True Life: My Boss Criticized my Natural Hair in Public

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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?

For more of Domineque check her out on Instagram: lhdc2011 and YouTube, Longhairdontcare2011.

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207 thoughts on “True Life: My Boss Criticized my Natural Hair in Public

  1. I can tell that you are a hummble soul who doesn’t like confrontation and gives in when under presure… I can see you with a relaxer with-in months.

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    • It’s so easy to criticize when you aren’t in this position yourself. We always say what we will do in certain situations, but when you’re in the moment a lot of times the bravado falls away and we just react and go with the flow. She did what she needed to do to survive the moment. But clearly, if her natural hair was long enough to put into an afro puff ponytail and then a bun, she’d been natural for a long time.

      This comment was just so incredibly rude and horrifying, especially to a woman who was brave and kind enough to share her story and what she learned.

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    • She won’t get a relaxer. She has been natural and her hair journey to natural hair was because of health. She’s not that vane regarding the opinions of others.

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  2. @EnuffSaid, um, you obviously never followed her YouTube posts (see Longhairdontcare2011). She’s been nonrelaxed for approximately 7+ years. She has switched careers and is now pursuing her “passion for fashion” via cosmetology. She is definitely not weak-willed.

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  3. The way I see it – anyone who won’t hire me because of my braids or natural hair, I don’t want to work there. If I have to wear my hair straightened out just to get through the interview, what is it going to be like during the regular workweek when I show up with a twist-out or a protective style during the winter?

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  4. To answer your questions: No, it is not right. Yes, you are letting others determine how you behave (not always a bad thing), when you change your hair. Whether it is a fair price to pay depends on the situation.

    I think in life you have to pick your battles. Is the opportunity worth it? Do you know/think that they will discriminate in hiring if you wear your hair out? Is it worth the risk?

    I’ve been there before. I think that it’s just one of those things that come along with being different in our society. This is a question of whether to wear it in a bun or not, not to relax or not. We have to be savvy because how we wear our hair does impact how employers view us. I’m more likely to straighten or bun for the interview and wear it how I want later because we can at least have a conversation then. You may even have some legal rights.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your story. That was very insensitive. If they felt the need to say something it should have been in private. I experienced similar remarks in front of other co workers. I would walk into meetings and a couple people would laugh! Seriously laugh. I was wearing a puff?

    One guy walked into the meeting we were in, looked right at me and said “Oh Looorrd?” He then sat right next to me and continued to look at my hair out of the side of his eye. I finally had to ask him what his problem was. And he told finally me! I responded with well get use to it. I also used those awkard moments to try and educate them,it helped some? I was the ONLY black person who worked in that office so the comments and questions were almost daily. I didn’t let it bother me I just continued to wear my natural hair the best I could manage until I got it to where I felt comfortable with my office styles.( I know its a little different when you are in the medical field) Over all if the hair isn’t distracting and all over the place the “texture” of our hair really should not be a problem. Negative responses to braids and twists is just pure ignorance. Plain and simple. They think we are trying to be “exotic” but truth is that is a form of maintenance and keeping our natural hair neat.

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  6. I have experienced similar criticism from African American women with relaxed hair. One lady who had previously been toothless (yes, toothless) for an entire month prior to the incident had the nerve to belittle me behind my back to co-workers. Although your managers (or former managers) were wrong, at least they gave you an opportunity to defend yourself by making their statements to your face.

    I had to hear the negativity from co-workers who approached me one by one after they had been cornered by the lady in the lunch room. The thing that really bothered me more than anything is that her hair never looks like anything to write home about. And, had she given me the respect of coming to me one on one to address her concerns, I would have at least reciprocated that respect by listening and taking what she had to say into consideration. It’s not always what you do or say, it’s how you do it or say it.

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  7. She was going to do her hair in a bun anyway. She did not give into them. In Her own words “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.” There are a lot of styles that other race wear that don’t look right for there type of work. But they are not being made fun of. Like the messy hair style. Who made that a style? Looking like you just rolled out of bed. Or the hair style where you look like you just step out of the shower. Hair looks wet all day long. I for one could care less about the way someone wear there hair. Just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of there work.

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  8. For me, I wear my hair natural and the way I want. I agree if someone doesn’t want to hire me for my hair or any other physical attribute that’s fine. Chances are I dodged a bullet there. I do think that if there is a problem with work appearance then it should be discussed one -on-one. Not in front of other co-workers.

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  9. I’m appalled at what your employer said to you. I’m an HR professional and know that legally you could have taken action against them for those comments. Otherwise, great article.

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  10. Thank you for sharing. I thought you were very classy in dealing with people of ignorance. You obviously have gorgeous hair and maybe deep down all the people who laughed (including the ignorant boss) are just jealous deep down, they should have at least given you time to get yourself prepared for work instead of making a comment. I would think (if you wanted) you could have gone to the Human Resources dept. I remember when I didn’t have a choice but to where my hair in a way that was very natural (lots of hair breakage), my stylist just sent me out the door with a Mohawk, now this was when I was 18 and my company was very, how shall I say, really upper class Caucasians (only 2) people of color, I was very happy and surprised that the VP actually thought my hair was beautiful. Needless to say this was a wonderful outcome that could have been like your situation. You keep being classy and keep your head up, don’t let people like that get in your head and make you feel embarrassed. They’re are a lot of styles out that would hopefully work for your environment, if it keeps up at work you might want to put in a complaint, also; some races just are jealous and nervous of people of color, it is what it is.

