Op-Ed: Can You Hair Me?

What Black professionals can accomplish at their jobs and bring to the table has no direct correlation to their hairstyle.

By Zee Johnson

Today, my hair is in a voluminous curly afro. Two weeks ago, I wore it up in a bun. And one week after that, I decided to throw on my favorite wavy wig. While being able to look like a completely different person on any given day brings much excitement to my often humdrum life, my morphing abilities have no proven effect on my ability to reason, comprehend, achieve, or perform my professional and personal duties.

In fact, in one month when I have my box braids installed, a very popular hairstyle amongst African American women, my moral compass will still be intact. Yes, I may shout some choice words if the weight of my braids disturbs my slumber, and yes, my head may be tender for a few days, but I won’t suddenly become incompetent.

Ignorance around hair styles and job performance still exists. Dove research found that women of color are one-and-a-half times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair. Not too long ago, an employee at a popular retail clothing store was told she would be taken off the work schedule until she removed her “unkempt” looking braids. Her district manager even went as far as to offer up some haircare advice, as if she’d be able to utilize pointers from someone who didn’t even know what the name of her hairstyle was.

And rather recently, a manager at a Kansas-based fast-food restaurant was not just the target of racial slurs, but subsequently fired after coworkers deemed his hair, the way it genetically grew from his scalp, unprofessional and unkempt -there’s that word again.
It gets better. A Black restaurant worker decided to wear her hair in an easy and out-of-the-way bun, but management wanted her to take it out and wear it straight. Not knowing that Black peoples’ hair doesn’t just go straight on demand without a chemical or heating process, this worker had to prove her claim by unraveling her bun and doing a quick TRESemmé hair swing. And to their surprise, her hair didn’t move -as she said it wouldn’t. Had they listened, they’d know that that’s just not how kinky hair works.

There is an obvious lapse in understanding here.

Ketanji Brown Jackson was recently the first Black woman nominated for the Supreme Court. She has a smaller version of dreadlocks, known as sisterlocks. So, a woman with “inappropriate” hair can be a double Harvard graduate and possibly a new Supreme Court Justice who upholds or amends the laws of the land, but that same dreadlocked woman cannot sell McMuffins, or a pair of chino pants?

Let’s Change the Narrative

These longstanding falsities that allege Black hairstyles are inappropriate really puzzle me. As far as I know, there’s no proof that someone with dreadlocks has intergalactic abilities and uses their locs to communicate with unearthly beings to devise a plan to take over the planet. If you know something I don’t about Black hairstyles being a front to hide Medusa-like snakes that are ready for war-like combat, I beg you to enlighten me. That would be a tantalizing plot for a Netflix show, but nope, it’s just a hairstyle. Wamp wamp.

Black hairstyles are the exact opposite of unkempt. Not only are they meticulously cared for with shampoos, oils, sprays, and satin bonnets from companies like my haircare line, Lay Haircare, but some styles even take hours and hundreds of dollars to complete. Let me put this into perspective. I’ve once sat twelve hours for a hairstyle, and I don’t know anyone who would put that much time and energy into their hair all for it to look disheveled and neglected.

What Black professionals can accomplish, create, do, and bring to the table, has no direct correlation, I repeat, has no direct correlation to their hairstyle. In 2022, I’ll give everyone one more chance to remove these groundless concepts from their brains, ok?

Can I Stop for Coffee?

For many women of color, wearing a braided style versus wearing their curly or kinky hair loosely (the way it naturally grows), could be the difference between waking up at 7:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. Having a protective style, a style that’s intended to last for a few weeks to a few months with proper maintenance (braids, weaves, wigs, etc.), could be the difference between running late or being on time. It could be the difference between caffeine or no caffeine. And if you knew better, you would want me to have enough time to stop at Wawa for a cold brew with almond milk and Stevia.

As ridiculous as it may sound to others, we understand that our hair can make life more difficult, at times.

When I wear a beautiful set of braids, or a set of bantu knots, is it for style? Yes. Is it for practicality? Yes. Is it to combat hair damage because I’m lazy and don’t want to do my hair every morning? Also, yes.

The irony of this all is that the backlash is not coming from those educated on Black hair, but from those who may not know the first thing about the meaning, process, or purpose behind our hair choices. Imagine doing a style that will allow you more time to focus on work, school, etc., then having your proactiveness insulted by someone who just doesn’t get it.

People who are unfamiliar with hair choices that are thousands of years old must be open to becoming educated. And lucky for you, you’re reading this, and I happen to be someone who is accustomed to answering the hard questions, accustomed to being questioned about my hair’s appearance, and accustomed to being an achiever who enjoys braids almost as much as I do dry white wine…almost.

So, to the uninformed individuals, particularly those who make up HR departments worldwide, I say, humble yourself enough to know that you are indeed uninformed. Next, look at this as an opportunity to familiarize yourself. Ask questions; ask genuinely; ask respectfully; ask directly; and when in doubt, ask privately.

Do not pass up on a candidate for having an eccentric hairstyle, because if they’re anything like me, in about a month, they would have already changed their hair several times anyway.

Tags: hair, March 2022, op-ed, opinion

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