My Hair, My Life: The Burden Of Being The Only Black Woman At The Office

August 29, 2012  |

by Jessica Gray

I am the only Black woman at my job.

Of course, this means me and my massive hair stick out that much more, especially when the last Black woman to work here wore her hair flat-ironed mercilessly straight.

I’ve been here for almost two years and the hair questions have not stopped. In fact, they seemed to have increased, possibly because my co-workers have gotten to know me and feel more comfortable asking all of those questions they’ve been harboring since the day they met me. Now I know that I blog and tweet about natural hair like nobody’s business, but that is directed at other women with natural hair or those who may be considering going natural. It’s a different set-up when the questions are coming from people whose hair is nothing like yours.

I am starting to feel like a Natural Hair Ambassador to our straighter-haired counterparts.

I can’t say that it always bothers me, although the occasional jerk tries to test me with clearly ignorant questions. It is a little awkward sometimes because I feel like I am under a microscope or on trial. On days when I’m in the mood to keep to myself I may be tempted to ask rude questions back, but I don’t. I smile and appease any inquiring minds. There are some days when I really am not up for it and I excuse myself. I also feel like I cannot afford to ever let a Bad Hair Day make itself known because I am representing all of my kinky-haired sisters. I have to show the naysayers that natural hair does in fact fit the corporate setting, even though I am sure there are those who still dislike my hair no matter how flawless my twist-out may be that day.

One topic that won’t seem to die is whether natural hair is even accepted in the corporate world. Distressed naturals are always voicing their concerns about showing up to an interview with a textured look or asking for advice on “inoffensive” ways to wear their hair to work. Many other women experience similar situations to mine where co-workers can’t seem to hide their curiosity and many are made to feel uncomfortable. Some succumb to the relaxer or hot comb after a while or keep their hair concealed under weaves. Being a Black woman is already enough to make you stand out but having natural hair seems to take the insecurities to another level.

I will say that it is not all bad. There are days when I get a slew of compliments from my co-workers and people tell me they really like my hair, which surprisingly happens WAY more often on my big hair days than my slick, uptight bun days. There’s just this unspoken pressure to be on point at all times and act as the appointed ambassador for all natural hair wearers in every setting where you are the lone curly girl.

Do you ever feel like you’re the ambassador, or representative for other women with natural hair in settings where those who look like you are few and far in-between? How do you deal with being bombarded with questions about your hair?


Jessica Gray is the founder of the natural hair blog

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  • Just Peachy!

    As the natural movement trend expands there will continue to be much curiosity and controversy surrounding natural hair until it’s accepted by society and from all cultures that this is and can be the norm and not some new phenomenon that some women choose to wear their hair natural.

    Simply put a lot of people are not used to seeing it because some have bought into the hype of the “European standard of beauty” or “good hair mentality”. I have been natural for a few years before the start of popularity and it never ceases to amaze me at the comments, looks or stereotypes that others have concerning “my hair”. That is being directed from both races, Caucasian and African-American.

  • I went to my job interview with a big huge Afro puff wig, huge government agency run by a former first lady (wink). Once i got the job, I was told that I was the one canidate that stood out because of my experience, and interview techniques. My boss who is white has already cussed out another employee in my defense to a hair comment. So I’m just going to say that it’s a blessing that places of work don’t give one damn about hair. I come to work with fro’s, twist outs, twist, braids, weaves, straight, curly. Never once have I been offended or asked any crazy questions with the expection of the one employee who was black and a man. I do however understand that some aren’t so lucky. I’ve heard the worst stories of people making comments about woman’s hair.

    I’ve never felt like any sort of leader of natural hair, for one I won’t allow it, and I kinda hate anybody who feels like they are by right, or who take it and run with and down other woman for having their hair a certain way. I think there is enough of that with the hair blogging community. With more and more women going natural I guess people here aren’t surprised.

  • ContradictingParadigm

    I wish I had the confidence to go all natural, but i’m sucked into the weave European-esque hair trends. Especially because of where I live and socialize there are too few black women already, but to be the only one with natural hair would really take some confidence.

