The Real Problem with Black Hair at Work

Apr 19, 2019
Apr 19, 2019
Our hair is still subject to debate and over-regulation, but we are speaking up and creating change.

Microaggressions are among the main issues most of us face in the workplace when our hair also reflects our style. We’ve all heard them:
“OMG! I didn’t even recognize you.”
“Can I touch it?”
“I wish my hair could do that.”
“Is that all your hair?”

And the list goes on and on. It’s 2019, yet the fascination persists, and the boundaries continue to be crossed. Yes, Black hair is tangible evidence of #BlackGirlMagic. Our hair can go from kinky to bone-straight to braided to weaved in one week. Not that we should (many hairstylists would raise their shears in protest.) But the fact is, we could. And that breeds envy in unlikely places, like professional spaces.

My Black is Beautiful recently co-sponsored a panel with HuffPost Black Voices, Sisters in Media and BOLD affinity group at Verizon Media entitled, Redefining the Standard: A Conversation about Black Hair in Corporate America. The discussion was shot at BUILD Studios and touched upon relevant themes, including:
• Microaggressions as teachable moments
• Instilling confidence in the next generation of young, girls
• Why Black beauty is more than an aesthetic
• Transitioning from relaxed to natural hair in corporate America
• Learning to take pride in your own texture

The panel also included real-time polling and questions from the audience with topics such as “Has someone ever touched your hair without permission?” and “Do you think social media has an impact on today’s definition of beauty?’” The panelists then took turns answering the questions from their own points of view and experiences. If you missed it, the full discussion can be viewed here.

These conversations are so important because many of us keep such incidents to ourselves. Without a source of support and honest dialogue in the workplace, the discrimination will persist. But change is on the horizon. More and more organizations are seeing the benefit to their bottom line when their workforce is diverse. And they are actively looking for ways to alleviate the systemic racism that has existed for centuries.

The New York City Human Rights Commission recently issued new guidelines under which “employers may not ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black communities to promote a certain corporate image, because of customer preference, or under the guise of speculative health or safety concerns. An employee’s hair texture or hairstyle generally has no bearing on their ability to perform the essential functions of a job.”

In other words, hair harassment is now illegal in NYC. Moreover, blatant discrimination will be subject to penalties and fines. Hopefully, more cities will soon follow suit and update their laws as well. This is welcomed news because when we are allowed to bring our full-selves to work, confidence improves and so does productivity and efficiency.

May these incidents become fewer and farther between as we move toward a more respectful co-existence on-the-job.

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