Can I touch it?’ line. I think it's embedded in society that our natural hair isn't professional. The Crown Act was JUST passed last year which was created to protect us against discrimination against our natural hair.
That was 2019, I think that says a lot. If you type in ‘unprofessional hairstyles’ on Google, Black women come up and most are pictured wearing their afros or braids - that's what I mean when I say it's embedded in society. We have been taught to think that the natural hair that grows out of our scalp isn't enough because we've been washed down with images of Eurocentric beauty standards. I think companies and publications can do their part by championing Black women and showcasing who they are raw and unfiltered. I'm blessed to work for a publication that puts Serena Williams on a cover with cornrows and Chika on a cover donning a braided crown - these are steps that aid in making a change.”
Kiara Whitehead, Advertising Specialist
“I think as a Black woman, our hair is so much a part of who we are. And the different ways we style it I feel like they’re just different expressions. I work in advertising so it’s a pretty, I guess, ‘accepting’ space, if that’s what you want to call it but I think there’s still bias. I feel like I wore my [natural] hair in college but not a lot because we’re busy. Nobody really has time to be dealing with hair all the time, you know? You keep it weaved up and you keep it moving. But when I got up here [in New York], you have adult bills. All my money can’t just go to hair anymore. So, I was just exploring and falling in love with my hair again and I had decided to just wear my natural hair out. I was just like ‘my hair’s in a healthy place, curl pattern is popping off, let’s just do it! Shouldn’t be a big deal.’ I don’t think people mean to offend, necessarily, but I don’t think they understand the gravity of when you walk into a space and they just think they’re complimenting you but it’s like, they’re so intrigued by your hair. And it’s like, not that I necessarily saw it as an insult but it does make you uncomfortable when people continue to comment on your hair. And how big it is and oh, how curly it is. ‘How do you get it like that?’ and ‘Does it stay like that? Like, what do you do to it?’”
Ruelle Fludd, TV News Reporter
“I was told by a Black woman that I needed to get rid of the braids I had because she has never and would never hire a reporter with braids. When I asked why, she responded with ‘It’s just not appropriate for TV.” She then encouraged me to perm my hair like she has for the past 10-20 years to keep a consistent look. It made me feel less than. When she told me that, I had been wearing braids consistently for two years to repair the damage of nearly 10 years of perms to get my curl pattern back. And from then, when I would wear my natural, I straightened it daily and never ever felt comfortable wearing it in its natural state. Even back from elementary I was made fun of because of my natural hair and so from there I started perming and straightening and conforming.” — Ruelle Fludd
“Personally I’ve never been discriminated against because of my hair. I think I have more so been conditioned to see that Eurocentric features are preferred so I would put this kind of pressure on myself. Even as recent as a few weeks ago. I’ve been natural for a while and I’ve had braids for the most part. But I was going to be a part of a series called Meet The Press on NBC and naturally the first thing I asked when I accepted the position was ‘Does my hair need to be a certain way?’ I think Black people as a whole are kind of forced into this mindset that our hair isn’t professional so we kind of put pressure on ourselves while also facing these pressures outwardly from white and non-Black people.” - Aiyana Ishmael