Let me be clear. I love black hair. I love a good set of micro braids, a fierce up ‘do, a hard press, a sleek bob, a funky (and very chunky) afro, a well-executed weave—I love it all. I absolutely adore the versatility of black/textured hair…but I am SO sick of talking about it!

In a new article on the Black Enterprise website, Marcia Wade Talbert wonders if natural hair can be a viable option for those climbing the corporate ladder.

After reading the status of a Facebook friend wondering if her natural locks were “work appropriate,” Talbert asked Black Enterprise readers if having an “ethnic” hairstyle is the right move for African-Americans looking to make moves in the corporate sector.

Although Talbert—who also has natural hair—asserted she was “really bothered” by idea that men and women with natural hair cannot be successful in corporate America, at the end of the article she concluds that if a natural hair diva has a hard time landing a job (despite her stellar qualifications), she only has a few options.

“The reality is that your chances for getting a job and getting promoted are lessened when you don’t conform/assimilate to an ideal, predefined standard of appearance in certain industries. Is it right? No. Is there something you can do about that? Yes. If you’ve demonstrated that you have an incomparable work ethic, you can tame your company’s most challenging projects, and you’ve dotted every I or crossed every T on your resume but you still aren’t getting hired or promoted, then you have three choices: 1) Change industries 2) start your own company or 3) conform and straighten your hair and/or cut your locs”

The fact that this conversation—the professional viability of natural hair—is still taking place in 2011 is perhaps more vexing than the issue itself.

I am well aware of the close-mindedness of the corporate sector. In some places women are still expected to wear skirts and pantyhose, and men must be clean-shaven. However, what’s troubling is that these conversations about hair and professionalism only seem to relate to black people.

For instance, no one questions whether or not white women’s natural blonde, brunette or wavy tresses are appropriate for the workplace. And I don’t ever hear anyone wondering if the bone-straight texture of Asian women’s hair is acceptable. No, somehow Black folks hair—as it grows out of our heads—is somehow foreign, scary, or political and therefore not safe for the workplace.

What’s up with that?

What’s sad is that the view that natural black hair is someone not safe for work doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. Although newer companies seem to be more relaxed about their employees’ style choices, more established firms still cling to outdated views about black hair. Moreover, we still have black folks who view natural black hair as unkempt and unprofessional, so it’s no wonder there’s still a discussion taking place. I mean, if we can’t get it together, how can we expect others to see the beauty (and down right normalness) of our hair?

Although, as Talbert mentioned, most black workers only have a few uncomfortable options—switch careers, start a business, or conform by straightening/cutting their hair—I wish more of us would insist that employers take us as we are: brilliant, talented, and totally capable of knocking any job out of the park.

What do you think? Why are people STILL so conflicted about natural hair?

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  • MW

    I most absolutely it’s something state-side but further: to be honest I think it’s outside of the realms of higher education.

    My hair has never been questioned by any of my professors or any peers who are within my schooling realm: it’s a non issue because when we all sit for the MCATs about the only way my hair will matter is if I’ve put in too much product and it leaks onto the page.

    Also, as a Caribbean woman, I think in general, there’s a more accepting attitude of women who deviate from “standard” in other countries than there is in the United States. Further, I think the negative attitude in more pervasive in the South (for complex reasons) than above the Mason-Dixon line.

    It’s just hair. We spend too much time discussing and dissecting it!

    That no other race can experience hair transformations as well as a Black woman can (and always look good) should be embraced, not a cause for divisiveness.

    And as far as naturals go, why are we segregating ourselves by hair typing? Where I once thought it beneficial in terms of products and regimen, I’m finding it’s mostly rubbish and seems to call upon women to still allow for European aesthetics. . . ‘my hair isn’t kinky, it’s curly’. Who the hell cares?