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April 19 | Cipriani Wall Street | New York City

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Ask the White Guy: Do Blacks Need to Relax Their Natural Hair to Get Promoted?

Does corporate America discriminate against Black hair?Question: 

I am a Black woman from continental Africa who chooses to have natural Black hair, not relaxed or chemically altered in any way. I wear my natural hair not as some political statement but because it is the hair that God gave me and intended me to have, just as it was intended for some Caucasians to have blue eyes or blond hair. 

I have heard about women and men of African descent being overlooked for promotions or outright being fired because they choose to wear their natural hair, braids, twists, mini Afros, locs and so forth. I understand that you do not represent all white people nor do you speak for the whole white race, but I wanted to know if whites in general feel disdain for natural Black hair in corporate America, or is it just an overblown issue? 

Also, I have heard that the more “African” you look–dark-skinned, coarse hair (think Wesley Snipes, Whoopi Goldberg)–the more ignored and overlooked you will be in the workplace … and the more light-skinned or “whiter” you appear (think Halle Berry or Beyoncé) you appear, the easier it is to get promotions. Is this really all true? Are there “preferred” Blacks in corporate America? Isn’t diversity supposed to be inclusive of everyone–natural hair, blue eyes, fine hair, etc.? 

Also, why does wearing natural hair, braids, locs, twists or any “Black” hair style that accommodates and is more healthy for our hair structure have to always be perceived as something negative, or worse, “political”? Why does the coarse hair on my head need to relaxed or chemically altered to be “presentable” in the workplace? Please be honest.


There’s no doubt in my mind that Black people have been overlooked for promotions because of natural hair or darker skin color. Psychological tests show that people most trust people who look like them. Since white men run most corporations in this country, straightened hair and/or lighter skin is going to be an advantage (disturbing, but let’s keep it real).

However, allowing a bias like this to go unchecked is detrimental to business, as hair texture has no connection to talent or ability. An inability to manage past immaterial things like this makes a company less competitive.

This is where diversity management returns on investment. Companies that manage past bias and hire, mentor and promote equitably have better talent. They are also better prepared for the future as our country becomes more diverse. Our DiversityInc Top 50 data proves that representation is tied to recruitment and retention.

This isn’t a theory; it’s a reality for companies that earn a spot on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. DiversityInc Top 50 companies have up to twice as much representation of Black, Latino and Asian people in management than the overall management work force in the United States.

Equity equals quality. That means a corporate culture that is so out of touch with reality as to not have good diversity management is not a good place for anyone to work–not just Black people.

If you think your company “isn’t ready for natural hair,” then you should check out our career center right now.

However, please consider this carefully: President Obama won a decisive majority of white people’s votes and diversity was a key factor in determining the 2012 election, so if you think your company really isn’t “ready for that,” it may be that your perception is out of date.

I think America is ready for the Black women (and men, but this is mostly a woman’s issue) in our lives to be more natural with their hair–and I’m looking forward to it.

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.



  • A few months ago, I decided to give my hair a rest from all the overprocessing and let it go natural, wore it in neat afro.

    I was, until a few days ago, the only Black person working at a Verizon store in Cheyenne.

    You should have seen the fallout from my first day wearing an afro! I got (mostly good-natured) comments from my coworkers about being “an angry Black woman”, questioned as to whether I was “stickin’ it to the Man” and, “Oh, look, Catt cut her hair!” (That last was from the office racist so I didn’t take it as complimentary…)

    It never occurred to me that letting my hair return to its natural texture and shape would have such an impact on my coworkers. I’d already worn my hair a variety of ways, but nothing had ever elicited the reactions I got by “doing nothing” to it…

    Needless to say, I let my hair rest only two weeks, then relaxed it again. The odd looks, silly comments and the creepy feeling went away, but I still feel I’d betrayed something/someone somewhere. Maybe myself.

    • Cristalexi

      You should have stuck it out. I think after awhile they would have got used to it. Their reactions are very strange indeed. I just don’t understand why people are so against the natural hair. I personally love the natural hair and think it is much nicer and actually compliments the person’s look. I personally think black people look a little “odd” with the fake stuff (I hope I haven’t offended anyone by saying that).

      • noneofyourbusiness

        not nice… a little odd?? so now people cant wear their hair anyway they want to??

        • @ noneofyourbusiness– What Cristalexi said was not “odd” at all….She simply stated “if you break it down” is ‘why do we resort to wearing fake hair instead of our natural hair?’ and quite frankly, I agree! And Im a hairstylist …I wear my natural hair and extensions…I remember one time at school I ask a classmate (white male) that I am going to put my extensions in…I was tired of wearing my fro and wanted a new look…He told me..”Dont wear extensions…why do you want to look like the other “white girls”…its fake. I didnt get offened by it…It showed me how he respected my natural hair…but inside I didnt.

          I’ve gotten many positive reactions to my hair from the Caucasian race even when I lived in Beaumont near Vidor, Texas still known for its racial background.
          I’m in corporate America now…and I love my company because it is DIVERSE…to the point that I started trippin because I saw I guy with Dreadlock’s walking around in his suit. It made me feel comfortable.

