The Hair Hierarchy: Natural Hair Wearers Still face Discrimination

 

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The women of Coily Divas Inc. showing a few different ways that Black women wear their natural hair ( Photo by Sheepishnarco Caption by Myldred Elle Models (L to R) Sandy, Josee, Chivonne, Sarah, Kimberly, Gaby, Tiffany

 

On Average, African-Americans have spent an estimated 684 million dollars on hair care, with 21 percent represented by relaxers, with expenditures at 152 million, which is down from 206 million in 2008 according to Mintel. The premise is for either Black women to chemically or thermally alter their hair even as early as adolescence. This is because natural hair carries many negative connotations; Mintel reports, “Nearly 6 out of 10 black consumers wears a wig, weave or extensions.

 

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The Relaxer (Perm) Aisle which is marketed to African American women starting from the age of 9yrs old that involves the use chemicals such as ammonium thioglycolic acid to break and reform the bonds of hair. (Photo and Caption by Myldred Elle)

 

On Monday September 14, 2015, WNCT news anchor Angela Green posted a video on her Facebook page discussing natural hair at work. Green said that WNCT’s intern, known only as Madison, wears her hair naturally, and was about to begin working on a production when an issue came up with her hair. Madison was told by the production director that her hair was “too big and she needed to straighten it out.” And that “it would be distracting.”

This is not just an issue within the field of television. It spans among a wide variety of different professions. Education and Sociology major at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., Dana Harrell said, that she was told by her future employer during an internship interview that, If she wanted to move forward, she would have to straighten her hair.

“The lady told me that if I wanted to work for her company, I couldn’t wear my hair in its natural state,” Harrell said. “Not even braids.’ She said ‘Nappy isn’t happy here.”

 

Protective styles have become an added bonus of having more (better) options for concealing hair on a multitude of levels.(Pictured: Jasmine Potts, Photo By Myldred Elle)

 

In the United States, Eurocentric beauty ideals have been considered the standard in the professional work environment. According to (Susan L. Bryant 2013), many African- American women conform to this aesthetic, thereby depreciating the very features that distinguish them. Hair texture is one of the most prominent obstacles on this journey to create an aesthetic that personifies the African diaspora every texture, color, shape, and size. It is a discussion fraught with politics and emotional implications.

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Correcting Appearances: A store aisle dedicated to skin- lightening, skin- lightening products containing mercury are available for sale over the Internet (Photo and Caption by Myldred Elle)

 

Post liberation the African-American/Black culture embarked upon the dualistic duty of investing in two things to “correct” what was seen as their flaws or otherness according to (Vice.com). Hair straightening and skin bleaching were and still are the dual remedies used in “correcting” appearance according to a documentary via the (Huffington Post).

 

 

Despite a growing awareness of the prejudices behind seeing natural hair and natural hairstyles as inherently unkempt and unprofessional, there is still a widely held belief that in order to be successful in the corporate world, one must have hair that presents as straight according to Questia. There is an idea that your hair must be kept in certain styles that are not explicitly African or urban to be deemed appropriately dressed for the office.

 

According to Jezibel.com, In 2007 Glamour magazine editor Ashley Baker gave a presentation entitled, “The do’s and don’ts of Corporate Fashion” to over 40 lawyers in New York City. The first “don’t” slide depicted a Black woman with an Afro, with the caption – “Say no to the fro”, she then commented, “And as for dreadlocks: How truly dreadful!” She went on to add that it was “shocking” that some people think it “appropriate to wear those hairstyles at the office. “ No offense, but those ‘political’ hairstyles really have to go”.

