Is Natural Hair a Career Killer?

Natural hair could be a career killer. Black hair is a divisive, even political topic, and it always has been. I used to rail against the absurdity of this: why on earth, I thought, should the hair growing naturally from my head be a cause for concern for anyone other than me?

But it is.

Last week some 100 women took part in a discussion “Black Women, Their Hair & the Work Place” at Georgia State University. Apparently, natural hair could be contributing to unemployment.

The Huffington Post article from which I learned of the event cited several incidents as evidence. Do you remember meteorologist Rhonda Lee, who was let go from her Louisiana news channel after defending her short hairdo on the company Facebook page? I wonder what Rhonda’s doing these days. If this panel is any indication, she may be on the dole somewhere or trying to grow her TWA (teeny weeny afro) out enough to invest in some perm.

It’s pathetic. It seems like the second a black person — or any minority — doesn’t acquiesce to the status quo, all of a sudden you’re being political, or you’re potentially a troublemaker.

It’s not always that serious. Maybe — and bear with me here a moment, I know this might be too much for some folks to handle — just maybe, I like my hair. Maybe I don’t feel the need to pour chemicals on my head and spend my hard-earned cash in beauty shops, not to mention my precious time, to attempt — and fail — to meet a standard of beauty that has very little to do with me. I am not tall. I do not have long, flowing hair, a thin nose or any of the other features that are often associated with traditional beauty. And maybe I don’t think that it’s an employers’ place — warning: religious reference ahead — to tell me that what God gave me isn’t good enough for their office. To do so is discriminatory.

I do understand why employers might frown on oddly died dos, faux hawks, gele head wraps or other accoutrements in certain work environments. In some industries they’re just not appropriate because of client interactions or what have you. But we’re talking about natural hair here. It would be like telling a red head, we’re going to burn you at the stake because we think you’re consorting with the devil. That was a dramatic, but you get the point.

The bottom line is leaders have to be more inclusive and accepting of difference. What you think is an unconventional appearance may only be unconventional to you, which means it’s a matter of opinion. Opinions can be narrow-minded, short-sighted, and they aren’t legally compatible with hiring or judgments about job performance. Unless people’s appearance poses a direct problem to how they will perform the job, get over it.

I will say — safely, since my natural hair is big and nappy and flops every which way depending on the wind and the weather, and no one here says a blessed word beyond delivering a compliment or two — if my hair is going to get me fired, please hurry up and do it. Sitting all day is killing me softly anyway. I need to be forced to start my own million-dollar startup or other entrepreneurial venture so I can be interviewed by someone like myself. Then I’ll look back kindly and say, “If that job hadn’t been so silly, I never would have found my real career/made my fortune/gained my freedom.”