Black folks have always had an intimate affair with hair—so much so, that I have written several articles on the topic. What I find fascinating is we are the biggest critic of how we wear our mane. But this problem doesn’t exist in a vacuum, the love-hate relationship stem from self-awareness and age-old perceptions which have their roots buried deep in our complex, convoluted history.
We weren’t always accepting of ourselves, our beauty; our intelligence and innovativeness and our crowning glory—our hair. You see we didn’t think we were “fine” because we were systematically, psychologically manipulated to think that we weren’t. Black folks on this side of our continent went from being owned and classified as somewhat human, to a period of Jim Crow where freedom was an illusion and equality non-existent; to this modern day still plagued by the mental shackles of being less than.
Don’t get me wrong, we are not all mentally enslaved. For a people who have not started at equal points in the race, we have sprinted damn far; covered an insurmountable amount of ground in the allotted time. We have travelled miles and still have miles to go before we sleep but we should be proud, regardless of how we wear our hair.
But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking aesthetics do not matter. The question is, should they? Even more importantly, should they matter to the point that we are the ones who always have to conform; assimilate; twist ourselves like professional gymnasts to fit the establishment.
Hampton University has banned all dread locks and corn-rows from their business program since 2001, citing it is unacceptable for corporate America. Says it hinders progress because it does not look professional.Since the ban, university Dean Sid Credle reportedly claimed to have over 160 former students doing exceptionally well in the business world. Is it because they do not wear locks or braids or is it because they're brilliant at what they do?
Either way, is banning students’ personal style and ethic individualism the way to combat how America’s business world view and interpret black hair? Isn’t this suppression of cultural expression productive or counter-productive?
How one wears his hair has no bearing on his/her intellect or ability to get the job done. Personal hygiene, yes but whether my hair is short, long, straight, permed, processed, in natural locks or cornrows, does not detract from my mental capacity. Contrary to what some might think, it doesn’t interfere with my brain cells for I think Mother Nature has designed us well enough so our scalp protects our brain. The texture of hair sprouting out of it is elementary.
This notion that if we look “too ethnic” we are somehow less than professional or a tad less intelligent or effective, is dangerous. Banning dreads and cornrows feeds into that stereotype instead of working to debunk it.
The educators at Hampton U mean well, for they may be from a generation who experienced and saw up close and personal, how discrimination based on shades of color, socio-economic background, ethnicity, religion and personal appearance can have a debilitating effect.
I know it is their job as educators to prepare their students adequately for the realities of the world they will be graduating into beyond the university’s walls. However, I think their efforts would have been better spent on working towards knocking down the walls of confinement in corporate America. Those walls that say you have to look like me or try damn hard to mimic an imitation for the powers that be to even allow you a seat at the foot of the smaller table.
But suppressing our individuality is not full progress in my book. When we can sit at the head of the big table, with our hair worn in whatever style that suits our fancy—be it smoothly coiffed or wild and natural as the jungles of Africa—then I would say we have finally, fully arrived.
Arrived at the destination where fair play truly means a leveled race track. So when the gun goes of and we push off of our fingers and toes to tackle that race, we are all starting from the same place and judged by the same rules-- what we bring to the table when we sit down, not what we are wearing on our heads when we do.
But in the meantime, folks have "to do what they have to do" to get ahead; play the corporate game and though they must be some high-profile successful black businesswomen and men with locks and braids--the only one who quickly comes to mind is Essence Magazine former editor-in-chief, Susan L. Taylor, meaning, America is still extremely uncomfortable with "too much ethnicity" in hair in the boardroom.
Written by Veronica Roberts 8.31.12 All Rights Reserved
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