So here we are—no New Years’ resolutions, no words of wisdom, just more time with my thoughts. Believe me, a lot has gone on in this noodle o’ mine, but for now, I will write what I began writing on last month.
My hair has been natural 16 months, after starting my transition in December 2010. In one sense, the actual journey in terms of combing two-textured hair, etc., are over; but since the hair journey is about much more than follicles, I continue forward.
If there is one hair-related topic that resonates with me, it has to be the question of hair and the workplace. I can remember my first experience with natural hair in the workplace. Years ago, in my corporate days, our company welcomed Black Enterprise magazine publisher Earl Graves. Specifically (if I remember correctly) he came to help birth an African-American support network within our local facility. While there, he spoke to a larger group of employees and a group of high school students. I do not remember why the high schoolers were in our midst, but what I do remember vividly is a teacher with braids in his hair. Bear in mind that during the 90’s, seeing a man in a white-collar job, so to speak, with braids would elicit a totally different response than you might see today. At some point in the discussion, Graves admonished the young man openly, stating in all the candor that was him that if the teacher planned to advance professionally, he would cut his hair.
Fast-forwarding 10-20 years, I have to wonder where that teacher is professionally. I wonder if he had to cut his hair to get there, or did he refuse, and if so at what consequence. I wonder if Graves would give the same advice were he speaking to the same group of people today. I wonder if he has any employees, male or female, who don braids or locs. The thing is, Graves would perhaps be considered “old school” at best, with other monikers like out-of-touch sprouting from the mouths and minds of those less diplomatic. BUT, at the risk of sounding like a sell-out, I “get” what he is saying.
I once shared on another website that one of the reasons I hesitated for years to embark on my natural journey was the images that flood many of the more popular e-zines. From the comment-generated discussion, articles of interest, and hair-dos, I conclude two things:
1) This more recent wave of natural hair enthusiasts are primarily young women (i.e., under 35).
2) These young ladies do not work in job roles that restrict their choices of style.
Though I know a few women who have sported natural hair for decades, all of them either wore locs or TWAs (teeny weeny afros); neither of those styles intrigued me or my husband. But I also was not interested in looking like I just rolled out of bed, either. And that really is the question: how do I express “me” with my natural hair but still operate within the confines of what is considered acceptable? Is there still a “code,” written or unwritten, that says that my natural hair will hinder me from advancing in certain corporate settings?
Sadly, I am convinced that our choice to go perm-free and un-straightened is more of a problem with us as a people than with others. I can recall recent incidents such as the young dread-locked student in Tulsa, OK, who was told that she had to change her hair in order to stay enrolled—at a predominately black school. Though far less publicized, I am also sensitive to a younger friend of mine who was told that her natural hair was inappropriate—for an NAACP competition.
Otherwise, I am equally convinced that there is still a code—perhaps relaxed, but still existent. Furthermore, I believe any existing code has more to do with style than with texture, and though I cannot “roll” completely with Earl Graves, I think a code is sometimes appropriate. When you work for someone else, the workplace is not yours; it is theirs. You represent someone larger than yourself. Yet, you can still be “you,”—natural hair and all—and be beautiful and in order.
Better yet, you can be sure that what you think of as freedom is not applying an entirely different chain—one that holds you in place professionally while the less-qualified, but more polished play career leap frog. Short and sweetly put, in most professional environments, natural hair works; what does not work is colors from the crayon box, cuts from animated movies, and styles that look as if you have allergies to combs and brushes.
I remember reading on one of these e-zines where a young lady, a dental hygienist, was incensed that her employer asked to wear her hair a certain way, and wondered if she should complain or quit. I thought about how I would feel sitting in a dentist’s chair with hair—any hair—getting in my face. I then wrote what I thought, in spite of several “it’s your hair, girl, do you” type of comments. I think that I was more shocked than the author that a number of people agreed with me.
I am definitely on the path of learning with this whole natural hair thing, but this I do know: I am a beautiful, smart, African-American queen and child of the Most High God (not in that order). I make a conscious choice to carry myself—head to toe—in ways that allow me to enter people’s lives and glorify the Father. I know that He has honored those priorities and enlarged my territory such that I meet more people and enter more places. Let Belinda never get in His way.