          With all that being said (I went off topic a little) your statement was given with not even trying to understand what she meant…In all your getting get an understanding…(thats biblical)..We cant charge people no more.. just ask what they mean.

      • I have naturally curly hair. Not agro curly but fine curly. I have some things going on there that have predominately shown in my hair texture but other wiseI look and identify 100 percent black. Proudly. I have not had the issues you had, instead I get racist jokes about my weave or ignorant questions about where I bought it. I like many women of all races enjoy a nice clip in from time to time but go mostly natural or straightened. I usually give a speech about how it is racist to assume its fake because you think we are all the same (whites come in all shapes and sizes but black, is black) I have even stated that they don’t openly ask a white girl if her hair is fake so why is it okay to ask me???

        I would ask that you rock your fro. If my hair worked thay way I would!!! Who you are is not defined by your hair and it doesn’t determine your power. White people will forever wonder who what when and why but it is because some are ignorant and others really just do not understand, and that is why they ask questions. We know all there is to kbow about them because we paid attention. They only learn when it is in there face, and can’t not help but ask. They will get over your hair however you wear it. Do you!

      • Venola Brooks

        How sad black people mostly women are targeted for perking and changing their hair but whites, Hispanics, Asians and other people changing their hair us okay. It okay for some to dye their hair fuss pink but when a black lady straightens her hair it wrong that crazy. Some do look naturally with straight hair.

    • In Oct of 2013 I decided to give my shedding over processed hair a rest. Chopped it off to the roots. My company of 800, 75% caucasian population welcomed me with open arms. I’m still getting compliments every day. I love the attention… I’ve heard everting from don’t I know you, it looks so healthy and feels so good (yes I let them touch it) you look so much younger, your hair is beautiful, to I wish I could do something different with mine too! And thats from the caucasian population. The African American coworkers sometimes act as though they are afraid to comment. The few that do mostly say “you have some beautiful hair” I’m not of any biracial hair texture. This is strickly thick wooly hair. I keep it clean and neat. And I think thats what Corporate America’s protocol is. not texture. I’d never hop of bed and go to work without putting a comb in my hair. i do see people with natural hair doing that. Natural don’t mean unkept. to sum this up, I don’t think people of other races are as shallow as we sometimes think they are about our hair and culture. .

      • I totally agree with you. I started working for a company and was wearing a lace wig. It was nice and I got compliments. A year later I went natural and haven’t looked back. I work remote so don’t see my co-workers often. I met my boss (Caucasian male) for lunch and one of the first things he said is I really like your hair like that. A few months later I flew in with the CEO (Caucasian male) for a meeting. In the meeting with other department heads he said by the way I really like your hair like that. Now this is a man who rips people’s heads off on the regular.

        Fast forward I interviewed for a new company for a corporate position. I almost wore a wig but I said nope I will represent who I am. I wore my hair in a fro full out and beautiful. I interviewed with the company’s director (Caucasian female) and 3 other team members (Caucasian females). I start on the 12th.

        Be neat, clean, confident and a solid employee. I think your perception of yourself is what’s most important and you give that perception off. On the other hand I’ve seen people push the limits with their hair for attention and just rebellion. Per are smart. They know the difference. When I go to see clients I will probably put my hair up in a bun or something. I’d do that whether it was natural or not. I don’t want the client distracted by my awesome hair lol. You can be natural and tone your hair up or down when you need to. I think that’s being smart. Some people say that’s conforming. I call it strategy.

        • Luke Visconti

          Great advice! Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

        • I will agree with what you are stating. After reading several comments, of course yours my thoughts (that’s all) wondered off to the compliments received by White Corporate Americans. Are they really and truly compliments or are they like our Black’s more directive indirect in your face comments as “remembering the times” “compliment”? As my grandmother would call, “a back-handed” compliment. Just a thought. Remember racism is still very real to this day. I’m not racist by any means. I look, listen and think (a lot). Maybe White Corporate America are the ones with the strategies? Its being again, called “White” Corporate “America” for a reason. Food for thought.

    • Society needs to be re-educated to what black ladies should look like minus slavery. Everyone has a unique texture to their hair. Let us flaunt it and get everyone accustomed to it.

      • I think Black ladies can look like whatever they want to look like. For you to try to pigeon hole them into what you deem “re-education” is just another form of oppression.

    • You betrayed yourself and you called God a liar. You allowed the superiority of the white mentality to dictate to you how you should wear your Naturally God given hair.They didn’t react anymore because they won.They know now that you hate your hair and you love and respect their views and opinions of you.You will always mentally be enslaved until your whole existence as a black woman is honored and represented.The reason everyone gave you attention when you wore your natural hair is because some were intimidated, insecure,shocked that you had self acceptance and fear of being you posed a threat so they poked pryed and picked in hopes that you would do just what you did ,and you did it. The white world does not want you being other than who they say you should be and the further you step away from being black the better they feel because you pose no threat.

