Not In Corporate America, Brotha: When Will Black Men Join The Natural Hair Movement Too?

42 comments
September 19, 2012 ‐ By Charing Ball

There is no shortage of conversation about the current social and political context around black women and their natural hair.

The New York Times posted a short film by Zina Sora-Wiwa, called Transition, which documented the rise of the natural hair movement among black women. Recently, the “Melissa Perry Harris” show even had a discussion on black hair featuring a group of black women with hair styled naturally. A Baltimore-based photographer gained national attention for his collection of portraits celebrating black women with natural hair called the “The Coiffure Project,” There are even groups dedicated to men who support women going through transition. Even I have written an article – or several – on the topic.

It’s an exciting, and in some cases frustrating, time to be a black woman with hair. Exciting if you are among the millions of black women worldwide, who have decided to celebrate our new cultural aesthetic. Frustrating if you are among the million other black women, who could give a damn because it is all just hair we are talking about. Wherever you land on the discussion, it is clear that the tenor of the current national conversation shows us just how political our natural coils have become. Yet this process of celebrating our newfound self-acceptance and cultural freedom seems to have been limited to women. That why when I saw a picture of Prince, sharing the couch with the ladies from “The View,” bearing his natural texture in Afro form (his circa ’70s self), I squealed.

Could this be what sparks a natural hair movement among men? I mean, if Prince, who has been rocking the Dark & Lovely No Lye perm set for decades now, could turn over a new hair leaf to embrace his natural essence, what is stopping other men?

I know what you are thinking: but aren’t most men already free of chemical assistance? Sure, however that doesn’t mean that because most men don’t perm their hair that they are free from hair politics. Ask any black man who has ever rocked cornrows, dreadlocks or an Afro or even a full Sunnah beard to his corporate job. Or you can’t because they don’t exist. Even the dean of the Hampton University School of Business is well aware of that rarely discussed code of black male conduct in society.  Or if they do exist, they end up like Aboubakar Traoré, a black Frenchman, who was told by management that his dreadlocks were harming the company’s image therefore he’d have to wear a wig or risk losing his flight attendant job.

Generally speaking, in order for a Black man to be taken seriously professionally, he must wear his natural hair cut low to the scalp. The messages are everywhere: remember that Nivea print ad featuring a clean-shaven black man grasping the longer hair on a decapitated bearded Afro mask of his own face, preparing to throw it away? The phrase “Re-civilize yourself” is boldly emblazoned over the image. The implication of course was that wearing an Afro or beard is uncultured. And look at Hollywood, the first thing that many famous black men do, well the second if you count getting their teeth fixed, is putting some sort of texturizer in their hair to make it look extra wavy if not curly. If you don’t believe me, check out the latest cover photo of Denzel Washington in GQ magazine. There is nothing natural about his slick down.

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Truth is that men too are not immune from society’s standard of beauty and too must deal with internalized questions about what it means to have “good hair.” And also like their women counterparts, they too suffer the health concerns associated with maintaining a more civilized look. Like many African-Americans, black men have body hairs that are predominantly curly and wiry. Thus continued close shaving of hair and the head tends to make the hair follicles curve back and re-enter the skin as they grow, causing irritation, ingrown hair, razor bumps and keloids. A few years ago, writer Joshua Alton wrote very candidly about the added pains that shaving has brought to his life:

“To rid myself of razor bumps, I have used a variety of concoctions, at price points high and low, formulated especially for just this purpose. Most of them feel like pouring battery acid on my skin. The current product I use does the job, but as I squirt it onto the cotton round I give myself a little pep talk, which I repeat with each swipe. I probably wouldn’t believe in the idea of redemptive suffering if not for having to treat my razor bumps.”

On any given Saturday there is a long wait time at any barber shop in the hood. Most men grow up knowing that at least twice a month there is a barber waiting to trim their hair into a tight fade. If anybody were to ask them why they continue to hand over money and Saturday mornings to “maintain” their short haircuts, most would tell you that having longer hair is too burdensome. Their natural hair is impossible to comb. And no one has the extra time in the mornings to dedicate to properly moisturizing and taming their thick and bushy ‘fro into a perfect circle.  Ironically, these are the some of the same reasons that women have been given as to why they might perm or weave.  Yet within this double standard, no one ever accuses men of conforming to European beauty standards in order to give off a non-threatening aesthetic.

