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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.
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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Why Does Hampton University Dread Locs? Business School Bans Cornrows and Dreadlocks For Male Students
Say it ain’t so!
It seems that in order to get through the business school’s five year MBA program, male students have to ditch the cornrow look and even locs. According to the ABC affiliate in Virginia, the dean of the business school in Hampton, Sid Credle, stands by the ban, which started in 2001, and says by having it, more of his students have been able to land real world jobs they’ve studied hard for. “We’ve been very successful. We’ve placed more than 99 percent of the students who have graduated from this school, this program.” A spokesperson for the school by the name of Naima Ford also said, “These students choose to be in this program and aspire to be leaders in the business world. We model these students after the top African-Americans in the business world.”
In their minds, including Credle’s specifically, those clocking major figures and making the big decisions in the corporate world are not touting locs down their backs or Allen Iverson-esque braids in funky designs. Instead, they’re clean cut and have an even cleaner image.
“What we do is pay tribute to that image and say those are your role models. This is a way you will look when you become president. If you’re going to play baseball, you wear baseball uniforms. If you’re going to play tennis, your wear tennis uniform. Well you’re playing that business.”
Whether or not people are mad about the ban doesn’t matter to him, his main goal is to get his students the jobs they seek, once they get it, they can do whatever they want. While representatives for the business school stand by the ban hardcore, students at the school are very heated by the decision, including incoming freshman Uriah Bethea, who says he would just find a new major before he compromised hair for a program (he wears locs by the way): “I don’t think it should matter what the hairstyle. It’s my life. I should be able to do whatever I want to do.”
He can do whatever he likes, but if he wants to enroll in the business school’s MBA program, not so much.
When I first heard this story, all I could think to say was “WOW!” It’s beyond crazy to me that a historically black university would be so excited to tell people that India Arie was wrong, and that you are indeed your hair. Skip your hard earned grades, experience and work ethic, sir, to finish a degree and get yourself a 9-5 and 401k, your hair has to be as tame and conformist as possible. In this day and age, I know it’s harder than ever to lock down a good job, but do you really want to work at a place where someone would base what you’re capable of off of what’s on the top of your head? This school should let these men find out for themselves if the business world is a friendly place for natural hair and eclectic hairstyles on their own and allow them at the moment to focus more on their studies and less on their locks. But that’s just my opinion.
Would you cut your hair if your area of studies required it?
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There are some things that college just doesn’t prepare you for. It can provide you with knowledge of your field of study. It can give you career training. It can prep you for what and what not to say during an interview, bu the one thing, however, that college fails to prepare many of us for is what we will encounter once we’re actually hired. The American Dream leads us to believe that hard work and dedication are all that you need to succeed in this country; however, they fail to disclose the little disclaimer that says, “Please Note: This dream is often only applicable to qualifying races.” College taught me many things, but one thing that they did not tell me prior to shaking my hand and giving me a diploma was that in many cases, as a black woman in corporate America, you have to work ten times as hard just to be considered as good as your counterparts.
I remember my first paid internship in the public relations industry like it was yesterday. I popped up on the scene with my eyes beaming, deep brown skin glowing, and my heart full of expectations. I had already made up my mind that I would work harder than I’d ever worked in my life. I was prepared to conquer the world! I learned swiftly that an intern’s position was the lowest of the lowest on the totem pole, but I was prepared to stick my chest out, lift my chin up, push my shoulders back and handle my business like a woman because I knew that I would reap a greater reward in the end. So no, I didn’t expect anyone to give my anything. I was prepared to earn it fair and square. But the public relations department that I interned for was so small that it didn’t long to realize that I was being treated differently. The differential treatment started out with small things. You know, those things that are so “small” you ask yourself, “Did that just happen or am I bugging out?” For instance, things like my entire department tip-toeing out while I went to the bathroom to attend a company sponsored event that I wasn’t even made aware of until after the fact. Yeah. “Small.”
“You’re just an intern, they aren’t required to tell you anything,” is what I told myself as I carried out the rest of the workday alone, trying not to get in my feelings about the shadiness that had just taken place. But once another intern was hired, I could no longer blame the subtle shade on my title. This intern happened to be white, and once she was instantly invited to attend some of our more “upscale” events, while I wasn’t, I realized that my suspicions might be correct. My dark-er skin, wide-r hips, thick-er thighs, and full-er lips made me less qualified to attend these events because I would improperly represent the face of the brand, I suppose.
There was one instance where I had to go and make a purchase for some supplies using the department’s American Express Card. The way in which I was treated when I was given that card would’ve led a person to believe that I had a criminal background and was just given the code to Donald Trump’s bank account. “Don’t get happy and run off with that AMEX card in your purse,” the department coordinator called after me as I exited the office. My nostrils flared as I thought to myself “Girl bye, I’ve never had to steal anything in my life.”
Little comments such as that one went on as long as I was in this department. There was one occasion when the entire department went out to lunch and for some reason one of the other employees felt the need to tell me about her big, black, voluptuous nanny named Shelia whom she had as a child. I remember sitting there resisting the urge to twist up my face at her wondering, “Why in the hell is she telling me this? Does she want me to watch her kids or something?” Of course, there was no moral to her story–she just felt the need to share. I felt the urge to flip the table over and assume the stereotype of the angry black woman, but I didn’t. Instead I sat there silently.
