Our hair has always been a source of curiosity, ignorance and appropriation for white people. From questions like “Is your hair real?” to statements like “you have nice hair for a black girl”, many of us feel like we constantly have to defend, protect or explain our hair when around white people – in the workplace, social events, or even to strangers in public.
Of course, what we do with our hair and why we do it should be nobody’s business but ours. But the sad reality is that in the world we currently live in, black women’s hair is treated like a constant site for unwarranted questions and discrimination from other groups.
Today we’ll be unpacking this and discussing ways we can best handle and approach situations where we are tried, tested or discriminated against because of our (beautiful!) hair – while keeping our pride and confidence in who we are intact.
In New York and California, discrimination on the basis of hair and hairstyle is banned. The CROWN Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a law that prohibits discrimination based on hair style and hair texture. It was passed last year, and you can read all about it here.
We couldn’t be happier about this achievement which has taken place in recent years, yet we know that it’s still murky waters. Yes, having a law against something is the first step in the right direction, but we know that prejudice still exists, and unfortunately laws can’t change social attitudes overnight. And sadly, in other states, the CROWN act hasn’t even been passed yet. Below are a few suggestions on how to tackle hair discrimination in the meantime.
For a lot of women of color, hair in the corporate environment is a site of intense anxiety, anger and despair. Too often we’re made to feel like our hair is not ‘professional’ (it grows out of our scalp like this, and also, who gets to decide what ‘professional’ is?!).
Despite this, it’s important to know the environment you’re working in, to know yourself, and always consider what is worth fighting for, and know when to draw the line with other people. There is no one size fits all approach to rocking natural hair in corporate settings, but we do know that no one should be made to feel like they are not accepted.
If you’re starting a new job, the best thing to do is email ahead of your start date. It sounds crazy, but listen up! Queen Muse, a writer and professor, shared her experience and advice on when she wrote ahead informing her new employer that although she was wearing a wig during her interview, she would be showing up on her first day with her natural hair. Being upfront about her hair and how she planned to rock it not only made her feel more comfortable. It also left very little wiggle room for her employers to act brand new upon her arrival. Read all about her experience here.
Now if you’re already at a job, and constantly face discrimination regarding your hair, there are a few things you can do. With colleagues commenting on “how often you change your hair”, or asking if it’s “all yours”, it might be worth addressing that colleague directly, and informing HR that you will be doing so ahead of time (to cover your tracks).
In terms of overall unspoken attitudes towards your hair, are there a support group of fellow WoC in the office to share some insights with you? If you were discriminated against, are there systems in place that allow you to address the issue with HR? Consider your options, do your research, and follow suit.
We’ve all been there – you’re at a gathering, maybe you’ve been invited by a friend or colleague, and someone you don’t know well makes a comment about your hair. Or worse – tries to touch it. You would think that Solange declared ‘Don’t touch my hair!’ is enough for these people! But still, time and time again, black women are faced with strangers – usually white people – stretching their hands out to touch our hair unsolicited.
We don’t want to be thought of as the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype, but speaking up and putting your foot down over certain instances is key. When someone reaches out to touch your hair, sometimes we’re in so much shock that we just let them do it. If you can, duck or gently take a hold of their hand and mention that they didn’t ask. Let them know that your hair is an extension of your body, and it is uncalled for to touch someone’s body without permission.
If you’re too late to stop them (and don’t worry it happens) mention to them after they are done that you didn’t appreciate it for the same reasons stated beforehand. The only way to curb this behaviour is to address it right there and then. They will most likely feel embarrassed, but best believe you’ve saved the tresses of another black woman in the process somewhere down the line.
Sometimes, people don’t go as far as touching your hair. It can be more subtle, but just as insidious as that. They can ask impolite questions, especially regarding your hairstyle, your extensions, your wig or whatever it might be. If you feel like engaging in a conversation, and you believe it might be beneficial for both parties, by all means, go ahead. But don’t feel pressure to engage. It is not our job to educate people on boundaries or our hair for that matter, especially when there are so many resources available online. If you’re not in the mood, politely decline answering the question and move on with your day.
With everything going on in the world, from the pandemic to Black Live Matter, at Belle Bar we’re keen to give back. Right now, if you purchase our #DEARBLACKGIRL kit along with our Onion & Garlic Thickening Ayurvedic Herb Hair Oil, we’ll donate 15% of the profits towards building other black businesses across the country that have been hit hard during this time. For us, putting the black dollar back into our community is essential, and we’re proud to be making the commitment to do so. The #DEARBLACKGIRL kit features our Chebe Powder Growth Hair Mask, Ultra Nourishing Guacamole Hair Mask and Golden Sea Buckthorne Shine & Moisture Hair Butter, and works great for all hair porosities.
If you use any of the products in our #DEARBLACKGIRL kit or our Onion & Garlic Thickening Ayurvedic Herb Hair Oil, please post and tag us at @BELLEBARORGANIC and use the hashtag #RESPECTMYCROWN. We’d love to see what you come up with!