The natural hair topic has long run its course. But, nevertheless, I’m going to ask this question: Should a woman be forced to straighten her natural hair to appease her bosses?
The inspiration for this question comes by way of Angela Green, weeknight anchor for WNCT in Greenville, N.C., who recently posed the same question in a video post on her Facebook page. For those with Facebook, you can watch it here.
For those without an account, here is my best early-morning transcription of Greene’s statements:
The topic is natural hair in the workplace. Very sensitive to a lot of people. I’m natural. As many of you may or may not know, I’m biracial. My mother is from Thailand and my father is Black. See my hair? Straight. Y’all comment about it all the time. But if I were to go natural, my hair would be curly. But for right now, we’re not going to do curly hair because my bosses like it that way, so that is what we are going to go with.
Okay, let me pause this transcription to point out how Green declares herself both natural and not natural at the same time. While it sounds like an oxymoron, it is also an important detail to note in the context of the question posed below. She continues:
Green: Let me let you meet Madison. Madison is a…what year are you?
Madison: I’m a sophomore. 19.
Green: 19 years old. This is the style right now for everybody, rocking natural hair every day. Well, she is about to do a production for work. She is in TV and broadcasting and the topic of her hair came up. She was told that it was what?
Madison: Too big and I needed to straighten it. Straighten it out. It would be distracting.
Green: Distracting, well that is a very interesting word. But in the world of TV we see it all. It just depends in what market, what audience you’re looking for right now. And really, your bosses and what they allow you to do. My advice is straighten for the sake of the school project. Depending on what market you get in, when you’re older, that is something that you have to deal with. But in the workplace, just for this one, my suggestion was to just straighten it out just to please everybody. But everybody won’t roll with that answer. What would your suggestion be to Madison and other young professionals rocking their natural hair?
Well, I am glad she asked.
Again, what is interesting is how Green defines “natural hair.” In this context, she uses it to describe her own hair, which is naturally curly, but has been pressed straight. Granted, she may define natural as being free from chemicals, which is a commonly held belief among Black women. But it also clear that she sees natural hair as more of a style than an actual state. This is evident when she points to Madison’s head of natural curls and says, “This is the style right now for everybody, rocking natural hair every day.”
In essence, her question is less about if Madison should be natural, but rather, how she should be natural.
And her question does have some relevancy. Be it wash and go or Freddie Brooks on fleek, big and bountiful curls do appear to be the most sought-after hairstyle choice among natural women. Even as some folks’ hair doesn’t naturally curl that way and even though there are more natural hair styling choices out there, including a press and curl.
And while Madison’s hair does naturally hold that curl pattern, there are more reserved ways she could maintain her natural, which does not comprise hair principles, health, style choice or job standing. For instance, a nice bun or classic updo.
Plus, it is not like European women in media aren’t asked to tame their tresses – and other “distractions” too. I don’t ever recall seeing a White anchorwoman with big, bountiful curls. Sadly, Green’s advice is the cold, hard truth of what it is like to work in television news, where the image of the person reporting the news counts just as much as the news itself.
Still, I find it quite disheartening that we are encouraging young women to accept the status quo, particularly as it pertains to beauty ideals and standards, instead of pushing them to break down those barriers. While it is true that image has always counted, it does not mean that we have to continue to breed new generations of women who continue to make image a priority just because that’s how it has always been.
Somebody has to be brave enough to say no. Somebody has to have the courage to walk into human resources and say, “Listen here you cogs of White supremacy, I’ll do a bun, but I am not straightening my hair. People will get used to to it. Anything else is discrimination.”
That’s how things change.
What I find most odd about this entire question about the appropriateness of Black/biracial women and natural hair – no matter how you define it – is how in one breath, society is encouraging us to accept White women, specifically with cornrows and faux-ethnic hair, while still telling women of color that their natural hair is too distracting.
But that’s how I feel about it. What are your thoughts? Is natural hair just a style or an actual state? Should Madison straighten her hair to appease her bosses and advance her career (i.e. earn a paycheck) or should she stick to her hair principles?