      • Eritrea Constantinople

        Or maybe she loves her hair, and her confidence shines through. That’s what all the compliments were reacting to.

        Regardless of other people’s opinions I’m still gonna rock my natural hair, and I believe she will, too. If I get compliments, I don’t take it personal – just like how I take any (covert or overt) insults. I enjoy and love my Afro coils! That’s all that matters.

    • Elizabeth Phillips

      It’s so sad that they treated you that way. One of my friends wears her hair natural most of the time, but a few months ago she relaxed it for a conference. Apparently, the last time she attended, someone said her hair was “scary.” I was absolutely flabbergasted. How can someone’s hair be scary?

    • Hair University

      Greetings as a Professional stylist my clients deal with this issue when hiring, or even with themselves. It’s a REALITY. We ( African Americans) look at each other the same way. It’s not just about Natural vs non Natural it’s about the total package. What fits 1 doesn’t fit all. It is important to know the culture of your workplace to decide whether or not this is a good or bad move. Simply put if you carry yourself in a manner that is pleasing and your attire is professional and you have the look that fits your company then you are ok whether that’s natural or curly or extensions, but straight doesn’t make it better if your attire is not on point or the hair is not maintained. Let’s face it grooming is essential in all environments…love the skin your in be truthful, bold, and confident…in reality do what makes you, YOU!

  • America has a problem with natural black hair, and from what I can tell, a problem with naturally curly non-black hair as well. Just one glance at the media tells the story.

    Beyond skin color, which black women are held up as beauties? Gabrielle Union, a beautiful brown-skinned sister wears long, straight hair. Beyonce, a beautiful caramel colored sister wears long, straight hair with blond highlights.

    I challenge you to find any black women put forth as a sex symbol or leading lady who doesn’t have long, straight hair. This has become the standard for black women. Relaxer or weave.

    The message the media sends is clear: you can only be beautiful with long, straight hair. If you’re white you better have long, straight blonde hair.

    So femininity and beauty are tied to this idea of straight, long hair. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, or something in between. This is the beauty standard and it’s reinforced by media images.

    So, this is an America problem. Unfortunately for Black women it extends beyond the boardroom and into the familial and dating world as well.

    • Tracy Ellis Ross

      • Tracy Ellis Ross is not a sex symbol she’s also half white so her hair don’t count… We talking about them good ole black women… black to the bone.

        • @anon

          Tracie Ellis IS black,you know—her being mixed dosen’t make her any less black. I find that statement to be very ignorant. I have a number of mixed folks in my family, and they definitely know they are black (and because they look it more than anything else.)

          • I think the sentiment behind anon’s comment was that Tracy Ellis Ross’ hair is not exactly a thick afro. She may identify as black and be mostly black, but a significant portion of her genetics are clearly non-black. This non-black portion of her biology results in her hair being looser and tamer than that of black people who have less non-black ancestry.

            I’m a black woman with two African parents. I have some white in my family, but it was very far back in my family tree. My hair is very thick and tightly coiled, and it does not lay flat on my head. I love my hair and think it is beautiful, but I have never seen a famous black woman who is considered “sexy” with hair that does not appear to be directly impacted by her non-black ancestry.

          • noneofyourbiznez2

            Tracy Ross is bi-racial and possibly multi racial. Historical it was tabou for anyone with any strain of African ancestry to claim that they were anything but black. You could have had platinum blond hair and blue eyes, if your great grand parent was an African, you were considered African.
            That is why today, a person claiming to be black is more of a cultural statement than a racial one. ‘Black’ is a term used by Americans with African ancestry. It is a culture. At the end of the day most are multiracial but identify through music, art, customers, culturaly. This is not a comment to separate from being African. It is just what it is. Personally I think it is wrong for anyone to claim that a certain member of their family, whatever race, didn’t exist.
            Culture is a beautiful thing!

          • My friend you are wrong she is very much white also she is a mixed woman I have mixed cousins also and for you to say she is black is like saying she should ignore her other half. My cousins are mixed and I am black. I know we live in a country with the one drop rule but we need to put a stop to that statement and we need to encourage and embrace mixed children to correct someone when they say they are “black”

        • What a truly dumb and offensive comment. Who the hell is ‘black to the bone’. Do you not know the history of forced miscegenation during slavery? I dare you to find one African-American in this country who doesn’t have at least 15% -20% non-African blood due to slavery. Shoot, Africans straight from Africa aren’t ‘black to the bone’! Bones aren’t black! Just because Tracy Ellis Ross is half white doesn’t make her natural hair any less black. I’m black with naturally curly and coily hair and I proudly wear my hair in its natural state just the way God made it. I prefer my natural hair to straightened, processed ‘trying to be European’ hair and will never go back!

          • noneofyourbusiness

            trying to e european hair??? chip on your shoulder?

