A few weeks ago, I posted an article about some of the challenges that Black women face when they wear ethnically Black hair in the work place. I have a LOT of stories about my days as a natural head in corporate America, so as you can probably tell, writing that piece was a bit cathartic!
But I realized one of the key challenges that I and many other natural heads face in the work place is that there is a great deal of unfamiliarity with the idea or the concept of natural hair. This may be true whether you are working in a predominantly White or Black institution (and as I noted here, sometimes Black institutions discriminate against natural hair far more than White institutions do…Hey Hampton U!). Unless you live in a Natural Hair Paradise (like my beloved Brooklyn/NYC!) where you are surrounded by other naturals on the train, in coffee shops, in office buildings and board rooms, you may be one of the “Onlys,” as in the Only Black Female or the Only Black Female with Natural Hair.
If that’s the case, then I’m sure I don’t have to tell you but that can be a very lonely experience.
But it can also create a situation where you are literally the first person that others in your work place have ever encountered with natural hair. Sort of like being the first Black person your co-worker or college dorm roommate has ever met in real life (I’m speaking from experience. I was literally the first Black person my first college roommate ever saw who wasn’t on a T.V. screen. She was so surprised by my melanin that this was the first bit of news she shared with me after we met).
Natural Hair Ambassadors
When you’re the “First Black Natural” in the workplace, you can often have the added burden of being the Nappy Headed Ambassador. As much as you may resist being the Black Hair Spokesperson, you may find yourself frequently in that role.
You may be the one who has to answer your co-workers questions about how your hair can “do” what it “does”. You may be the one who colleagues look to when they want to know why your hair “looks so different from the other Blacks” they see on T.V. You may have to explain to your boss that your hair actually is professionally done/groomed/combed and that this is how Black hair actually grows out of your head.
You may have to be the one to inform your co-workers that touching your hair without asking is a no-no. Like this situation I noted here:
In one such instance, I turned to my White female colleague, who literally still had her hand in the air as she reached out to touch my twisties, and asked her how she would feel if the roles were reversed. She looked confused so I broke it down for her something like this:
“Becky,” I said, “You cannot touch my hair without asking, remember?” (We’d had the “please don’t touch my hair without asking” conversation before.)
“Oooh, but Lurie it’s just looks so (expletive) cool!” she said.
I responded: “How would you feel if I walked up to you and casually reached out to stroke your breast – and said that I wanted to because it just looks so cool?”
She was recoiled at my response and said, “Oh my God, Lurie, it’s just hair”
I replied that they are just breasts and like hair, we all have them. Then I asked again, “How would you feel if I just reached out and touched them and told you how cool they were? You are more than welcome to respectfully ask me anything about my hair,” I added. “But you are not allowed to touch it without asking.”
She got the picture.
Suffice it to say, dealing with the sheer lack of understanding about natural hair at work is one of the main sources for frustration for many natural heads. The more I thought about this I realized that lack of familiarity is part of the reason why wearing ethnically Black hair in the work place can be so challenging. So I’ve decided to start the Naturally Professional Project.
Tired of hearing that your teeny-weeny-Afro is only appropriate for the gym?
Wished you didn’t have to “explain” your new hairstyle to uninformed co-workers every two weeks?
Tired of telling your mom/grandma/girlfriends that your hair actually is styled professionally?
Then the Naturally Professional Project is for you!
The Naturally Professional Project is a compilation of images and interviews that feature Black women wearing natural hair in the work place. If you would like to be featured, just take a picture of yourself in normal work gear (looking all fly and professional!) and answer the questions listed below. Images/interviews will be selected periodically and will be featured on the Naturally Professional page!
The goal is to promote the beautiful diversity of professional natural hair, create an image gallery so that other naturals can get ideas of how they can wear their hair in the work place, provide encouragement for women who desire to be their naturally beautiful selves and show the world just how professional natural hair can be!
Submit your images and answers to: info@AfroStateOfMind.com with the words “Professional Naturals Project” in the subject heading. I’m really excited about this because it is way past time that we be able to come out of the natural hair closet! We are here, we are brilliant and our hair is fly! If you agree, please send me your pics and your answers to the following questions:
Professional Naturals Interview Questions
- What is your name?
- What industry do you work in?
- How long have you worn natural hair in the work place?
- What is your best “Natural Hair in the Workplace” story?
- What was your most challenging “Natural Hair in the Workplace” moment and how did you handle it?
- What advice would you give other Black women who wear natural hair at work?
Remember! Send your pics and the answers to the questions to info@AfroStateOfMind.com with the words “Professional Naturals Project” in the subject heading.
I look forward to hearing from you!