  • BlueCornmoon

    I’m surprised that this is still an issue! Blacks have been there done that in the 60s, and hashed it out with corporate folks by suing for discrimination against our hair styles . We didn’t just get our hair type in this day & age ! White folks KNOW what our hair looks like. After all OUR MEN aren’t wearing weaves,wigs,extensions,& using flat irons! All the whites that grew up with the Jackson 5’s huge afros & the afros of the 60s & 70s are not dead. The Jewish kids that wore “Jewfros” are still around..older,but still here. It’s amazing how insecure many of today’s black women are about their hair when we were so proud of our huge afros back then. I had one & am growing out another ,plus I’m seeing more of them on the street. A LOT are just TWA’s worn by WOMEN OVER 40, confident women, who wore afros in the 70s, who’ve quit perming to save their hair, are sick of messing with hair, or have decided to wear locs. They don’t feel the need to have the latest weave or lace fronts like some of the younger women.

  • Karrie

    I’m going natural now and I can’t believe I waited so long to be chemical free. I thought going natural was for “broke” folks. Now, I understand the power of being fine with who I am – an attractive, educated African-American sista! Watch out I might go bald!

    • Shell

      “I thought going natural was for broke folks” LMAO!!!!! I just flatlined ______________

  • Natalynn

    Didn’t Paul Mooney say it best–“When your hair is relaxed then white people can relax, but when your hair is nappy–they ain’t happy!” I just laugh and keep it moving because there are certain aspects to their hair that I’m curious abou–like why some them can’t hold a curl and have to get perms, or what’s up with this brazilian keratin straightening method using formaldehyde–an embalming chemical for dead folks? Every time someone ask me a question about my hair and why it do what it do, I have one handy for THEIR hair too–it’s priceless the looks on the faces!

    • Sophist

      That’s a nice strategy. I’ll have to try that sometime. 🙂

  • cutiepie

    This is my life!!!! I am the ONLY person of color in my corporate office and I went natural for this reason. I started looking around and saying WHY do I put chemicals in my hair, and why can’t I be happy about my curls???? They stare at me anyway, might as well give them something to look at!! They either turn their nose up, or love it. Who Cares??!! Cuz I love my curls and they are all me!!!

    • ieshapatterson

      yeah i feel that way too.people give society WAY too much power.if she was really happy,then she wouldn’t even acknowledged them.

  • Negress

    I have an interview tomorrow and my hair is wrapped around straws pre-relaxer. I will take the straws out in the morning but I won’t pick it out yet.

  • Trina

    this topic again? Such a dead horse.

    • LaLaLaMeansILoveYou

      Well, you could also look at it like this…it may be a dead horse to YOU, but there is also some newly natural woman out there, or someone who just recently stumbled onto MN for the first time going “OMG this is SO my story”…the articles here may sometimes seem recycled, especially the ones relating to hair issues, but you have to consider the fact that they are not only for your own personal entertainment.

      The first time you ever read an article that you connected with, trust that there was someone else reading the same article who went through and read about the same thing 10 years ago, thinking the same thing you just said. Nothing new under the sun.

    • IDontGetIt

      I’m with you on this one. Really hair? Natural vs. Permed vs. Weaves. Gosh I wish some black women would get a life and stop worrying about what other people think of their hair. I read some ppl felt “powerful” after no longer getting perms or extensions…you mean to tell me you felt powerless because of your hair? Some ppl really have some deep rooted issues. It’s 2012 ladies, do what you please with your damn hair. Doesn’t matter if you’re in corporate American, the grocery store, college or a stay at home Mom.

      • Ms. Esq

        Thank You!!!!!

      • Cat

        @21750dabb4bea42316f7c0c975022d87:disqus Yes it’s still an issue like so many other issues that pertain to women. Do you feel the weight body image horse has been beaten mercilessly too? Hair is part of the over all body image. I would say judging by all the debates surrounding a women’s bodies most people have deep rooted issues. Some naturals sound just as crazy as the “real woman Nazis”. Though myself being a size 2 suffer far more bs from insecure women of ALL color over weight than the hair thing. I wonder if the fact that this particular sensitivity being a mainly ethnic issue has more to do with it. I hate the knee jerk reactions negative responses to all things ethnic or non-European. No one should be silenced while others are given a podium to express All their issues, concerns and sensitivities. I know more about restoring bounce to limp, dull, dry blond hair than I do about untangling two coils. Geeeeesh people!!! Who in this country truly has an attitude of entitlement?

  • Nope

    Women care too much about what other people think. More just need to ‘do you’ and stop worrying about what everyone else’s reaction might be.