*Ed. note: Sorry for the super long post — I had a lot to say :)*
I’ve been wearing my hair naturally at work for about a year and three months. This isn’t the first time I’ve been natural — about seven years ago, I chopped it all off. At that point, I got mad love from the people who weren’t Black. My people who were Black? They just couldn’t understand why someone with reasonably long hair would cut it down to half an inch.
My colleagues at work were more curious than anything, wanting to know how I cared for my hair. You know, I was never offended by the questions — I mean, it just seemed like innocent curiosity. Let’s get this straight – being rude and being curious are very different things. No one touched my hair or talked about perceived cleanliness of Black hair or anything like that. They just seemed fascinated with hair that was so different than what grew out of their own heads.
I traveled to Montreal to visit my parents and we went to church. A woman, whose relaxed hair was damaged and in desperate need of care and a good deep condition said, “I would never cut off my hair!” Why would you want to keep it in that state? Really? I’ve never really been scared to cut my hair because I knew it would grow back eventually. Hair is hair and you can’t be too attached to it.
Fast forward to 2008. I transitioned to natural hair and the first people who commented — positively commented — were Black women. They would stop me in Tim Hortons or in the mall wanting to know how I got my hair like how it was. My work colleagues — they didn’t seem too concerned. They mentioned that my hair was different, but it wasn’t like people were holding their tongues, waiting to make a derogatory comment, not doing it because of they were scared to be reprimanded.
Yesterday, I went to BP Uncensored: Real Beauty at the University of Toronto and there was a deep discussion about natural hair at work, whether that means hair that’s not chemically treated or hair that is loc’d. There was a woman who had shaved hair who said that other Black people would suck their teeth and roll their eyes at her. Other people spoke of negative experiences at work with natural hair — which to me is different from an unconventional hair style. I don’t think that wearing my hair half shaved off (like Cassie or Rihanna) would fly in a conservative work environment, but wearing my hair in its natural state is not unconventional. Natural Black hair is not a style, per se, it is how my hair is. Saying that hair that is not chemically treated is a style is like saying that my skin, in its natural chocolate brown glory, is a style as well.
Another person — a man — said that we have to be wary of how we put ourselves together — like wearing jeans to an interview or possibly having locs because it can be career limiting in some cases. I’m sure it can be, but I’m offended that my hair is compared to being inappropriately dressed for an interview. My hair isn’t inappropriate.
If my hair is career limiting at that particular establishment, at that point I’m sure to two things: 1) To this company, my skin colour is more of a problem than my hair. If a company is that concerned about hiring me because I wear my hair in its natural state, they are concerned about hiring a Black person. I know if I slap on a wig, I won’t be any more appealing to them because they aren’t scared/worried/stressed about my hair. They are scared/worried/stressed about my Blackness and what that means in the work environment. My hair would only be an excuse to say that I don’t fit in; 2) I don’t want to work there. If I can’t be me and if my hair is a problem, although I’m qualified, have worked for good companies and have references — that is not the organization for me. Plain and simple.
I can change into a pantsuit, but I cannot change who I am. It’s my right to wear my hair how I want, but it’s my responsibility to do the job that I’ve been hired to do well. As long as I’m clean and well put together, the texture of my hair is not up for discussion.
Going back to the woman who said her Black colleagues would suck their teeth or roll their eyes at her, I have harsh words for them — or any other Black person who is embarrassed by my hair or think it’s a negative reflection of the Black community. I am me and I represent myself, don’t be embarrassed. Be embarrassed by the rate of AIDS/HIV infection in our community. Be embarrassed that you’re taking time to judge me instead of uplifting another Black woman. Your embarrassment and anger about my hair is self-hate and you need to deal with that. That is not my problem.
But, these haven’t been my experiences.
I wonder about people who’ve had overwhelmingly negative experiences — don’t get me wrong. I don’t discount them — but I do wonder if their perception of what others think is more the issue than what people actually think. If you go to work ready to fight with people because someone takes a second look at you, you will find reasons to get angry.
When you walk into a room and you are defensive about your hair, of course everything that people say or don’t say is a personal insult. A look is no longer a look, it’s someone sizing you up. Someone asking about your hair isn’t just someone asking a question, it’s a snide comment. Our experiences and perceptions colour our perceptions of others.
I am confident in myself and my ability at work — I don’t stress over how my hair may look to others because it looks good to me. Although my hair is a representation of me, it doesn’t define who I am because I am the same person I was a year and a half ago when my hair was relaxed.
So, readers, what do you think? What have been your experiences? At work, does it feel like people are negative towards your hair?