Should hair matter?

Brandi Washington styling both straight and curly hair

Wild curls, tangled, frizzy and tough to manage hair; this is black women’s hair. In the 1900’s Madam C.J. Walker invented hair straightening products for black women to easily manage those frizzy curls. This product has been used by black women for centuries.

Straight hair is not a possibility for every woman.

From the early 1900’s up to this present day, black women have relied on hair straightening products to control their curls.  But according to a 2013 research study by Mintel, an intelligence agency that specializes in data and market research, black hair product sales have declined about 21 per cent since 2008. The decline in sales for hair relaxers are because black women are taking a more natural approach in hair maintenance.

In a society that thrives on self acceptance, loving yourself and “be who you are” slogans, black women are embracing a more natural look: one that is no longer concerned about straightening products. This new look has raised issues in the workplace.

Recently, Cree Ballah, a sales attendant from a Zara chain store in Scarborough, was told by two of her managers her hair wasn’t appropriate for work, citing the clothing company wanted a clean, more professional look. What a tangled mess.  Quite simply, the texture of your hair should not be a concern in the workplace. But clearly it is.

Another incident that same day, this time in the United Kingdom, a black woman was told by her employer she should not show up to work with her natural hair. She was encouraged to wear a weave, which is additional hair sewn to real hair to add length or thickness.

Both these instances reveal a problem of systemic racism black women face in the workplace.

If straight hair, or long hair, is professional then this leaves black natural hair at a sad disadvantage. Conforming to mainstream culture is not a thing of the past because black women are expected to maintain a certain look: one which is not naturally attainable.

Curly Girl Collective, a company based in New York, started a movement to help black women embrace their hair in a way that is unique, beautiful and professional. The contest has been widely accepted by black women who support the notion of being yourself.

Imagine a time when white people are asked to wear an afro to work or risk being fired. That day will never come. There may be a way to tame those workplace concerns, but not the curls of black women. The texture of your hair should not raise issues in the work place. If black women are asked to straighten their hair or expected to conform to the idea that straight hair is professional, then they might as well just go ahead and bleach their skin too.

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This is Euvilla Thomas, she is a second year journalism student at Durham College. She writes about a wide range of subjects which includes Campus events, entertainment and educational stories for the Chronicle. She loves reading and writing short stories in her spare time. She hopes to cover news and music events at any broadcasting radio station. Currently she is writing for the Chronicle and producing short segments for the Chronicle Riot Radio show.