Natural Hair Vs. Corporate America

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Very recently, I made the foray into going natural. Call me what you will, but I was a proud consumer of the “creamy crack” and I put no desire for ever giving it up. I went natural and then protect my hair’s health at the same time when it was dropping apart and far too fragile to endure the intense chemicals of a perm. And though I’m planning a getaway route to the world of relaxers back again, I’ve always reputed those who have made the decision to be natural.

While for a few it’s a trend that will soon get tiring as another new wave strikes, for many, natural locks is a way to shun culture’s long-standing anticipations of beauty and create a fresh standard. One that allows us to reserve the to wear our very own hair as it naturally sits and still feel beautiful with no long, flowing weaves and those magical yet detrimental chemicals.

For this reason, it never occurred to me that natural hair would ever come across as an “unprofessional” way to wear one’s locks. After being accepted to a teaching program in NY, I observed a conversation between two females with natural locks. One had been asked by a bewildered colleague if she would “keep her hair like this” when she interviewed for teaching positions.

She, like me, wondered that which was incorrect with putting on her hair the real way it grew in. As the dean’s intentions may have been good, it begged the question: should we really be attempting to comply with corporate norms, or should we be working towards changing them? “The biggest problem is, at an HBCU, where they may be promoting self-awareness and celebrating their African ancestry and legacy allegedly, that tone would be taken by them,” said Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, associate professor of urban movie theater and community engagement at Temple University. Some may deem it a bit more justifiable that a Fortune 500 company might not be in love with the idea of a worker with cornrows.

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For the most part, the natural locks debacle at work may boil down to a simple insufficient understanding. Places which have denied employment to those with natural hairstyles like dreadlocks typically consider it an extreme hairstyle comparable to a Mohawk or unnatural hair coloring. But what they may not know is that there’s meaning behind wearing one’s hair natural and, at least, these hair styles aren’t “statements” but merely just how our hair grows out of our mind.

“Natural hair discrimination in the professional world in 2013 is merely foolish and unprofessional in itself,” says Chioma Bennett, a schoolteacher in Brooklyn who wears her locks relaxed. “It any longer is not the 1960s. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon-who has earned five degrees, developed 24 plays, written numerous books and boasts other accolades-wears her hair in plaits with little trinkets tied to the end.

Each trinket signifies a significant moment in her life. She began wearing her hair this way more than 30 years ago, once she quit the chemicals which were breaking her hair, and it’s been a hot subject in her professional life ever since. She first worked as a recreation area ranger, where she was told if she didn’t maintain her locks in a “professional” way, she’d be dismissed.

Her Constitutional rights prevailed and she was eventually in a position to keep her position. But that wouldn’t be the last time her locks became one factor in her professional life. Williams-Witherspoon has been at Temple since 1996 and has been on the tenure monitor for several years. She won’t blame her hairstyle for not being given the difference of being tenured yet, but she will make the observation that most faculty associates with natural hair didn’t take on their hairstyles until after they were tenured.