The professionalism of natural hair is a constant topic of debate in black culture. And while many naturals advance professionally and enjoy satisfying careers, some people seem to be stuck on the idea that hair trumps talent and intelligence. To be fair, it must be acknowledged that there are still incidents of natural hair leading to professional discrimination (Six Flags being the most popular example, currently), but these incidents are the exception and certainly not the rule. And also, just because discrimination happens, it doesn’t mean that it’s justified or even sensical. Here are 5 reasons why natural hair should never be viewed as ‘unprofessional’.
1. A naturally occurring physical characteristic CAN’T be unprofessional
Think about it. Would you call the shape of an Asian woman’s eyes “unprofessional”? Or the color of a black woman’s skin? Then how can you label hair — a naturally occuring physical trait — as “unprofessional”. It makes no sense. Now, of course, how you choose to ALTER or ADORN hair or body can be considered professional or unprofessional, but to call the natural characteristics of the body itself ‘unprofessional’ is totally ludicrous.
2. Natural hair can be styled conservatively
Afros are lovely and amazing, but most naturals have enough common sense to know that, depending on where you work, it won’t always be an appropriate style. Some work environments will call for a natural woman to pull her hair away from her face. Other work places might have more leeway, allowing for bigger styles like twist outs, braid outs or curly fros. In either instance, it is HOW the woman decides to style her hair that determines whether it is professional. Not the hair itself.
Tip: Short haired naturals (less than 6 inches) might feel they don’t have the length to rock conservative styles. Not true! Pinned up updos can work on shorter lengths.
3. Discrimination based on hair texture is illegal
Plain and simple. Now you can be fired for violating a company’s policy on how you STYLE your hair or present yourself. But to be fired for having a certain hair texture is literally criminal. If you DO find yourself being discriminated against because of your hair texture, take heart! You have a solid civil suit and, most likely, a lucrative settlement coming down the pipe.
4. It breeds paranoia
Have you ever heard a natural swear that she didn’t get a job or was unfairly treated, “just because I’m natural.” Meanwhile this woman might have a totally unprofessional attitude and an unkempt appearance. Unless it’s obvious that you are being discriminated against because of your hair, it’s not healthy to walk around with the assumption that this will or has happened. Not only does it breed paranoia, but it diverts focus from other weaknesses that could be the REAL cause of lost professional opportunities.
5. There are tons of natural hair professionals making moves right now
Don’t think that naturals can be professional? Take a walk through downtown Atlanta on any given workday. The natural hair scene is incredible! Black women rocking suits, pumps, and some fiercely elegant natural styles. If you’re looking for natural professionals in your own city or town, look no further than the many online natural hair forums (such as the Black Girl Long Hair forum, NaturalSunshine.com, or CurlTalk). They are chock full of professional women proudly rocking the natural.
The REAL Dilemma
So where is the REAL dilemma when it comes to natural hair and the workplace? In this day and age, it is a lack of understanding of the styling options and necessities that come with natural hair. While a natural can get by professionally rocking buns or french braids, they might not have access to more intricate styles, like cornrows, locs and in some cases twists, that are unfairly labeled as ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ when, in reality, they are great for retaining length and protecting ends. Perhaps the focus should now be on how to communicate to employers and human resource professionals that natural hair thrives in styles that — to the uncultured eye — look exotic or intricate, but are actually quite ‘normal’.
Ladies, what are your thoughts? Do you think natural hair can be viewed as unprofessional? Why or why not?