You know, the same non-threatening aesthetic that makes black Fortune 500 CEOs with a “baby face” appearance more likely to lead companies with higher revenues and prestige than black CEOs who look more ethnic? Oh yeah, those are actual results from a study conducted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Even if they are at the top of their game, black men must still succumb to the pressure to present an image that won’t suggest too much Negro-tude.

Either way, there is room on both sides of the gender aisle to be more accepting of our unique hair.  And like just we can assume there are some black women, whose sole purpose of straightening their hair is to look more European, we can also assume that there are black men, whose sole purpose of wearing close cuts is to distract away from the natural nappy texture of their hair.  It is not fair that the discussion of black hair is just directed at one gender, especially when there are probably black men waiting for a chance to thrown down their clippers and live in the world that will accept them in all their natural glory too.

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  • i am the devil…..ihave come

    lol at black men not having natural hair, i would be ashamed to post this bullshit article on my site

  • Kaya

    True now they know if they had that curly hair it’s no way in hell they would keep it that low

  • Carmine Matlock

    By reading the comments, it seems like a lot of people didn’t fully read the article. I am a black man with an afro, and I will tell you that I get crap for it on almost a daily basis. Not just in the corporate world. In societal standards, black men aren’t supposed to have hair. Hell, I even get crap from some “natural” sistas. No, black men in general aren’t relaxing our hair or getting weaves to look European, but like the article says, we are in that barbershop every two weeks (some men are in there every week). I think maybe more people would have understood the article better if it didn’t focus so much on the corporate part, since corporate in general demands that everyone conform in some manner, but I do know that a white man with hair as long as mine is way more acceptable in the corporate world, than I am. I will admit that before I grew my hair out, I would boast about how I was natural because I did not use chemicals on my close cut with waves, but it is CERTAINLY much different when you are walking around with a 4-6 inch afro (shrinkage and climate changes how big it is). I can’t post a fb pictures without rude and even derogatory comments from other black people, some who claim to be Afrocentric. My afro is well maintained and I do not mind spending the 30 mins or so that it takes me to get my hair to look how I want it to look in the morning. Oh, and if I want to find things on the internet or anywhere on how to maintain my hair, there is very little on there that is geared towards black men, or even just to include black men. So as the writer suggests, I would like to see this natural “movement” to include black women and men. I will do my part.

    • Carmine Matlock

      Let me give a bit of my corporate experience. I am a new Real Estate agent. The picture that I use on my business cards and promo material is one of me with my hair cut low. I haven’t had any professional pictures taken since I have grown my hair (I have been growing it for a year now). This picture was my most popular on FB, so I figured I should use it for my business, not thinking about the hair. Some people who have met me since I have grown my hair have said things like, “I like this picture better, you look more professional”. So basically, I look less professional and all I have done is grow my hair out. It’s not a “wild” or fad hairstyle. It’s just an afro, that is well maintained. It’s not unkempt at all. Not dry, dirty or damaged. My facial hair is the same, and I wear the same clothes. Some of these people who have made the comments are other agents, and even my managing broker had something to say when I was wearing locs (I only had them for 2 months). So yes, it’s out there.

  • petewentzisforlovers

    I’ve been growing my hair off and on since 2005 I’ve had an Afro, and relaxed hair styles. currently I’ve given up on relaxing and gone to transitioning my hair to my natural curly and wavey hair I like the results so far I’m 6mos in I gave in to just being me and not the chemicals

  • Odin__1

    This the dumbest crap I heard from any blk women…this wk. But then again I don’t know why it would surprise me to hear black women ONCE again throw shame on us. Which one of you simpletons really believe that a blk man who wears dreads (and no I don’t have dreads) REALLY think that its not his natural look SMH. THE DIFFFRENCE IS THAT WE ARE NOT TRYING TO LOOK LIKE ANOTHER RACE OF MAN BECAUSE WE ARE PROUD OF WHOI WE ARE. Not many blk women can say the same. In terms of what corporate America finds appropriate is a conversation that has nothing do with what is a blk man’s natural look. But that’s blk women for ya…FIND ANY REASON to throw us under the bus.

    • Pierre

      You are deluded Black men have serious issues towards black women and will.readily choose a white women over a baack women as for hair l…well.if you think constantly getting hair to the SCALP is normal and doesn’t show that we are ashamed of our hair then you sir are DELUDED indeed.

  • HandsomeLustyBlackLadBrad1953

    Oh,and I DON’T hang around barber shops-instead I’m an avid reader!!!!!

