But even with “doable” styles tame enough to wear in corporate America, the awkward explanations and criticisms can be hard for black women to overcome. Times have changed in terms of black acceptance of our natural hair — but whose job is it to educate the ignorant masses about the beauty and elegance of natural black hairstyles? Some black women are teaching corporate America about natural hair acceptance just by being themselves.
Simone Slade, an account manager at a large New York City firm, decided to start wearing her hair natural after seeing more senior level women do the same. “I didn’t grow up with a lot of different cultures, so I didn’t really know how my co-workers would receive me,” she confessed. Her initial concern was that they wouldn’t recognize her professional qualities because of misjudging her appearance. So for the first year and a half that Slade went natural, she wore braids, wigs and weaves.
Then Slade decided to let her co-workers fully witness her transition from relaxed to natural hair, in a rare teaching opportunity for the majority culture. When she decided to start wearing her curly hair out, the reactions ranged from questions to blank stares. “I definitely [felt] more comfortable in my own skin, but [it was] a little annoying sometimes because, you know… I’m here to work! I don’t ask about your hair, I don’t do all that. And I just feel like it shouldn’t really be a topic of conversation.” It seems the education didn’t go so well.
But as she continues to flaunt her curls, I must admit I admire her confidence in trying. Although Lydia left corporate America a year ago to become a teacher, she does still get questions about her hair. This time it’s from the black high school students she teaches AP Calculus to in Memphis.
“There is so much of a misconception about African-American women’s hair,” Lydia said of her curious African-American pupils. “Some have never seen someone aside from Angela Davis with an afro, so I love to entertain those questions; if anything it’s a positive conversation starter and I don’t think we get many opportunities to do that.”
Being two years in the chemical-free zone myself, it says a lot when someone can not only love who they are naturally but be honest and open enough to express it to those who want to understand. Like my very confident sister said, the opportunity is there, it’s just up to us to take the job of teaching people about the beauty of our hairstyles. But workers in corporate America need to be open to the information, and learn to be respectfully curious.
Danielle Kwateng is Brooklyn-based writer who’s worked at Glamour, Uptown and Upscale magazines. Follow her @danispecialk to see where her pen lands next.