          • No. Is there one on yours? Speaking the truth doesn’t equate to having a ‘chip’ on ones shoulder. When black people straighten their hair it is primarily for the purpose of trying to conform or fit into acceptable standards dictated by majority culture. Didn’t you read the article? Duh.

          • Chiming In

            I think you all are misunderstanding anon. When talking hair, Tracey being half-white DOES matter. Most biracial people do have a less kinky texture. Her hair may not be as intimidating or unattractive in the dominate society as, say, Erykah Badu or Whoopi Goldberg’s hair.

          • Omg I dealt with you people growing up. I got more discrimination from my own people than I ever did from white people. Everyone that straightens their hair is not trying to look white. That’s such an ignorant statement. We get prissy when people generalize us blacks but then we generalize ourselves with these kinds of statements. I’m natural but I’ll probably get a blow out this year because I like my hair straight sometimes. I like the way it bounces and feels when it’s straight. Then I get tired and I’ll want it curly. I like the play of my natural hair, the exotic look it has and the way I don’t have to run for the car when it rains. Then I’ll probably braid it because I like the way it looks in a bun braided and I like twists the way they bounce and then maybe I’ll go straight again who knows. I might wear a short wig for a while. The point is women are women. We change our hair based on many many factors. Do some use hair to look white as you say? Sure just like some use natural hair to make a statement that they’re black. This is the kind of 8th grade garbage that keeps not just our race from uniting but the world.

            Grow up.

        • First of all no black american is black to the bone and im tired of black women that see a sister thats bi racial to light brown to caramel with wavy to curly hair being singled out or looked at as not being black enough all because she is lighter with a softer more textured grade of beautiful hair.You type of sisters need to stop being so envious and grow up. And as far as sex symbol what the heck are you talking about .Gabriel union is just an actress not a sex symbol. But all in all i do get what you were saying until you contradicted yourself but they do need to show more black women with natural hair whether course or curly but unfortunately this is the white world and its all about their beauty.

    • Elizabeth Phillips

      How about Viola Davis? In real life, she wears her hair natural.

    • Now we have Lupita Nyong’o who is dark skinned and natural. There is more and more diversity on screen and society is changing. Slowly but changing.

  • There are so many highly intelligent points made in response to this article. Most of whom can speak from experience from which we can draw several conclusions. However, there are two conclusions that I’d like to address specifically: 1)It is mostly the non-acceptance of natural hair by black people that has caused this to be a major black women’s issue. Of course, there are the limited few caucasian/whites who may take notice and have an opinion, but they are judging by comparison, to what they’ve seen in this country. Compared to other nations, ours is the only one that ridicules blacks for wearing their hair in it’s natural state, and that’s sad. It’s natural, and what we were born with yet we have to compromise that in order to be accepted? Nonsense.

    2)I must admit, in my opinion, a lot of people who wear their natural hair (myself included) tend to be quite intelligent. Of course, I’m not saying that the chemicals are affecting the minds of people who use them, I am merely stating that companies who do not employ these people might just be fearful, because they may be threatened by their intelligence. Anyone who wears their natural hair knows that after so many years of the harsh chemicals, you are bound to suffer from thinning and/or baldness and believes in self-preservation; not destroying their folicles to impress others. I say: stand out, be an individual, and do to the necessary research in order to take good care of yourself and your hair.

  • Anonymous

    It is very disturbing to have issues about hair when there are so many more important topics to be discussed and remedied. Unfortunately, I am also a victim of the “hair chronicles” as last year I decided to go natural. I was told by one of my male friends that natural hair makes me “unapproachable” to men, and that perhaps I should “press” it out with a hot comb. I was offended actually because I felt like I shouldn’t have to alter myself that much to be attractive to men. Then when I considered locs or twists another male friend said that a man wouldn’t want to be with a woman who looks like she has sticks growing out of her head. Ok, offended again, so I tried one of my sister’s mid length, straight bobs and I got all sorts of compliments on that, but it was hot, and I felt self conscious because I knew it was a wig. It’s terrible when you get hassles from the workplace, but it is even more painful when you get negative comments from Black people when you wear the hair God gave you. I went back to wearing my natural hair, and if a person can’t like me for me I don’t need them in my life anyway. If God had wanted me to have hair like society deems beautiful he would have given it to me. Black hair is beautiful as it is and I shouldn’t have to have chemicals, synthetic hair, or wear someone else’s hair (weave) to prove self worth.

    • Well said. I have a grown daughter and a teenage daughter, I tried to tell them that all t times . I point out to them that no other race put added hair in their head other than the black race just to fit in. We have put a lot of people kids through college by buying hair products out of their stores. I could go on but what’s the use.

  • Anonymous

    There are so many highly intelligent points made in response to this article. Most of whom can speak from experience from which we can draw several conclusions. However, there are two conclusions that I’d like to address specifically:

    1)It is mostly the non-acceptance of natural hair by black people that has caused this to be a major black women’s issue. Of course, there are the limited few caucasian/whites who may take notice and have an opinion, but they are judging by comparison, to what they’ve seen in this country. Compared to other nations, ours is the only one that ridicules blacks for wearing their hair in it’s natural state, and that’s sad. It’s natural, and what we were born with yet we have to compromise that in order to be accepted? Nonsense.

