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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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215 Comments on "True Life: My Boss Criticized My Natural Hair in Public"

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Vonnie

I take it this happened a while ago, so no further action was taken. Had our have been me HR it the next higher up authority would have heard about it. I know we deal with “haters” but that comment, and the way you were “reprimanded” was outright unprofessional. I hope for the future anyone else and you stand up for your rights as a naturalista AND as an employee that demands respect

Leah

At my job, my conservative, white coworkers compliment my puff, while the 2 African American ladies tell me I should have it blown straight. My hair is thin, highly porous and 4c. My puff gives me volume and I love my natural hair. Their advice annoys me, but with natural hair, it comes with the territory.

Amanda Lee

This happen to me this morning at work but the comments came from Black women and it was behind my back. I love my hair and I think it looks cute in a curly fro. I wouldn’t let comments from foreigners fade me but when it comes from Black women, it’s sad. All of their hair is broken off, short, and hidin under a weave, yet I get laughed at for the hair I was born with. SMH Crazy!

tiredofthebs
I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t agree with you on letting “comments from foreigners fade me” An insult is an insult, and we do not live in an ideal world, where all images of beauty are celebrated. The Russian women have been spoonfed the same thing that every women from every race and culture has been fed: that straight hair is the ideal. With that said, the only difference between the Black women at your job and the Russian women at the author’s office is that the Black women may have the kind of hair that’s the… Read more »
la*belle

So true. I guess it boils down to your mindset, right? I shudder to think that not so long ago, i’d NEVER have considered going natural. Now, i can’t believe i was so blind to the beauty and utter gorgeousness of natural hair. Hopefully, more and more will change their perceptions. But, it doesn’t say much for the manners of some, that they made such rude remarks.

la*belle

That is just so rude and uncivilised… I live in South Africa, bc’d 4 months ago. My company is a pretty conservative corporate one, but NOBODY at work had a negative thing to say, they loved it! I have predominantly 4a hair for what it’s worth. One kind, slight misguided coworjer said ‘Oh, your hair looks so nice and curly. Did you relax it?’ She couldn’t believe it was just water and conditioner! The only person who had a bitingly nasty comment to make, was a family friend who has type 4 natural hair too. Strange how that worked…

la*belle

*slightly and *coworker. Silly phone 😉

cb

we know what she meant…stop

Lee Jones

Lol the spelling corrections came from the same person who wrote it. 😉 No need to get angry.

la*belle

Uh.. I thought her comment was funny? Since it was the exact opposite of what i was doing. Still have a good chuckle because she now wonders if i perm 🙂

legallytnatural2
there is a differece between negative or embarassing comments and racist or discrimantory remarks. Russian dentist making joking remarks about your hair sounds more racist to me and perhaps I am sure if this made you want to leave could defintely be looked upon as a hostile work environment. Many of these types of statements go undected because we don’t realize the legal ramafications of these statements. Once we learn our legal rights and demand to be treated with respect, I am sure those types of comments will be downgraded to a dull roar. Oh, they will still chuckle, but… Read more »
jjac401
This is a well written article that pinpoints some of the disrespect that some naturals go through. Obviously the writer of this piece is a well polished young lady who knows how to present herself. I say that if a natural sports a polished style with their clothing in the workplace – the natural hair is even more fly. I am a natural who is professional and I take pride sporting my hair at all times. Although I have not experienced anything but positive comments on my hair, I am not going to trip over some ignorant mindset should it… Read more »
Tabatha

Well I’m not making excuses, but they are Russian what do they know about black hair? What that one did was unprofessional actually the other guy making the troll judgement is unprofessional too. Well I don’t have that issue at my work. my boss doesn’t really care unless it looks extremely unkept. I think its ridiculous that you can’t keep your hair how you want as long as it’s not a big ugly mess.

kb1908
Just one thing, I hate to bring this up but 30+ crowd have been natural for a while, a few friends of mine including myself stop getting perms in the 90s. And most of the black women at my (in their 30s) are natural Now back to the hair at work, we have to own our beauty before others do. I have friends w/ 3b hair saying they can’t go natural, because they won’t get a job. If these people are worried then what’s the hope for the kinky 4 girls, like me? Before people get mad at me I… Read more »
kb1908

*black women at my work (in their 30s) *oops*

Stacey

I recently wrote a blog on this topic regarding natural hair and interviewing. http://thecareershift.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/29/

Curly Queen

And this is why I work for myself! I just don’t have time for the foolishness. I would have been more than mad. You shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable about the hair that grows out of your hair. If it’s getting in the way of your work that is one thing but otherwise let people be.

