Tag Archive | racism

A Naturalista’s Guide to Surviving in the Workplace

Please forgive me — I know it’s been a minute since I’ve posted. I’m trying to launch my freelance career and that has been keeping me busy over the past month. However, I’m still going to update my blog I know it’s long overdue. I hope you enjoy!

I transitioned from relaxed hair to natural hair five years ago. I never thought it was an option until I moved to Washington, D.C., where natural hair is not only common, but it is celebrated.

As I transitioned, I noticed there was a fascination with my hair from my white co-workers that wasn’t present when I was relaxing my hair. Hearing comments about my hair is not new to me. Growing up, I went to the salon on a regular basis and whenever I stepped into the salon people immediately swooned over my golden locks. People still ask me if this is my natural color.

But this “fascination” felt different. My co-workers’ comments left me feeling frustrated and uncomfortable.

Since making the transition, I’ve straightened my hair about three times.  One day, I walked in with my hair cascading down to the middle of my back and I was met with some interesting comments. My hair is usually curly so most people don’t actually know how long it is so people naturally were surprised at the length. That didn’t bother me. It’s the remarks about how “elegant” my hair was that bothered me. I’m sure that was meant to be a compliment. However, I took that as a backhanded compliment or a “complisult” which is something that was intended to be a compliment, but can be taken as an insult.

I put “elegant” up there with the other words that make me cringe such as “proper” or “articulate.” They’re words that are not inherently problematic but become a problem in the context in which they are said, particularly when they’re directed toward Black people. These words have a subtle undertone of racism. It’s more about what’s not said it the problem. In this case, can my hair not be elegant and natural?

I don’t think people who say these things are necessarily racist but it is a good ideal to be aware of the connotation and baggage that these words carry.

Of course, my hair is seen as “elegant” when it is straight but not when I wear it in its natural state. I know it has to do with European standards of beauty – I get it. I’d just rather they not say anything at all.  Or if they like it, then just say that. Don’t ask to touch it (especially during a meeting). Don’t tell me you prefer it straight. Don’t comment about how often I change it.

I’ve included some tips and advice that I learned from my experiences in the workplace. I think it’s helpful for those who are transitioning or already natural. These are based on my experiences and are certainly not a one-size-fit-all list.

Be Patient

It’s simple: they  just don’t get it. Not only is this a transition for your hair, it is also a transition for them too in understanding your hair. They’re along for the hair journey with you. Learn to be patient because they really don’t have a clue most times about Black hair. It might be annoying, but just think about one more person that will be more informed about our hair woes. I mean, as a black person, you should already be comfortable explaining yourself to some extent. It just goes with the territory of being a minority.

Be Prepared 

Know that the questions are coming. Be prepared for the constant fascination with your hair. Also have your response ready for when they ask to touch it, how often you wash it, or why it magically “grew” overnight. Think about how you would respond to these and other common questions and be ready to say them with confidence.

Know Your Workplace

I work in an association so my workplace environment is more conducive to creative flair when it comes to my hair. I can get a way with wearing a lot of different styles from afros to faux hawks. I suggest you know your workplace. Is it conservative? Can you get away with wearing less traditional styles?  I personally enjoy pushing the envelope with my hair but I know I can do that. There are certain times when I know an important meeting is coming up and I’ll be more conservative in my styling, but for the most part I enjoy switching it up.

Accessorize Your Hair

I’ve learned is to have fun accessorizing my hair. I enjoy bows, clips, headbands, flowers, etc. I think accessorizing is also important because it takes away the edge of black hair because let’s face it – black hair is political. Throwing a headband or a bow on your afro makes you a lot more “approachable” in white people’s eyes. I guess they don’t think you’ll go all angry black woman on them if you’re afro looks more dainty and less revolutionary. You’re expressing your personal style and others are put at ease in your presence –both parties are WINNING.

Curls over Kinks

I have a very tight kinky-curly curl pattern. I’ve noticed in my time of being natural that people seem to “prefer” when I stretch out my hair and wear a looser curl pattern. Twist out seems to go over very well. People are always fascinated about how much length I actually have. I also prefer to wear a more curly/wavy look for job interviews.  In my experience, curls are always seen more favorable in the workplace.

Water is Your Friend

Whenever you’re having a bad hair day (and they do happen) remember that water is the game changer. You might walk out of your place thinking your hair is cute and then realize when you get to work that you’re hair is a hot mess. That’s okay…water to the rescue! This happened to me recently. I walked to CVS and bought some bobby pins. I wet my hair and used the booby pins to save my hairstyle.

My fellow naturalistas (or naturalistas in transition) what are you workplace survival tips?