Corporate Hair

22 May

I strained to catch the recruiter’s words as he rattled off the list of do’s and don’ts for the interview.  White or pastel button-downs only: No loud colors. Suits must be black, gray or navy.  Pinstripes were banned.  For women, absolutely no pantsuits, he continued. Skirts only. Apparently, in Texas, women in pantsuits aren’t taking seriously. He followed with mandates regarding hair: Absolutely no braids or twists, he bellowed, as he surveyed the room. 

Nearly five years ago, I was given a crass introduction to the unwritten rules of the corporate world. I was a fresh-faced high school graduate surrounded by other college newbies at the orientation for a renowned minority program that prides itself on training people of color for lucrative careers in the corporate world.

“You can express yourself after you get the job,” he remarked as he talked of the importance of being a blank canvas.  I wondered if the statement was directly explicitly to the men in the room. There was no disclaimer. And I took another look at the crowd, I realized I was the only woman who’s hair wasn’t straightened.

I fingered the twists in my head in horror.

Hair is a particularly sensitive issue for black women. From an early age, we have been taught that unruly mass atop our heads is something that must be tamed and straightened to be deemed acceptable.

I recall countless sessions of squirming in my grandmother’s chair as she took a pressing comb, fresh out of the little heating stove to my kinky curls.

Middle school meant upgrading from the sizzling scent of burning hair to the creamy buckets of no-lye relaxer—a permanent, relatively painless solution to ensuring the hair’s  submission.

As my high school days neared their end, I witnessed a new breed of black women emerge. Celebrities like Lauryn Hill, India Arie and Jill Scott donned hair unaltered and completely un-straightened.

They inspired me to question why my hair must be straightened to be deemed acceptable. They made me ask why i ascribed to standards of beauty could be only achieved through torture.

I went natural as soon as I entered Babson, literally. At the college’s orientation, unexpected rain showers turned my freshly pressed hair into little knotty curls.

I seized the opportunity to embrace them. At first, the journey was rocky. I had never experienced caring for such textures before.

As the ebony gentleman paced the stage and continued his rant about the importance of accommodation in ensuring employment, I became disgusted.

A minority organization endorsing slicking down and stripping down one of the most notable symbols of black identity seems ironic.

Of course, the organization is acting as the mouthpiece of its corporate clients–clients who would respond by not hiring the individual that dares defy the norm.

Or were they? Many people of color have been sipping the mainstream kool-aid so long that they fully believe and manifest such prejudices, often times worse than their non-minority colleagues.

I could be wrong. Maybe it’s another Texas thing: Perhaps the Lone Star state’s hair code is more stringent than others.

Maybe I should have complied and eagerly shed my locks for a stab at corporate glory.

Instead, I decided that any company or organization that frowns upon taking pride in cultural identity and will only accept minorities as a watered-down corporate clones is probably equally stifling in other areas. 


One Response to “Corporate Hair”


  1. The Swimming Lesson « The Re-Education of LaShonda - July 19, 2011

    […] A couple of things have changed since then. For one, I no longer worry about the evil water turning my hair unruly. […]


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