  • HandsomeLustyBlackLadBrad1953

    Well,at 59-60 July 6,my boyish good looks would liukely giv e me a leg-MAKE THAT FACE-up were I interested in joining corporate….CANADA!!!!!(I’m a native and life-long Windsor,Ont.,Can.,resident.)As for my hair,I have it balded,and,well,I’m a heavy metal and Country music fan said to look GREAT in cowboy garb-I’m attempting to launch a Country song-writing career.
    As you can guess,I’m a (su)burban black cowboy whose only tie to any “urban” music is my
    boy Country super-star Keith Urban (I’m also into buxom blondes between 27 and 39),and as a final fillip,am said not to sound “black” (whatever that means),and am a VERY muscular
    5’9″,210 lb.,sporting 181/2″ b iceps,so were I inclined towards a corporate career AND younger,I’d fit 2012’s large company standard for executive men with my “clubbable,”
    read,”one of the lads” looks and carriage.

  • Chioma

    I am a student at the University of
    California, Berkeley and I am working on a research proposal regarding black
    hair politics in corporate America. I am looking for mainly African American
    women who have or are currently working in the corporate field to participate
    by answering weekly questions (4-5 weeks) around the topic of black hair. This
    discussion will challenge you to think about concepts that you may or may not
    think about, which, in return, will build on your awareness and educate others
    and me about real life experiences. Join me in my journey of enlightenment and
    make your voice heard. Thank You.

    Look me up on Youtube or email me
    chioma.amaechi12@gmail.com

  • dave

    Everytime I try to grow my hair out the sistas complain. That’s the reason I cut my hair

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacqueline.dwyer.56 Jacqueline Dwyer

    They have to be in style and is accepted first! That’s a real shame though because that’s who you are, isn’t it? Love you first, love your natural self!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Miss Anonymous

    This kind of brings too many questions, if a black man wears a low fade and is doing it to hide his “nappy hair” then a woman who wears a low cut could be said to do the same too right? It doesnt mater as long as there arent chemicals in their hair it is natural. I think most men dont really care to do alot of maintenance on their hair.

    My dad even wonders why do I have soo many hair products and thinks I should only own one bottle of shampoo. my boyfriend asked me what I was doing to my hair and I told him I was going to condition it and he said he thought I had already did that this morning. I gave him a short rundown of what I do (pre poo, shampoo, condition, deep condition for a hour, etc…), his eyes glazed over and said that is too much to do for some hair. lol So I just think most men dont want to do too much for hair besides wash with a shampoo and go.

    • Miss Anonymous

      Some men that is. SOME not ALL.

  • Trisha_B

    Or maybe some men like having short, low maintenance hair. o_O My uncle for the longest time had long hair. But he was getting tired of having to deal w/ it (washing/condition, getting it combed & braided) so he just cut it. A lot of men are lazy & like low maintenance. This article is rather odd lol. Not everyone wants to be natural. & from this, i’m assuming you mean natural is wearing an afro? lol. Just like other’s said, white people have to conform in corporate america.

    • Miss Anonymous

      My boyfriend is the same way, he had long hair in high school and now he doesnt want to worry about twisting his dread, cut them off and wants to get his hair cut once every two or three weeks and thats it.

  • NONEYA

    Black are already natural…they dont relax their hair, who wrote this ish?!?!?

    • Miss Anonymous

      Im guessing someone who thinks low cut hair isnt for simple “im lazy and dont want to do anything to my hair”reasons and think its because they must be trying to hide their natural texture because they dont like their natural texture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Muthapukkin-Tinney/100001244269956 Anthony Muthapukkin Tinney

    This article is a sophisticated “shaming tactic” designed to instill an insecurity in b/m that dosen`t exist.These are the BLACK WOMANS` hang-ups.This argument is designed to allow b/w not to be called on spending large amounts (9 billion annually) of their income on hair ripped from someone else`s scalp.Nice try. Not buying it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Denise-Clay/1257851749 Denise Clay

      But guess who has made this so-called Black Woman’s Hang Up” the norm for us? If you said Black Men, you win the prize.

      • Whaaa???

        Always a victim. Funny how Halle and Amber Rose don’t seem to have an issue with their hair, let alone blaming anyone over their OWN choice of style. B/m are now responsible for b/w sewing fake hair to their scalps? That’s like b/m blaming b/w for their thuggish behavior. C’mon…

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Muthapukkin-Tinney/100001244269956 Anthony Muthapukkin Tinney

        I recall back in the `80`s when this madness started,b/w gave us their collective asses to kiss for questioning the decision to use hairweave,so blaming the b/m for this issue only works on brothas born after1990.Nice try.Not buying it.

