Thursday, November 14, 2013

Natural hair in the workplace

By Briana Whiteside 

I wasn’t at work 5 minutes before I received the first comment on my hair. The last time I wrote about my experiences with natural hair at work it was when I was transitioning. I spoke about how one of my coworkers remarked that my hair was unkept. It wasn’t unkept, it just wasn’t straightened. Yesterday, before I got to work I knew I would have another story to share.

I wore my hair straightened for the first time in almost 6 months. In May, I did the big chop where I cut off all my relaxed hair, none of my coworkers commented on it. For the last 5 ½ months, I have been wearing various protective styles, braid outs, and twist outs. Of course, overtime I have received a lot of questions such as “Are you wearing your real hair today?” “How do you get your hair so big?” and my favorite “Is that how your hair grows?” from my white coworkers.

Yesterday I received remarks like, “You are wearing your hair normal today!” “Your hair looks beautiful!” “We like you better like this!” and “You must have gotten tired of having your hair the other way!” My hair was in a ponytail. Now, I must pause to admit that these remarks made me uncomfortable, as I work in a predominantly white establishment where there are only two black women, and one with natural hair—me.

However, it was in that moment of discomfort that I realized that my naturally curly hair made them more uncomfortable. And, more importantly, that I have overcome the phase of insecurity about my hair. At those remarks, I replied “Oh, you think this is normal…interesting.” As I stood there waiting for their response, no one said anything else.

I think it is a shame that black women with natural hair must combat insensitive, unrelenting commentary on their hair. I am glad that I have come to the point in my hair journey where I am more aware of the biases and obstacles that I will have to navigate in order to continue moving forward.

Style and Knowledge 

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.    

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