As Clemons reminds us, "Black people are still not fully accepted in the workplace from a Black normative perspective - that's why we code switch. This non-acceptance is systemic and historical. Discrimination continues to exist." Despite being tagged more than four million times on Instagram, what good is it to be #teamnatural if you can't bring that natural self to the place you spend most of your time?
One of the most effective ways to dismantle systems of oppression is by calling them out, loudly and relentlessly. For Black women and our hair, that means sharing these stories of discrimination instead of being shamed into silence. Having a real and honest dialogue, amongst each other and beyond, is imperative. It is our responsibility as Black women not only to increase our awareness of such discrimination but to also listen to our fellow sisters who may be struggling. As Clemons says, this is the only way that boundaries are pushed for both us and the next generation.
Their answers are deeply personal and incredibly touching. Keep scrolling to read their very real responses.
"When I was working in financial services, I remember feeling like it was only work-appropriate to wear my naturally curly hair pulled back in a bun. It wasn't something that was [expressly] stated, but there weren't any other people in power positions that looked like me and wore their hair out, curly, kinky and free. I remember also feeling validated by all of the compliments I would receive when I would come into work with my hair blow dried straight." - Sara, wellness/food entrepreneur.
I feel very comfortable wearing my natural hair in any environment. I've been lucky enough to work among people whose job it is to celebrate and advocate for diversity. I haven't always worn my hair in its natural state, and I give a lot of credit to my HBCU and an endless amount of natural hair YouTube tutorials for allowing to embrace the beauty of my hair, and teaching me how to style it." - Valerie, non-profit civil rights activist.
"For the first time in a while, I finally feel comfortable wearing my natural hair in the workplace. However, there are still some embedded conditions preventing me from truly wearing my natural hair in
the office that I have issues breaking away from, like sporting my curl. Upon graduating I entered the world of corporate public relations, marketing and social media and did not see women who looked like me. Not having representation in the workplace led me to want to alter my natural appearance to conform and fit in. I once wore my hair curly to the office and it was a topic of discussion for the whole day. I felt like I had to constantly explain my hair and its texture." - Dominique, social media manager.
Working in the television and film industry, I'm free to express myself. With such a creative workspace, I've never once felt uncomfortable about wearing my natural hair. If anything, it's inspired me to express myself and own it - naps and all. There are superpowers in these curls." - Crystal, costume designer/television and film.
"When I went natural in grad school I decided from then on out that I would interview for jobs [wearing] my natural hair, not pressed, not pulled back. I wanted my employer to know what they were getting. Fast forward 14 years later and I'm at an amazing institution that promotes and preserves the
global Black experience. At least once a week I'm in front of an audience introducing our public programs and they get to see one expression of my culture through hair." - Novella, public programs manager.
I'm really lucky that I've always felt comfortable wearing my natural hair at work. If anything, I've only ever gotten compliments upon compliments and questions on my product routine-which I'm always more than happy to share." - Cheyenne, brand marketer.
"I feel comfortable wearing my natural hair in the workplace with restrictions. But I don't like the unwanted conversations my curly hair invites-either from well-intended non-Black people who gawk and ask too many questions about maintenance, or even from brainwashed Black men who make ignorant comments about my hair or assumptions about what it means about my personality. I'm sometimes self-conscious about the stigma people have about kinks and curls being "unprofessional." For those reasons I usually interview with straightened hair and when I do wear my hair curly I tend to rock a conservative style such as a topknot." - Esta, receptionist.