As natural hair becomes more of a trend across the board for African American women, it was only a matter of time before the question of its acceptance in the workplace would arise. Whether you’re a sales executive or a television host, appearance matters. And in a society where image is everything, is the natural look holding people back or is it off the table as an issue? We spoke to six women about their personal hair experiences in the workplace.
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to do something that you absolutely love for a living? Do you ever imagine how your life would be if you were getting paid to do something that you would happily do for free? If you answered yes to either one of these questions then it’s time for you to find a way to start living your calling, aka, getting out your dreams. Your calling is your purpose and your passion alive and thriving. It’s what fuels your fire and rocks your boat. While your career may be a good one and helpful in paying those bills of yours, the real secret to happiness is answering your calling when it phones. Many people either ignore their purpose out of fear of change and failure, monetary worries or they just never tap into it. In order to identify what your true calling is you must pay attention and be in tuned to what comes to you naturally or what always seems to find its way to you. Sometimes the universe conspires with us to answer our calling by placing people, places or things in our paths so we can clearly see what we were put on this earth to accomplish.
(Black Enterprise) — Sabin D. Blake, 34, has navigated the professional obstacles of being African American and gay throughout his career. Blake, a dealer organizational manager, Northeast region, for General Motors Corp., is no longer in the closet. That hasn’t always been the case though; for years, he lived a double life using non-gender specific pronouns such as “they” to describe individuals he has dated during casual conversations with colleagues. “Being a double minority you choose what you present. I could hide being gay, I definitely couldn’t hide being black,” says Blake who kept his sexual orientation hidden for several reasons including fear for his personal safety. “I had these relationships with people where I would be going to dinner with their families. I was involved in their lives but I wasn’t being who I really was.” Once keeping the secret became too disheartening, Blake made the decision to gradually reveal his sexual orientation to fellow GM employees and business associates. “It was hurtful not being authentic. And my energy was being sucked away,” he says. But each time he told someone he was gay it became easier for him. “It freed me. It allowed me to be more productive, more creative, and more innovative at work,” he says.
(New York Times) — Q. Is it a good idea to get involved with affinity groups — for example, a group representing African-American women or Latino men?
A. Affinity groups can help you personally and professionally as long as the group doesn’t exist solely as a way for members to meet and socialize with one another. Steer yourself toward groups that have executive sponsors and a strategic intent to help the business with issues like recruiting, product development and marketing, said Peter J. Aranda III, chief executive of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which helps universities identify and recruit underrepresented minorities for M.B.A. programs. “Affinity groups can operate like focus groups,” Mr. Aranda said, “advising the company how to communicate with and market their products to different populations and what mistakes they may be making.”
Do you feel the walls caving in on you at work because you refuse to say no? Bosses and coworkers alike, are flying off the cuff simply because your receptive to their every command. They can read you as easily as a dog detects a human’s vulnerability because they think of you as a pushover. Now, how can you speak up without losing your job? Being assertive doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be pompous or rude to others, but it shows you can voice your opinion, thus, gaining integrity in the long run.
Here’s how to be more direct to your peers:
By J. Smith
Continuing the fine American tradition of a small, white, wealthy minority being vastly overrepresented in large institutions, the Alliance for Board Diversity released a study that shows how things have gotten worse when it comes to the whitewashing of corporate America, not better.
“While research points decisively to the benefits of a diverse boardroom – including enhanced financial performance – white men continue to dominate corporate boards and have, in fact, increased their presence since 2004. Woman and minorities are still vastly underrepresented,” the ABD said.
So not only have diversity efforts stalled in America’s biggest board rooms, they’ve been altogether reversed. How did this happen? We had such great momentum for a while there. Remember affirmative action? Unfortunately, I am compelled to lay the blame on us, the black community. We know that people never voluntarily give up (or share) power; change has to be forced. If we stop fighting to loosen the ruling class’ grip on things like seats in the board room, then what do we expect? For them to just give us the jobs?
This is not to imply that there is a lack of qualified candidates of color or that we aren’t setting our aims high enough. Instead, I’m saying that we have collectively become unforgivably lax in our fight for justice and inclusion. Do we still care enough to demand our presence in the board room? Was the removal of the “white only” signs enough to appease us? I propose using our collective voice to go after things like institutionalized segregation, especially in meaningful places like the board room, instead of using what muscle we do have to be the “n-word police.” You know?
(Blooomberg) — Women and minorities remain underrepresented in U.S. corporate boardrooms, crimping companies’ potential to lead in the global economy, a report by the Alliance for Board Diversity showed. White men held 73 percent of board seats at Fortune 100 companies last year, up from 71 percent in 2004, according to the alliance, which advocates the inclusion of women and minorities on corporate boards. White women accounted for 15 percent in 2010, compared with 14 percent in 2004, while minorities made up 13 percent, down from 15 percent. Citigroup Inc. (C), International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) were among just 15 companies in the Fortune 500 whose boards last year had representation from each of the U.S. Census Bureau’s major groups: men, women, Whites, African Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, the alliance said. Companies won’t reach their potential without leaders from different backgrounds, ethnicities and genders, it said.