Me
If I’m not mistaken, LHDC lives in LA now… So that attitude wouldnt shock me… Russians, Armenians and others that come from the old Soviet Union/Eastern Block nations are extremely racist and bold. Los Angeles is one of the most segregated cities in America, and racist. There are some parts of the city I wouldnt go to simply for safety reasons. I had a Lebanese female boss that reminded me of the mask from Scream and the face of the SAW character – she laughed one day and asked “why would you put your hair in a ponytail if it’s… Read more »
AllyCat

hillarious!

cb

come on Allycat, really

Chelle
My boss humiliated me once about my natural hair. I grew the relaxer out my hair back in 2003, but I flat ironed it for years. I would’ve tried curly natural years earlier had my boss not made fun of me. I’m an attorney in a firm and Back in 2007, I tried my curly hair at work. While it was a bit of a disaster, it was still curly and (I thought) cute. My boss, who is Southern, white and fancies himself a comedian, told me (in front of everyone) that it looked like I had stuck my finger… Read more »
Ellie
I’ve had a similar situation but it wasn’t a supervisor it was a guest at the hotel I worked at in North Las Vegas. She complained to my boss that my hair was dirty and wild. Of course my white manager and hispanic coworker both defended me saying that there was nothing wrong with my hair and they liked it. Of course I complained to a chef friend of mine who was black and his response was “Well your hair is a little wild sometimes, maybe you should straighten it.” It was pretty sad because the main people to complain… Read more »
Tracy
That was just ridiculous and uncalled for on your co-workers and employers part. I give you kudos for handling yourself in a professional manner I don’t know if I could have done the same, I’m sure I would have given them a quick professional read to let them know what lines they need not cross… I will say that I have been lucky to work where I do because my hair has never been an issue. I have fortunately only have had positive comments to my face at least. It’s funny bc I big chopped from a long weave to… Read more »
Jeanty_23
I am a young black graduate student and profession and this truly saddens me. I have often worked and been taught in environments where I am the only black person and I have gotten A LOT of questions about my hair. This does not bother me at all. I feel like the comments, questions etc. are not rooted in hate/malice but in a need for understanding a different culture. I always respond well to these and don’t mind them. However, I do recognize that this wont always be the case. I don’t think this is a race issue, more of… Read more »
me

But then again, these guys are Dentists – so we assume well educated? I would not expect that at all.

jasmine

“well educated” does not mean & will never mean intelligent or diverse.

RedLady80
I briefly worked in a conservative law firm, and during my time there I transitioned to natural and wore lots of braid outs, rod sets, braids, and eventually big chopped. I got so much great feedback when I had my TWA. It seemed that everyone appreciated the versatility of my hair and the man different styles I wore before and after the chop. I proudly wore my fro and occasionally wore senegalese twists and yarn braids. I’m sorry you had this experience and that people laughed at you. We should be able to wear our hair the way God made… Read more »
colorfulkinks

lol I don’t think you have ever been to Russia. There are plenty of different races over their, especially blacks straight out of Africa. Most people still seem to believe that Racism is only in America. They may not tell you out right, but they will try to keep you down. If Europe and other white dominated societies are so open minded. Why do they still attempt to suppress the representation of black beauty by making excuses that “it won’t sell.” A simple googling of racism/black in russia will explain enough.

p.s.- this wasn’t made to attack

Stacey
First, good job for not ‘going off’ at the office. The dentist’s response was unprofessional. Your co-workers’ behavior borders on workplace harassment. You mentioned that these people are Russian. Understand their images and perceptions of us are formed out of ‘white-washed’ interactions with Americans. In their country they probably see white people as the only people in America. If you believe you can have a rational conversation with the dentist WITHOUT losing your job let him/her know: you were humiliated by the comments and understand the need to be professional at all times. You prefer to be referred to my… Read more »
me
I live in London, England and have had similar experiences. In my experience sometimes people have been fascinated by my hair more than I imagined. It surprises me and sometimes makes me feel like people should get out a bit, considering London is very multicultural. When I had a twist out recently, one of the people I work with said, oh you look different, have you got braids? My Boss, said I looked really nice and she preferred my hair that way [I took this mostly as a compliment, but I can’t say that deep down inside, part of me… Read more »
tee
So sorry that this happened to this author – yeeessssh! What wankers they were! @me Had to read this twice so i was sure i didn’t write it! Also a londoner *waves* been natural since 03/04 time, it wasn’t even a case of ‘going natural’ moving to uni, it was the best. Anyway been through it all except sew ins, tried thrice, not me. Anyway, your experiences are like mine at work, last time i threaded my hair, a colleague just had to ‘touch it’ her words. My face? Recoiling but unable to move either, have had at least 5… Read more »
CharlitaH

Hopefully this is changing little by little, but it certainly wont if we continue to put dangerous chemicals in our hair and damage it with waaaay too much heat. Instead of killing them with kindness we’ll do it with natural hair, don’t be discouraged!

