Natural Hair Vs. Corporate America

Very recently, I made the foray into heading natural. Call me what you shall, but I was a proud consumer of the “creamy crack” and I had no fascination with ever giving it up. I went natural and then protect my hair’s health at a time when it was falling apart and much too delicate to endure the intense chemicals of the perm. And though I’m planning an escape route to the world of relaxers back, I’ve always reputed those who have made the decision to be natural.

While for some it’s a fad that will soon get tiring as another new wave hits, for many natural locks are ways to shun society’s long-standing goals of beauty and create a fresh standard. One that we can reserve the to wear our very own hair as it naturally sits and still feel beautiful without the long, flowing weaves and the ones magical yet detrimental chemicals.

For this reason, it never happened if you ask me that natural hair would ever run into as an “unprofessional” way to wear one’s locks. After being accepted to a teaching program in New York, I witnessed a discussion between two ladies with natural locks. One have been asked by a bewildered colleague if she would “keep her hair like that” when she interviewed for teaching positions.

She, like me, wondered what was wrong with putting on her hair just how it grew in. While the dean’s intentions may have been good, it begged the question: should we really be working to comply with corporate norms, or should we be working towards changing them? “The largest problem is, at an HBCU, where they allegedly are promoting self-awareness and celebrating their African ancestry and legacy, they might take that firmness,” said Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, associate teacher of urban theater and community engagement at Temple University. Some may deem it a bit more justifiable that a Fortune 500 company might not be in love with the idea of a worker with cornrows.

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For the most part, the natural hair debacle in the workplace may boil down to a simple lack of understanding. Places which have denied employment to those with natural hairstyles like dreadlocks typically consider it an extreme hairstyle comparable to a Mohawk or unnatural hair coloring. But what they might not know is that there’s meaning behind wearing one’s hair natural and, at the very least, these hairstyles aren’t “statements” but merely just how our hair increases out of our head.

“Natural locks discrimination in the professional world in 2013 is just foolish and unprofessional alone,” says Chioma Bennett, a schoolteacher in Brooklyn who wears her locks relaxed. “It is not the 1960s anymore. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon-who has earned five degrees, developed 24 plays, written numerous books, and boasts several other accolades-wears her hair in plaits with little trinkets linked with the end.

Each trinket symbolizes a significant moment in her life. She began wearing her locks this way more than 30 years ago, she gave up the chemicals that were breaking her hair once, and it’s been a hot topic in her professional life since. She first proved helpful as a recreation area ranger, where she was told if she didn’t maintain her hair in a “professional” way, she’d be dismissed.

Her Constitutional privileges prevailed and she was eventually in a position to keep her position. But that wouldn’t be the last time her hair became a factor in her professional life. Williams-Witherspoon has been at Temple since 1996 and has been on the tenure track for several years. She won’t blame her hairstyle for not being given the distinction of being tenured yet, but she does make the observation that a lot of faculty members with natural hair didn’t take on their hairstyles until once they were tenured.

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