Today my black female coworker walked into the office with some bomb ass feed-in braids. The first thing I thought after admiring her courage to get cornrows and wear them in the workplace, was how jealous I was that I hadn’t had the confidence to do the same.
I literally said out of my mouth “Girl, I am hating on you right now. I been wanting to get braids but I don’t feel like dealing with the looks and comments from our ‘other’ coworkers”, (the white ones of course, considering her and I are 2 of the 3 black women on our staff period).
My coworker then went on to tell me that before I was hired, she had her hair in faux locs, an afro, and plenty of other natural styles. I had only seen her with a sew-in, so she explained that she felt she had already warmed the office up to her variety of hairstyle choices and had no shame in rocking braids. I literally thanked her for setting the standard.
Wasn’t that a sad ass story??
I mean it’s completely ridiculous that we as black women feel insecure about wearing natural or protective hairstyles in Corporate America… it’s 2018!
This is a conversation that has garnered more and more national attention over the past few years, with the rise of the natural hair movement. In an article titled Black Women Speak Up About Their Struggles Wearing Natural Hair In the Workplace, Essence.com reports black women have gotten so used to code switching which Urban Dictionary defines as “To customize style of speech to the audience or group being addressed.” But Jessica Clemons, a medical doctor and founder of the educational blog askdrjess.com tells Essence.com that code-switching can apply to changing ones’ appearance and style of dress as well.
“Black people are still not fully accepted in the workplace from a Black normative perspective — that’s why we code switch. This non-acceptance is systemic and historical. Discrimination continues to exist,” Clemons told Essence.
I think back to when I was putting together my reporter resumé reel, gathering clips from my best on air moments from Temple Update, Temple University’s student television news program. I gathered together different stories and live reports and anchor clips that I had done over a years’ time, and in almost every single one of them…my hair was different. Multiple professors told me that different looks might hinder my job search. I was told certain news directors would look at my highlight reel and “not know which Alexis they would be getting if they hired you.”
As if I had a mask on in each clip.
I was convinced that my hair served as a distraction, and that I had to master a consistent look for “branding” purposes. Granted, I did end up landing a local television news reporting job in Bluefield, West Virginia, the only offer I received after filling out close to 60 applications. Could my many different hairstyles have really limited the number of call backs or interviews I got? PROBABLY.
- I will say that the TV world is 80% about aesthetic and of course your appearance matters way more when you’re on the news than it would in an office setting. However black women at local news stations across the country are beginning to speak out more and more about the right to wear their natural hair on-air.)
But my uncomfortability with wearing different hairstyles dates back way before I thought about entering the workforce. Even as a child and through my teenage years, I dealt with comments and questions from my white peers that were in a literal state of shock when I came to class or basketball practice with a new hair style.
Got a new weave?- “Omg you’re hair grew! Or are those extensions?”
Took your weave out?- “Omg did you cut your hair??”
Get braids, twists or cornrows?- “Omg that’s so cool how you guys can do so many different things with your hair. I wish my hair did that.”
As I’ve gotten older, the harmless genuine questions turned to simple stares. And sometimes, it was probably all in my head! But there is nothing more nerve-racking for me than walking into work or class with a new hair style, (especially if you got it done in the middle of the week?? You might as well consider yourself a magician.)
But whose job is it to change these feelings and this narrative? Of course Corporate America needs to be more accepting—it was only last year that the U.S. Army lifted its ban on dreadlocks, though several businesses still consider them inappropriate.
But maybe black women need to stop giving AF!
Normalize braids. Normalize faux locs or dreadlocks. Normalize afros or kinky twists. Normalize box braids or jumbo braids. Because my hair is in no way an indicator of my intelligence, skills, or job capabilities. Corporate America needs to get used to our ever-changing hairstyles so that it no longer “stands out”.
You hired me with straightened hair or a pulled back bun- I dare you to try and fire me in some Senegalese twists.
***DISCLAIMER: If you walk into work on Monday with a pink wig or some rainbow braids, please do not argue that I said that was acceptable. I’m sure you can file a lawsuit if they fire your ass, but do you really want to go through all that?? 🙂
I told you not to take my advice!