    2)I must admit, in my opinion, a lot of people who wear their natural hair (myself included) tend to be quite intelligent. Of course, I’m not saying that the chemicals are affecting the minds of people who use them, I am merely stating that companies who do not employ these people might just be fearful, because they may be threatened by their intelligence. Anyone who wears their natural hair knows that after so many years of the harsh chemicals, you are bound to suffer from thinning and/or baldness and believes in self-preservation; not destroying their folicles to impress others. I say: stand out, be an individual, and do to the necessary research in order to take good care of yourself and your hair.

  • Oh, the natural hair thing. People there is nothing wrong with having natural hair and depending on how it is worn, I have seen plenty of sisters in the work place with a head full of nice natural curls. There are women with curls, women with nice smooth short naturals, and women who have natural hair pulled back in a low slung chignon. When worn correctly, no one will complain. However, if you go into work with nappy uncombed, hair, month old dirty extension braids, expect people to reject you. Just because your hair is natural does not mean that you don’t have to comb or groom it. Also, we aren’t the ONLY people with this type of hair. Jewish people have a range of hair just as we do and they deal with it. The secret is to not cut it into a length that is not able to be managed. Also dreadlocks are not “black” hair. It is more or less associated with a religion.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a white guy. In regards to the corporate world’s acceptance to hair styles, I can attest that men also have to deal with similar problems. The key is ‘grooming’ to fit a corporate model of what is considered ‘appropriate’ or ‘professional’. Unfortunately natural hair, afros, really long (waist length) hair for women, really big hair, long or artificially colored hair for men, beards and mustaches, can all be no-no’s.There is no contempt by whites when blacks wear afros. It is however an UNGROOMED look when compared to relaxed hair. It is also out-of-style, much like a guy showing up for work with a greasy 1950s pompadour or a bowl haircut. Professional work places are all about grooming and conformity. Look around and see how many guys have 1970’s style hair. Do they even still make Jehri Curl? Think about the problems black men with dreads could have in the workplace. Or the brother with the big afro. The blond dude with the ponytail. Men are expected to have a clean, neatly groomed look, or military style hair. Men have more recently been going with no hair. Bald, and not because hair is falling out. This is acceptable nowdays but 20 or 30 years ago this would have been taboo. Grow a patch out on the top and shave the sides, that’s police style, but grow a thin strip instead, and that’s a mohawk, and that’s considered completely unprofessional. See where this is going? I have no problem with anyone sporting hair or beard as nature intended. I used to have hair past my shoulders. Thin, stringy mess of wavy split ends, a ‘natural’ if you will. Yeah I got hassled for it. Meanwhile, women wore little boy haircuts, permed, treated, colored, braided, bleached, extended, or put-up hair styles with no problem, so why not an afro? Men get the same runaround for not shaving or sporting a fu manchu. I guarantee a man will get flack about his facial hair or his cornrows or ponytail, to the point of being coerced to shave or cut, before women will be required to alter their personal styles. Non-professional they say. What a crock.Ladies, wear your hair the way you like it. If you feel so inclined, go natural. It is a sad thing when the corporate world gives a person trouble wearing hair in its natural state, period!

    • I think that this post misses the mark in many ways and does not take into account the nuance of what really happens in organizations that push employees to look less black, less ethnic. IN many cases the issue is not big blown out afros, crazy styles etc. It is just a decision to be natural or not for folks, and it is more of an issue for black women because you don’t really see Brothers getting “marcels” anymore. A lot of people look great, come in with their natural hair and look like professionals, just different than others and then you see 6 months later as they move up they have straightened thier hair. This is makes me so sad when I see it.

    • @ Anonymous—You may never read this and I know you posted this back 6 years ago….well update: As the Generation Y kids (me) are exiting college and entering the corporate community…Standards are changing for both black/white male and female…Were challenging the systematic rule of “Conformity”…you will see men in “low pompadour’s, straight leg slacks, wing-tipped oxfords, with a plaid tie and solid button up…holding a mid-or high level position (were advancing) as the Baby boomers and Gen. Xers retire and die out (not necessarily mean “die out” but you know what I mean)–And were demanding the companies to ACCEPT it! Yes, we abide within the rules…but with a twist…and the “Corporate Elders” see …some accept…some don’t…oh well they’ll “die out ” too! For those ancient companies that still live under that structure their stuck back in time…Because it is changing WE (Gen. Yers) Demand respect. And if not given we know that is not the company for us…

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t relaxed my hair in years…I wear the texture that grows out of my head, just like all my caucasian, Asian, and Latino counterparts. It’s ridiculous to suggest that an entire race of people are intrinsically “unprofessional” due to their natural physical features. You might as well try to have a rule against Asian eyes…or naturally blonde hair. Good luck with that. I wear my hair in curly fros, afro puffs, twists, up-dos, braids, you name it. I am a director in my company…I have interviewed with my natural hair, attended board meetings, negotiated contracts, and executed every other part of my job. I didn’t feel the need to straighten my hair, bleach my skin, or eradicate any of my other racial characteristics. My compentence speaks for itself.

