Hair Joy: Textured Hair at Work, Decoded

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Written By Chelsie DeSouza

From the Archives – Reposted from February 3, 2023

Some may never know what it feels like to have their hair bar them from a room, to comfort their child while they change their hair before an interview because of the biases against protective styles and natural hair. As a parent you tell your child to be themselves, but you also know changing their hair may help their chances of receiving an opportunity. As a woman of color, I know what it feels like, and this discrimination is commonplace for so many people of color.

For Black people, highly textured hair represents our culture and creativity, and it’s tied intricately to our identities. Our hair tells stories of the resilience and strength given to us by our ancestors. Cornrows were used as maps to freedom, as enslaved people would braid escape routes to communicate with one another in secret (The African Exponent, 2020). They were also used to hold seeds and rice as a means of survival when traveling (Slavery & Abolition, 2004) . Our hair has always held pain and power because it has always been controlled and rejected.

Our hair has been inherited through generations, and we shouldn’t have to hide it. Society tells us there is a problem with how our hair grows out of our heads. It tells us that our kinks and curls are unprofessional, and that they make us look unkempt and that they don’t fit in with societal norms. Whether we straighten our hair, wear it naturally, or put it in Bantu knots; it should be because we want to, not because we worry about how it will be perceived by others. 

Imagine living in a world where you had to get plastic surgery in order to get a job. Get fillers, change your nose, or get a face lift in order to be seen as professional. It may sound ludicrous but it is the same concept when we as Black women feel like we have to straighten or change our hair when we enter the workplace. If we feel that we have to tame and change to fit prevailing beauty standards, it is essentially the same thing.

The CROWN act, a law that bans discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyle in the workplace and K-12 public and charter schools, has not yet passed in the Senate and is only a law in 18 states (American Bar Association, 2022).  It stands for, Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. It is a protection that is overdue, as no one should ever fear exclusion or discrimination based on their hair.

If race is protected in Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity exists to combat discrimination in the workspace, then why is Black hair still a loophole for racial discrimination to exclude people from making it into rooms they are fully capable and deserving of being in?

When people of other races are applauded for wearing their curls or braids but Black people are seen as unprofessional for how we wear our hair, we have to question the roots of this double standard. If our aesthetics don’t fit corporate America, how are we not to conclude that society doesn’t think we’re worthy of being in these environments? 

The fact that 80% of Black women are more likely to feel the need to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office, is saddening and egregious. Hair discrimination is why many Black women struggle to love their curls and kinks and are recovering from years of relaxing their hair. In many places of work, straightening Black hair is seen as necessary to be professional. To this day, I always straighten my hair before an interview, because I never know the possible biases the interviewer might have against textured hair; whether they be conscious or unconscious. The heat damage we have has trauma behind it.

Why is Black hair still so controversial? Why is it a faux pas to wear our natural hair to weddings, or work meetings? Why can it affect how we are viewed and what opportunities we receive? There is no correlation between hair and intelligence, work ethic, or ability, so why is the idea that natural and Black hair can be used as a measure of competence still so commonplace? Because it is so ingrained in society that people do not bother to question it.

Does my straight hair make me more palatable? Whether it is our personality or our hair presentation being evaluated is something we might never truly know. We could go in for an interview and not get the job because the interviewer has an unconscious bias about our hair. What is worse, is that it can never be proven. 

The choice of how we wear our hair is ours, but the ramifications of doing so makes it seem like it is not. That’s what we fight for.

Although the implications of textured hair discrimination hurt the hearts of so many people of color, and the fact that the CROWN Act is not yet passed in the Senate to make it a federal law, we have still made tremendous strides in the last decade. Although we still fight for equality and against hair discrimination, we have continued to push back and make our voices heard. We see more and more representation in the beauty industry and mainstream media. From kinky curls and coils in beauty advertisements, more news anchors wearing their natural hair and protective styles, and representation in movies, the need to conform and change our hair has faded for so many people. 

As a community, the more we stand collectively, and use our voices to call for change, inclusion, and equity, the more we can fight against discrimination. The more we use our vote to elect politicians who prioritize these issues, the more change we will see. With these measures, generations to come will never have to look in the mirror and debate whether they should change their hair before an interview, because they won’t fear the possibility of discrimination for their natural hair.  


About the Author:

Chelsie DeSouza is a freelance writer, covering all things beauty, culture and parenting. She’s forever a New Yorker, but currently lives in Philadelphia. She’s been published in Harper’s Bazaar, Huffpost, Insider, Bustle, InStyle, and more. 


Works Cited

“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act of 2022 or CROWN Act.” American Bar Association, 26 August 2022, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/health_law/section-news/2022/august/creating-a-respectful-and-open-world-for-natural-hair-act-of-2022/. Accessed 30 January 2023.

Chiwanza, T. H. (2020, September 28). How cornrows were used by slaves to escape slavery in South America: The African exponent. The African Exponent. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.africanexponent.com/post/7891-how-cornrows-were-used-by-slaves-to-escape-slavery-in-south-america 

Judith A. Carney (2004) ‘With grains in her hair’: rice in colonial Brazil, Slavery & Abolition, 25:1, 1-27, DOI: 10.1080/0144039042000220900

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