Natural Hair: Unacceptable in Corporate South Africa?


I went to work on one particular day with my natural hair out after months of having my wig on. I woke up that morning with a sense of pride because that day meant publicly wearing my crown again. The first impression I got from other black girls was also what I felt, gratification. “Your hair is exquisite – how do you take care of it? What products do you use?” They questioned. This opens a lesson of black girl hair problems any woman of colour will tell you, and favorably we exchanged notes.

While everyone speculated their views about my hair, a coloured lady advanced towards us and added “My friend, I love your hair. Do you not think however that you should have tied it? I think it would look so much enhanced, more

professional”.

My first instinct was to be defensive at the comment & ask where she gets the audacity to tell me how to wear my hair, but instead I politely said “That wouldn’t be satisfying at all, it feels better bushy as it is.” This has since evoked so many questions as to why ethnic hair is looked down upon so much, especially in corporate.

During the 15th century, hairstyles in Africa were an indication of ethnic identity, marital status, age and rank within a community. After people were enslaved however, hair became merely a subject of the labour they were about to do, depending on the kind of slave one was, their hair had to be worn accordingly. A hot comb was then introduced by a woman named C.J Walker in the 1900s which was to change black hair into silk. This I understand was the beginning of a culture that has bred weaves into people of colour all around the world (C Thompson, 2009).

In an article published on DiversityInc.com, a woman asked why people of African descent get overlooked for promotions in the workplace or get fired for choosing to wear their natural hair and although this isn't something all Caucasians do, why do white people feel disdain for natural black hair in corporate? Moreover, she asked for an explanation to the notion that the light skinned blacks are more preferred than those of a darker shade, is this true, if so, how come?

Luke Visconti, founder & CEO of DiversityInc who owns the column in which these questions were asked is known as the leader in diversity management. He was frank in his response to the opposed questions and confessed to believing that black people do indeed get overlooked for jobs and promotions because of their natural hair and their dark skin colour. He states that people have a tendency of trusting persons who look much like them, this isn't fair, however it is the reality. He further went on to stating that allowing bias like this in the workplace has a lot of consequence for business as talent & skill have no connection to hair texture. Companies lose a lot of talent because their thinking is archaic, the more diverse a company is, the better their recruitment & retention will be (Luke Visconti, 2012)

It seems there isn't much that black people can do without offending people of other races and making a political statement. Bebe Moore Cambell recites in the Ebony issue in 1982 that in the 60s & 70s, the Afro was more than hair; it was a symbol of black pride, a silent affirmation of African roots and the beauty of blackness (Stacia L. Brown, 2015). I wish we could get to a stint when people can just be who they are without being apologetic about it. There's nothing more freeing than owning who you are, wholly with all your flaws. We need to breed a generation of confident people, young people that are sure of themselves & are not looking outside themselves to find that assurance. I appreciate the current generation for the attempt of going back to who we are, there are trends all over the world of black people, women particular who wear their hair naturally and who seek to promote their sense of being.

We may never reach a conclusion on the topic of which hair is better however perhaps that is the point. To understand that there is no better hair, beauty is in the coarse, straight, braided, short & silky hair. The beauty of being a woman is in fact having a choice to decide what it is that you like. Like Luke Visconti said, hair and talent have no relevance therefore, people shouldn’t be judged at work by the nature of their hair.

References

(C Thompson, 2009) Black Women & Identity: What's hair got to do with it? Available on

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=mfsfront;c=mfs;c=mfsfront;idno=ark5583.0022.105;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1;g=mf

(Luke Visconti, 2012) Ask the white guy: Do blacks need to relax their natural hair to get promoted? Available on http://www.diversityinc.com/ask-the-white-guy/do-blacks-need-to-relax-their-natural-hair-to-get-promoted/

(Stacia L. Brown, 2015) Wearing My Afro Is Always a Political Act Available on https://newrepublic.com/article/122515/wearing-my-afro-always-political-act

Credits:

Writing: Kgomotso Taukobong

Collage: original Images by: Tom, woefoep and Fred Martins