    • I hear you! Same here. I have owned a business for five years and also hold a high-visibility, highly-skilled position at another company simultaneously. My hair doesn’t do my job, I do. If you’re the type of person who thinks that natural black hair is automatically ‘unprofessional’ then you are the one with issues. I do just fine garnering high respect for my skills and my natural hair doesn’t come into play, as it shouldn’t. I shouldn’t have to change my hair in order to be accepted or respected! Other cultures don’t do this therefore I should not have to either!

      • I agree your hair nor skin don’t do your job you do but it doesn’t minimize the fact white collar businesses will and have discriminated against ethnic groups and minorities for things so simple I as a black women with a masters degree have had experiences with being passed over for career advancement due to my dark skin and kinky hair so im sure it could and does matter.

        • Sandra Scott

          I agree. While a small minority aren’t affected in the corporate world for having natural hair, a vast majority are.

  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed reading this article, both the initial question and the resonse from Mr. Visconti. I also agree that the way one chooses to wear their hair should not be equated to their abilities as a professional, but unfortunately as Mr. Visconti points out, sometimes it does. As I began to read some of the readers’ comments, however, I became a little offended at the number of people who act as though having relaxed hair is somehow a negative thing or makes you less Black. I choose to relax my hair and I acknowledge that the relaxer makes my hair straighter (although it is still curly) but I personally do not feel that I am going against God by making the curls He gave me a little more loose. As long as the hair stays healthy, what is wrong with changing it a little? Variety is the spice of life right? I don’t mean to stray away from the original question, but I feel the need to acknowledge that straight or curly, natural or relaxed, we are all in this together. A more diverse and inclusive environment in the workplace benefits us all, and discrimination hurts us all, even the light-skinned black girl with the straight hair.

    • Just think about what you are saying. Chemical relaxers are just that “CHEMICALS”. They are put on your scalp and absorbed into the skin. They burn sometimes, have lye in them or some like product. You are not only damaging your hair, but you are damaging your mind. ONE of the reasons, even though we don’t like to admit it,) is this country’s marketed, promoted, elevated, standard of beauty AND it is not your natural hair or your dark skin color. It is straight hair, preferably blond, curly straight hair, white skin. Sometimes we just don;’t want to believe that we are still carry the vestiges of slavery. after all, we are only 50 years out of legalized Jim Crow, after having been indoctrinated for over 600 years, passed down generation to generation, a standard of beautify that does NOT look like us. I HATE to see Black women with fake hair down to their butts. WE truly have not learned how to LOVE ourselves but we sure know how to justify NOT doing so

  • Anonymous

    I really do believe it depends on which sector in which one works. I work in the independent school sector, and, depending on how progressive vs. conservative the school is, a Black woman, or a Black man, for that matter, can wear his/her hair however she/he chooses. Right now, at my current place of employ, there is a Black woman who wears dreads, and a Black man who wears shorter dreads. Their choice of hair style, in this particular venue, has not impacted their respectability or promotability.

  • Anonymous

    Having struggled with the decision to go natural for over 5 years, I took the leap, the comments, and the questions as I continued to climb the corporate ladder. As a VP, I have gained far more confidence in the fact that you are the professional and your hairstyle of choice compliments your personality. I would add that it takes all three, confidence, professionalism, and personality to demonstrate your unique ability to impact the organization you work for or are seeking to employ your talents.

  • Anonymous

    As a white woman, I really don’t know much about the nature and care of Black hair. It’s really only been in the last couple years that I realized (duh) that everything about cutting and caring for that hair type is probably totally different from dealing with my Caucasian hair — and that a lot of what I’d assumed was normal for Black women’s hair, is in fact the product of extensive chemical processing.I suspect that a lot of the “it’s unprofessional” attitude comes from this kind of ignorance, from white folks who simply aren’t aware that this is what certain kinds of hair are SUPPOSED to look like. Or that by pressuring people to change their style, they’re actually pressuring them to use a lot of harsh chemistry to do something completely unnatural.I’m still learning. I don’t work in the corporate world and therefore wasn’t aware of the problem — or of the number of Black women who wear wigs in order to deal with this issue. This article is enlightening, and also makes me sad. I’d hate to have to put myself through all these chemical treatments, or wear a wig, in order to fit someone else’s idea of “professional.” That’s just wrong.

    • Jayme Gill

      This totally transparent, and honest comment is so refreshing!! I so wish that more whites could be aware of the facts about Black hair, and become more understanding and open-minded! That would make it so much easier on Black women, in particular!