ProfessionalNatural
I actually think it depends on the work place. I wear my hair in a afro to work everyday. Matter of fact I interview with my hair in a afro because I wanted to be sure that when i was hired the knew who they were getting. I wouldn’t want to work in a place that couldn’t accept me for who I am and how I choose to wear my. Most companies and cultures are accepting and inclusive. I work for a large fortune 500 company and a lot of women wear their hair naturally. We even have a person… Read more »
Guest1234
Thank you! Corporate lawyer, here. And the majority of the black ladies at the top of the game wear natural hair. Who the heck has HOURS on end to spend straightening hair? And whose employers actually WANT the professionals they’re paying GOOD MONEY for wasting quality billable hours doing that mess? And whose CLIENT wants people they’re paying GOOD MONEY FOR focusing on hair rather than winning the case? NOBODY’S. I promise you. It annoys me when black folks tell OURSELVES that we’re not professional as-is and sit around analyzing how to beat ourselves into submission. Nobody worth a damn… Read more »
gigi

those two must not get out much… your big ponies are actually quite chic! they also don’t seem very professional/ probably got their training from some ???????… lol good riddance

gigi

woops — looks like the cyrillic didn’t make it lol ‘Krushcheby’ was what I meant… like a backwoods slummy dental school

gigi
oh yeah, almost forgot… I know a few russians & have dated a couple too — didn’t really want to play on the race/ethnicity angle, but since somebody else mentioned it, I’ll just say I find them to be very assimilating. They’ll chameleonize themselves to whoever they think has the power, and to their pleasant surprise because they look the part,the anglo-saxon angle is the ‘thing’. Funny thing is that it’s not even about race in their heads… They get the big picture, sum up what’s going on & blend until they can take over… They’re tricky that way… no… Read more »
@HelloMissHarper
Im very glad this article was posted. It’s saddening to know that this is what we are faced with everyday in the workplace. It’s usually an involuntary silent battle with the views of society. I think the above situation is completely unacceptable. I do from time to time whip out the ghd’s on my hair (which kills me a little bit inside to be honest) but I find that when I have worn my curls out in the work place on a good twist-out day. When my bush looks the best, the reaction is either an erie one of one… Read more »
Jeremiah Desravines

You are beautiful, just the way you are. Consider legal counsel. And stay strong through the groups that support you.

Candice
I own my own business, so on a daily basis, it largely doesn’t matter how I do my hair because it’s a small business with few employees and I’m the boss. However, there are times when I’ve had to go to business meetings, especially back when I had a twa, and I was definitely seen as poor (i.e., I couldn’t afford to get my hair done rather than I chose not to). Also being in the publishing business where there are almost NO black people at all, let alone black women, let ALONE black women with natural, I find my… Read more »
RobynW.

I feel horrible that this happened to you, and in the workplace no less! Your boss handled the situation very poorly. Its one thing to address appearance as a part of office dress code but NEVER should an employee be confronted in front of other employees. That can lead to an uncomfortable and hostile work environment. And how dare your co worker say you look like a troll doll!! No way shape or form is that okay and your boss should have confronted her too.

Nak

And what’s funny is, these very people will be the first to say they aren’t racist. I bet you her boss and coworkers had no clue how offensive that was.

Cublktigress

As long as it doesn’t look unkempt or get in the way it should not be a problem. They would just rather have you assimilate and we’ve done that for so long. Our hair is what sets us apart from all the other races. Something rather unique about defying gravity!

coffeeandfingernails
I think this is something that’s bound to change as more and more women go natural. In the meantime, how each woman handles this has to be a personal decision and I’m the last to judge. If you have the luxury of taking a stand and walking out, more power to you. Some won’t have that luxury and will have to go along in order to keep putting food on the table. I’d be curious about how this varies from industry to industry, and in different parts of the country. As a black woman working in left/progressive/nonprofit type environments on… Read more »
Tabatha

In the military you aren’t allowed to do your hair in fashious styles. I was able to put my hair in cornrowws, but the parts couldn’t have zig zags they had to go straight back same with locks you have to be able to pull them back in a bun. They didn’t want any individuals.

Nak

I’ve been natural in a corporate environment. I have 3b/c hair, so I’m not sure if that makes a difference to non-Black people, but I haven’t been approached. However, my mother constantly tells me to wear my hair straight to interviews and thinks every job I didn’t get somehow relates to me wearing my hair curly. Also, just b/c I haven’t been approached by anyone doesn’t mean they don’t think anything.

I really don’t know. But I do definitely wear my hair in a bun to interviews.

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