        • get real

          It actually started after slavery. Madam C.J Walker became the first black millionaire off of doing hair. So after slavery instead of black people giving their money to black educators they went and got their hair fried. So I guess the black men said to the black women after slavery “go fry them naps with that dangeous lye you nappy headed gurl”. Please. Black women stop blaming this nonsense on black men.

      • kj1986nyc

        NOPE, black women put HAZMAT Cat 8 products to straighten their hair long before boys even develop a physical attraction to girls. I’ve seen little black girls as young as 7 with weaves in their hair. NICE TRY THOUGH!

        • i am the devil…..ihave come

          ether

  • Ferice

    WTF……Are you seriously writing about such a thing?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nikia.dshiznit Nikia D-Shiznit

    That pic of ?uestlove was on point. I digs that brotha. Str8 up.

  • Whaaa???

    How are black men conforming to a european standard of beauty by getting a hair cut???? When there’s an epidemic of brothers wearing stringy, blond weaves, then I’ll conceed your point. Everyone with common sense knows that in the corporate world, a neat and well-groomed appearance is essential and presents a professional appearance. This article also overlooks the men who are bald(ing) so growing a wild afro is not even in the equation for some. It isn’t black men embracing a European standard of beauty that’s making sales of horse hair a 9 Billion dollar-a-year-industry. Projection much?

    • Proud Black Man

      I agree. The vast majority of black men DO wear their natural hair. I have not seen a conk/straighened black brotha in many years now. What is this article talking about? I think the author needs to see and look around and see for herself.

  • Janay

    What if we black women chastised black men for going through the pain of razor bumps. “You just hate yourself. Why would you go through all that pain. Are you a self-hater black man? Why do you want to cut all your hair off?” hehe. just a random thought though not to be taken serious.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Muthapukkin-Tinney/100001244269956 Anthony Muthapukkin Tinney

      It`s not taken serious because it`s idiotic.

  • Janay

    I think this raises a good point. Black men do wear their hair natural but its so low and almost bald its like nonexistent. Many would face the same obstacles as black women if they were pressured by society to grow it out a little long in the same manner that they pressure women.

  • get real

    Other then a lil hair grease here and hair grease there, blk men have always been natural. When did we start perming and sowing stuff in our hair? As far as corporate America, you dam near got to be Obama if you wanna work in corporate America if your are a black man.

    • Adrina

      And as you can see, they don’t want him in corporate America. I didn’t think many BM weren’t natural either.

    • Nope

      Yeah, to me this is a pretty weak argument. Everyone in corporate America conforms, but even with that Black men don’t wear their hairstyles due to any intense societal pressures. This article is trying to compare apples to oranges.

      • BrianK

        Good point. This article is comparing two different things. Black men can rock either bald heads or low cut and tidy afros in corporate environments. Nobody will complain if one rocks a cesar or a low cut fade either. Dreadlocks are permitted for religious reasons though I’ve rarely seen it rocked by lawyers/bankers/accountants; it tends to be support staff. This is not the same as what our women go through. Also the white men in the office have either bald heads of some sort of a parting or a low fring cut.

    • Whaaa???

      I don’t remember Black men in general NOT being natural since the jheri curl was popular. Odd article.

    • Kayo Halana Malie

      You don’t think men alter their hair? I’ve seen quite a few men with relaxed hair, dyed hair, sewn in weave and even braids. These men are usually gay though.

      • Mytisque

        Your are correct! My neighbor’s 28 year old son stated he paid $400.00 to get dread locks sewn into his own hair. So yea, black men do it to.

  • Puff

    I think you make a valid point. But we should acknowledge that No One in corporate America is allowed to rock their ‘natural glory.’ White men can’t grow their hair to their shoulders, regardless of how they style it. They’re also limited to a very small and very boring set of options. And I’m sure white women don’t enjoy wearing buns and boring bobs 5 days a week. But you gotta do what you gotta do. We shouldn’t have to follow different rules than everyone else. But we should acknowledge that there are rules for everyone. It’s not “Come as you are”, no matter what color.

    • Marcel

      I admit that the double standard does exist. However, most brothers do not straighten their hair or get a weave to be like white men. Black men confroming to ‘European beauty standards’ would be conking their hair. At best I think that both sexes, are conforming to corporate America’s idea of suitabIe presentation. The only difference is corporate America is accustomed to white men & women’s hairstyles. I think as long as you love yourself and have a high self-esteem, hairstyles and hair appearance are like clothes. You can change them all the time.