  • As a woman of color who wore her hair in a short afro for many years; I decided to don a new hairstyle which was more in line with mainstream society a few years ago. As a member of a specialty team in a large medical center; I was so shocked to hear comments from my colleagues especially the doctors on how happy they were with the change.One M.D. went as far to say that now I truly looked professional and was much prettier than he originally thought I was. It was because of my skills and expertise that they just took my eccentric appearance in stride.Hmmm….. This attitude is everywhere and frankly I’m in shock. I shouldn’t be but with these particular people whom I felt were progressive and open minded; another way to view is certainly in order.That alone is very disconcerting.

  • Anonymous

    At the beginning of this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I underwent chemotherapy treatments and lost my natural hair. I had been wearing my hair with its natural texture for around ten years. It took about a year for the comments to change from, “I liked your hair better the other way,” to “I like your hair!”I choose to wear a wig to work, but the closest wig I could find to match my style was three times my natural hair length hair half braided and half straight texture. I will acknowledge things are progressing when I can find wigs styled for natural African textured hair in the mainstream. Now that is summer time, I could really use a micro fiber wig with a short style.If anyone has a current recommendation in the South Jersey area, I would greatly appreciate it.

  • I believe that White America has come a long way in putting aside their corporate prejudices and has become more accepting of the diversity in Black hairstyles. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Black America.As a very light skinned Black woman with long, naturally curly hair not a day goes by where I don’t get a negative comment from another Black person about my hair. I’m accused of “selling out”, wanting to look white, thinking I’m better than other Black people because I have “good hair”…you name it. I can’t remember the last time a White person disrespected me because of my appearance, yet my own people do it every day.I LOVE the different styles and textures of Black hair and have never thought mine was better than anyone elses (each head of hair has it’s own issues). “Good hair” is hair that looks good on you, no matter the length, texture or color. People of ALL races need to understand that and stop judging each other on such superficial things as a person’s choice of hair style.

    • I agree prejudice is ugly regardless of one’s background, it’s impossible for all people of color to look the same or think the same. We have been forced into mixing due to slavery and in this day and age we are mixed by two people of very opposite backgrounds falling in love such as who else our own parents. I’m a mixture of African/Spanish and probably a little Native. I’m dark olive more or less, look kinda North African, bi-racial or Ethiopian to some. I really like looking like I can be from all parts of Africa including a little Mediterranean. I have natural short hair and my hair grows usually not more than beyond my shoulders but it’s full thick and healty without chemicals now. But it’s not very tightly curled it’s closer to 3C but I am learning to appreciate my curly kinky texture that I have. I never needed to straighten my hair much to style it. My dad had curly hair and my mom’s course. We are products of our lingeage and no one should have to apologize for how they look. When u true deep brown women with truer African hair and features I simply see another type of black beauty, she can’t represent my beauty and I can’t represent hers. Not all Europeans are blond and some are almost as dark as me. Why should this lady with very long hair feel sorry for how she looks? I put it this way, not everyone has to adore or even embrace how I look, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” However, please don’t mistreat me or suggest that I change how I look just to please you. If my appearance or anyone eelse’s brother you that much then please just don’t look, but keep your hatred to yourself and this is pertaining to not just one people group. Let’s try harder to appreciate diversity. Thanks!

    • All people still have a long way to go as far as racial issues go. Blacks over the course of history and their treatment in this country have been taught to hate each other for our differences ( a process practiced during slavery) now we carry this evil. I think we are unique among people looking like no other group of people and yet looking like them all.

    • noneofyourbusiness

      agreed…. is it just hair… it shouldn’t be a big deal… good hair is hair that looks good on you and tat one is happy with..

    • Anonymous

      I agree that light-skinned people are less accepted in the workplace—by both blacks and whites.

      White people are more comfortable with a person who looks like their idea of what black people should look like. I guess they feel that a dark-skinned person is “in his/her place,” whereas a light-skinned black person must constantly be “reminded” that they are black, lest they try to get uppity or something.
      And, some black people simply suffer from the time-worn light-skinned versus dark-skinned idiocy.

  • Anonymous

    I am glad this issue has been brought up for discussion. As a white professional working in the field of diversity and inclusion, I like this topic because it illustrates just how devastatingly personal the effects of systemic racism can be. We are talking about a cultural value that upholds all things white-european as normal and casts everything else as different, and in many cases, suspect. A non-white woman’s “different” hair style becomes a question of grooming, cleanliness, attitude, even professionalism. How ridiculous, and what an indignity to put up with! Spending thousands of dollars on hair care becomes necessary for an entire population to “fit in” as normal, something that whites don’t have to do in most cases. And all this just to get to the playing field! This is a white problem. We whites have got to quit expecting everyone else to “be like me.”

    • noneofyourbusiness

      yepp good old eurocentricism and coming from a mixed euro, african person. evry1 is unique and individual and i am pro choice.. if you want it natural go for it, want colours, length, braids.. go for it? who really cares? the prejudice has to stop.

  • Anonymous

    Luke – Thank you for your post. “so if you think your company really isn’t “ready for that,” it may be that your perception is out of date.” resonates with me. I firmly believe that TODAY black women are more likely to take issue with kinky hair worn in organic styles, than the white males with corner offices. Deep and sad, but true.