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  11. I think I would most probably have reacted the same, out of shock and surprise. It must have been very embarrassing and certainly I can identify with people making jokes about your natural hair in public situations. I go to a university with virtually only white people and often get stupid comments, or random hair molesting in the most awkward of public situations and you don’t want to explode and shout at people. Even with my own family – on my non-black side, my auntie thinks it’s funny to throw up ‘black power’ salutes at me when I comb out my hair; as though it’s some strong political statement because I choose to wear my hair as I was created, which of course I find offensive and borderline racist. My choosing to go natural were mainly because I looked into myself and my ideas of beauty and self-hatred and concluded that personally I feel that to be empowered within myself, I should embrace my natural look enough to feel comfortable with it. (not to say that I am against every experimenting or hot-ironing now and again, but rather that I should know that natural is beauty and not have to rely on altering my natural look to feel good). I think we should all bear in mind that regardless of a person’s career, qualifications, level of education etc, unfortunately most of the world are completely ignorant and feed into euro-centric images of beauty without questioning how and why they think these things. As such, we must expect ignorance in the form of people telling us we would look more ‘presentable’ or even ‘attractive’ in a form that more closely matches this straight haired, thin featured, fair skinned, fair eyed image. Important thing is to know that YOU as an individual do not think this, do not let anybody else try to convince you of this and that you stay loving yourself the way you are.. curls and all

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    • It makes me sad and angry that the same ol’ white people that make those tired a## comments, are the very ones who jock our black men, by trying to attract them by getting butt injections. The same tramps try to make sure their hair is longer than yours by wearing extensions, aka better know as “weave” when worn by black women. Let me make this clear, I am not a racist, i’m just stating the facts! And let me say this; I love Jlo, but she was used as a scape goat for these scandalist whites to get surgery’s to steal our natural born images like as I mentioned before, curvey bottoms, full lips, and the darking of their skin, in which we all have been made fun of for owning … The question is how do we address these morons/ issues when they rear their ugly heads? Maybe we should remind them of everthing that they have already stripped and stolen from us. Depending on the setting, we need to be ready to respond! I’ll have to stop here … I think I’ll have to write a book, there’s way to much that we need to discuss among ourselves.

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  12. I have the impression or the feelings you allowed that person to intimidate you and make you feel bad, which was probably her main purpose.
    Girl, believe it or not; there are more than one out there jealous of what you have acheive. Yes! Cant you realize they are jealous of your long hair? – And it is all because they have this misconcept that black people cant grow long hair!
    Dont allow the narrow minded people to bring you dont.
    In my opinion, I think you should just be yourself no matter where and no matter what, and feel proud of how beautiful you are inn and outside!

    You are one of the reason many caucasian girls have started to tell themselves: “If she achieved such a hair lenght, why not me”.
    Keep up the good work, and avoid all those narrow minded and envious people.

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  13. Pingback: The Top 10 Stories and Controversies Involving Natural Hair in 2013 | Black Girl with Long Hair

  14. Continue to embrace your natural hair. I love your hair etiquette
    rules. They demonstrate respect for yourself and consideration of others. There are so many ignorant people in the world. It is a fact. They come in all hues. Many who laugh and attempt to ridicule you about your natural hair do so because they cannot rock the style themselves, or they have been conditioned to view anything other than bone straight hair as somehow inferior. You are the light that will help them, over time, realize the beauty of amazing natural black hair. However, if you choose to relax, it is your choice and your business. Hopefully, you won’t but if you do choose to relax it will not be because you don’t find your natural hair beautiful but because you simply desire a different experience. Our hair is B E A U T I F U L. In fact everything about us is beautiful. If we didn’t know it, we can just look around at all hues of people who try, at great cost, to emulate all aspects of who we are from music, to speech, to our fashion sense….. and on and on. Rock your natural style!

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  15. Hon, there is a movement of women over 30 also who have embraced the natural hair movement.
    In fact, I see more young black women with weaves. That is the predominate movement with the young women. Just sayin

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  16. I’ve been natural for about 5 months and I work the graveyard shift. My boss (should say kinda “new” boss who hasn’t seen me in months)and we chat, catch up. The whole time he’s looking at my afro which I spruced up with a nice hair accessory. He says “So you went all natural eh?….Is that it? Are you gonna do something to it, weave, press it out, something???” By the tone of his voice and him enunciating “weave, press it out, something” was enough to know that he didn’t like my hair. So being polite as I can I told him that people who don’t like my hair, can take a ticket and wait in line for me to start caring. Then he left it at that.

    Not more than a week or so later, a co-worker of mine husband cringed up his nose at my hair. Asked “So you’re natural too? Why don’t you put some weave in it, do something to it. You can’t just leave it like that” Now that to me is a direct insult, so just me being polite because I didn’t want to slap the black off him in front of his wife. I told him the same thing I told my boss.

    Sometimes you just gotta deal with people all around. Not everyone is going to embrace natural hair like some. My poor coworker is natural and her hubby doesn’t embrace her hair much and she wears long weaves. I had convinced her to quit the weaves since they wear damaging her hair, and try to wear her natural hair out and worry less about what people think.

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  17. my pastor hated it, he even asked if I was broke! my mum up until now tells me to relax my hair and that it’ll be easier to manage… the list goes on, but I’m strong willed

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  18. I’ve always been teased about my hair, and it isnt white folks who did the teasing, As a matter of fact, I only had one white person say a side remark on my hair and it was a “whats up with you hair” comment from a neighbor who is married to black man, not that makes it ok. However I ‘ve gotten more positive comments on my hair from non whites then i have from blacks and i find this very sad. Some nonwhites may have a negative to say but they keep it to themselves..

    People who complained about my hair have always been black women and a few black men. This is before the natural hair movement, if my hair wasn’t pressed out, laid to the side or greased up, it wasnt healthy and looked right.

    Its been a while since i dealt with this type of ignorance. I do what i want, when i want to my hair and if anyone had a problem with my hair, they can argue with god for making my hair kinked, because i dont argue with fools nor do i please them.

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