It’s time to put an end to natural hair discrimination in the workplace

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Illustration by Keturah Ariel

Black women fighting for their rights to wear their natural hair in the workplace is a constant battle. Black women with natural hairstyles were given lower scores in professionalism and capability, according to a study conducted by Duke University in 2020. Duke also conducted an experiment where candidates had to decide if Black women with straight hair or natural hair are deemed as professional. The results showed that Black women with straight hair are viewed as more professional and are more likely to be recommended than Black women with natural hair. As a society, we must ask ourselves, why is that?

Black natural hair is deemed as unprofessional because of anti-blackness and racism in America. In our country, the white standard of beauty is what is deemed as professional and desirable. For Black women to get a job, they had to chase after the white standard of beauty. Black women have been ridiculed for not having European features such as light skin, small and keen facial structure, thin bodies and straight hair. The preference for said features has become a part of our society and it’s been this way since the birth of white supremacy. 

There is a strong history between Black women and natural hair in America. This history goes back to American chattel slavery. When Black Americans were enslaved, there were laws that prevented Black women from wearing their natural hair out. After slavery, Black women had to chemically straighten their hair to find jobs. If they did not conform to this, they would not get a job due to their hair being deemed unprofessional. Even during the Jim Crow era of the United States, Black women who wore their natural hair were not hired due to the hair being viewed as unkempt, dirty, and undesirable. The Black women who did straighten their hair were hired over those who wore their hair in its natural state. According to the International Journal of Education and Social Science, “85% of people believe that Black women are discriminated against for wearing their natural hair.” (2014) The study also shows that over half of Black women manipulate their hair so that it won’t be in its natural state. (International Journal of Education and Social Science, 2014). According to this study, Black women are treated poorly due to wearing their hair naturally and they fall under pressure to straighten their hair. 

  These same scenarios are still occurring today. Currently, we do not have laws that ban Black women from wearing their natural hair like there was during the era of slavery. However, there is still a fight for Black women to wear their natural hair in the workplace. Some companies have policies that do not allow Black women to wear their hair naturally or in natural hairstyles. These styles include braids, twists, locks, and other hairstyles that are helpful to grow natural hair. As a result of such policies, the Crown Act was implemented to protect Black women against natural hair, styling, and texture discrimination in the workplace and other professional environments. While some states have embraced the Crown Act, others have not. California was the first state in America to enforce this act. However, Texas is fighting against it.

It is a shame that we are still fighting to wear our hair naturally. It is 2022, and there are still Black women and young black girls who are being terminated from their job or kicked out of schools for wearing their hair for wearing their natural hair. I feel very passionate about this subject because I have been ridiculed and discriminated against for wearing my natural hair when I was in middle school. My natural hair is very thick and curly, and I would wear it in a slick bun or ponytail. I was a cheerleader in middle school, and I had a coach who would constantly harass me for wearing my natural hair. She even went as far as sitting me out of a game for not wearing my hair straight. She stopped when my mother called her out on her natural hair discrimination. However, the very next year she changed the cheer policy to state that the cheerleaders could not wear their natural hair. This was back in 2011, and this is still going on now. That is a form of flat-out racism and discrimination and there should be legal repercussions for those in authority who do this. This exemplifies why we need the Crown Act to pass in Texas and throughout the United States.

Although going through and witnessing natural hair discrimination is tough, it is a fight that needs to be fought. We are the generation who are taking a stand like never before. We are going to put an end to Black women not getting hired simply because they wore their hair in its natural state. The candidate who is the best fit for the job should be getting hired regardless of the way they choose to wear their hair. Those Black women who lost their job or were denied a job for wearing their natural hair will not be in vain. The young black girl who was kicked out of school for choosing to wear her hair naturally will not go in vain. My experience of being told I could not cheer at a football game due to my natural hair will not go in vain. The generation before us said “NO” to sitting at the back of the bus; and we are saying “NO” to natural hair discrimination. We are doing this for us and the generation to come.

Duke University. (2020, September 10). Job recruiters perceive Black women with natural hairstyles as less professional, Duke study finds. The Chronicle.
International Journal of Education and Social Science (IJESS). (2014, November 4). Self-Esteem, Hair-Esteem and Black women with Natural Hair.

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