    • I have never liked flat straight hair on my head, as a child I had enjoyed full thick hair and yes very soft in texture but still texture type hair. Then at 19 I got my first relaxer, my hair had more length for sure but it was like pasted to my scalp. I had missed my full head of hair! I love curly hair and all types of curly hair. Africans, Middle Eastern, South Pacific people, Israeli, Hispanics, Arabs, Ethiopians and even some Irish all have various types of curly hair. Why I think more people on the planet all together have curly hair. There’s a lot of curly hair too among European ethnicities. True African decent people are known to have the curliest or kinky; but kinky hair is not just an all African trait either.

      Curly hair if maintained well and conditioned can be attractive on anyone. So what’s the big deal about bone straight hair I wonder folks when not all whites have bone straight hair either so why should people with naturally curly and kinky hair be pressured to wear straight hair. I personally don’t mind smooth textured hair at times but I look more healthy and younger with curly type hair. All hair should be cleaned and nourished and styled to fit one’s face. Straight hair that’s flat and oily doesn’t look great either. Straight hair needs less oils to look groomed and curly, kinky and coarse hair needs moisture to look it’s best. It’s more are main fence than texture.

  • Anonymous

    I think it is absolutely outrageous that one’s capabilities should be undermined because of their hair style or texture. I am a student living in South Africa. While similar problems exist here, making an issue out of hair texture seems really trivial. Discrimination unfortunately will alwys exist in any society, but it is up to you to take pride in yourself regardless of how you choose to maintain your hair. It is important to also remeber the norms of any society, and and of the workplace. I believe that one can look and feel professional with their natural hair. It is also not our place to judge or discriminate against those who choose to relax their hair.

    • Post not coming up, so forgive duplicates.

      As a student, you haven’t experienced the corporate world. I’m a Nigerian currently living in Nigeria, so I can tell you that though natural hair is very slowly growing (mainly among the upper-middle class) in Nigeria, it’s still considered unprofessional in the workplace, and with friends in South Africa, the situation there is pretty much the same. I’ve been to a number of natural hair meet-ups here where this is the biggest complaint by naturals and women considering natural hair. I myself was accused, when I first moved back to Nigeria, of being too American, too “bohemian” by women with Brazilian weaves and no hairline. All said I was lucky cos I was an “import”, so employers wouldn’t stress too much about my hair, since they were hiring me for my American education and work experience, but these women could never wear their hair like mine cos their jobs would deem them unprofessional. Some banks apparently even frown on braids and prefer perms and weaves only.

      When I lived in the US, I wore my natural hair in braids for convenience at my first job cos I had a high-stress 60-70-hour-a-week job, but I’d let my hair rest in between braids. It was a very diverse work environment, unique in that all minorities in our part of the country had almost as much representation as whites had. My Afr-American boss and I got along well most of the time–until I took out my braids and wore a neat twist-out or pulled-back style. No, I didn’t imagine it: I was at that job 5 years and even my coworkers noticed and would joke, “Time to get your hair did!”

      For my next job, I straightened my hair for the interview. I’d already interviewed with many firms with my natural hair pulled back or in braids and guess what happened! Yeah, the first time I straightened my hair was the first time I got a job offer. Of course, I changed my hair back the very first day on the job, and during that first couple weeks at that large company where the only other black person was a receptionist, I got so many hesitant questions about my hair being different. I explained that this was my hair’s natural state and kinda fibbed that I just happened to have it straightened the week I flew over for the interview. Luckily, my competence didn’t allow my hair to be a factor at work (but my personal life suffered in this new city, as I’d quit doing braids).

      So wherever you go, natural hair can be an issue. Won’t ever make me go back to the perm, though. I’ve come way too far.

    • noneofyourbusiness

      thats right!! spot on!!

  • Anonymous

    I have chosen to go natural….well not completely. I no longer use chemicals to straighten my hair. My hair is of a texture that I can get away with it. However, it is not straight enough for my workplace, so I pull it back to lessen the look of a 70’s afro. I told one of my coworkers that when I retire in 9 years, I’m going to grow dreds. She replied, “Why not now?”. My reply, “Our workplace is not ready for it.” She didn’t understand why I could not just be myself. Strange….coming from a white female. I’ve had some that say they like my hair as is. Then I’ve had upper management look and treat me as though I’m either a radical or some type of alien being. If my natural hair interfered with my brain functions causing the quality of my work to suffer, I could understand the impression that natural hair is not favorable in the workplace. But that is not the case. So what do I do? …Not be myself. Shame on me!

  • Anonymous

    I used chemicals for as long as I could and decided what was best for my hair and health. As a 43 year Federal employee I received mixed reviews when I decided not to “Perm” any longer. Although I was an upper level manager, I took pride in wearing my hair without chemicals. This was 2 years ago! I retired in January of this year and still enjoy my real hair. I made the decision to do what was best for me and decided to not let others make decisions for me!

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