 

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“Political Hair-styling” According to 2007 Glamour magazine Editor Ashley Baker (Photo and Caption by Myldred Elle)

 

In November of 2014, California State University Associate professor Teiahsha Bankhead, Ph.D., And Medgar Evers College Assistant Professor Tabora Johnson, Ed.D, conducted a study of Self-Esteem, Hair-Esteem, and Black Women with Natural Hair. The study explored self- esteem and “hair esteem” in a convenience sample of 529 Black women who at least occasionally wore their hair naturally, neither chemically nor thermally straightened. Participants were given an Internet based questionnaire, in which the Rosenberg Self-Esteem, and their own Bankhead/Johnson Hair-Esteem scale was embedded. The predominance of natural hairstyle preferences, perceptions of discrimination, and reception by specific social groups when wearing natural hair was investigated. Correlation and multiple regression analysis were utilized. Higher self-esteem was associated with higher income and more education. The most significant evocation of high “hair-esteem” was approval of a romantic partner and a supervisor.

 

“Who you are, and how you feel about who you are is an essential question that helps define and construct identity. For black women and girls identity is inextricably linked to their relationship to, and presentation of their hair,” said Tabora A. Johnson.

 

Women of the study were asked if they were ridiculed, taunted, or teased in any way by specific social groups because of wearing their hair naturally. Their response specified that the groups they most often received negative responses from were family members (43%), strangers (28%), and friends (25%) (Hair It Is: Table6). Respondents were also asked how common they believed discrimination against Black women was when wearing their naturally (Hair It Is: Table7). Of the respondents, (47%) indicated that they “did not know” or they skipped the question. Those who did respond (85%) believed that Black natural hair discrimination was somewhat of very common. Lastly, the respondents were asked to what extent did they feel they were discriminated against as a result of wearing their hair naturally.3.2% of respondents indicated that they were very much discriminated against, however about 25% experienced some of very much discrimination (Hair It Is: Table8). While 84.5% of respondents feel that discrimination targeting Black women for wearing their naturally effects Black women, only 3% specified that they have been very much effected, and 23% specified that they were somewhat effected (Hair It Is 2014). capstone-info

 

In 2015, Southern University at New Orleans student, Pilar Ciara Jones participated in a study consisting of 3,000 African-American women. The study, conducted by the cosmetic company Bountiful Hair, surveyed the effect on the women’s self-esteem while wearing natural hair vs. straight hair. Of the 3,000 women, 2,500 stated that they “do not feel as pretty as women with straighten hair”(Hair as Race Vol.22 Issue 4,p358-376).

 

“I try to tell myself that wearing my hair natural is all about empowerment and expressing natural beauty, but there were times when I just did not feel pretty,” Jones continued. “When you continuously break combs because your hair is so nappy, and you use everything in your refrigerator to try to tame that mane, and you still have hair so rough you could polish rocks, you begin to reevaluate your choices.”

 

Negative images have been perpetuated throughout the African American community through various rhetorical means. Over many year’s this has manifested as a cultural hegemony, a phenomenon in which an oppressed group accepts and even embraces, to their detriment, the social norms of a dominant group according to NPR show host Neal Conan. Contemporary research indicates generational family influences and identity formation as critical aspects of how black women develop self- perceptions and represent their hair in American history. Critical aspects of how black women develop self- perceptions and represent their hair in American history (Jeffries, D. 2014 Reclaiming Our Roots).

 

 

 

 

Sarah Williams is a joint founding member of Coily Divas, a non-profit organization consisting of seven women whose motto is “Why blend in, when you were born to stand out”. She is also the CEO of Coilettes Incorporated, a non-profit organization whose mission is to encourage young girls between the ages of three and twelve years old to embrace their natural beauty. She says:

“My love for natural hair is real! I believe in standing as a role model for my girls and others who may lose their sense of direction in life trying to ‘fit in.’

People who wear their natural hair texture agree that if their hair is neat and not distracting, it should not be a problem, and that choosing to wear natural hair does not affect their work ethic or skills. Moreover, how you decide to wear your hair is your choice, whether you choose to perm it, be an avid weave wearer, or rock it natural. The reason of it all is to provide education and awareness to a subject that generally goes unnoticed because of either pure ignorance or intentional malice. Love yourself and all that encompasses who you are unconditionally and unapologetically.

“The movement is not truly of hair, but of self-acceptance.” – Marcina Dowdell-Williams, owner of North Florida’s premiere natural hair salon: Loving My Hair Natural Hair Studio.

For more insight into the world of Natural Hair, check out this Pinterest page →

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