I cannot help but love that an increasing number of black women are choosing to embrace their hair and rock natural hairstyles. The tiny well-kept fros, perfectly styled twistouts, neatly pinned up locks, and all sorts of amazingly perfect braids are everywhere, resting triumphantly of the heads of accomplished professional black women. However, let’s face it. Not everyone feels the natural you, especially in professional workplaces.
So what do you tell the more than capable, professional young Africans who have worked hard for their education yet want to choose a healthier lifestyle? Learn to love the chemical hair straighteners, weaves, or wigs?
I have gone natural a number of times but noticed that the uplifting compliment were always outmatched by questioning or disapproving looks, or the straight forward well-meaning advice about how I had just limited my career trajectory and dating pool. On top of that were the offers by some to share the contact information of their chemical wielding hairdressers or comments like, “It’s time to get a relaxer. Even my hair is getting yucky because am starting to feel my roots”. They can be hard to forget or ignore when they are repeatedly flung your way.
The reality is that, even though natural hair is being embraced, many—regardless of race—still stigmatize and view it negatively. You could end up being seen as the rebel making a socio-cultural statement, urban fashionista, marijuana supporting artist, or an unkept unprofessional. The reality is that the knowledge you worked hard for, skills you built, good diction, and put-together attire may end up carrying little weight.
I have often followed the advice to not interview for jobs with natural hair. Nor have I forgotten the African friend with perfectly neat dread locks and two in demand graduate degrees who spent over a year searching for a job, yet quickly succeeded right after cutting off the locks. Perhaps it was a coincidence but that is not the only case I can draw on. So much for rocking the coils God gave you or become your own version of Ursula Burns or Helene Gayle.
For me, natural hair is not about following the latest fad, making a statement, or trying to dictate how others should wear their hair. It is mostly about selecting hairstyles that decrease my exposure to skin-irritating, harmful chemicals. Particularly for those with sensitive skin, the healthier and less costly choice—and one could argue more authentic—is something to embrace.
So what do you tell young black African professionals—embrace a healthier you and pave the way for change or secure your career first? Is it just about finding the right work place? I doubt most consciously discriminate against those with natural hair and am glad to see an increased number of natural haired black women, yet I can’t help but wonder about its potential cost to our careers.