In this day and age, we shouldn’t be in a position where we have to choose between a job or education and our roots.
Black women and men are sometimes denied professional or educational opportunities – such as the learner at Pretoria High School for Girls, who defied her school’s policy on hair by being unapologetic about her black aesthetic.
A few women tell us how they would respond if someone told them that their natural hair was unprofessional.
- Would fake work better for you?
HR specialist Hope Lukoto says she would ask: “Do you have an allergic reaction to how I was born?” Depending on who’s” asking, Lukoto says she would have a comeback. “I’d pick on them and say something like, ‘Let’s talk about that lipstick colour’,” she says. No one should force you to wear a weave or relax your hair.
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- Please define “unprofessional”
Ask the person to define the word and be specific. People shouldn’t throw words around that they have no understanding of. Neo Mutuma says being professional is about being appropriate – and believes black hair is appropriate. “I’d tell him or her not to dictate what’s unprofessional and what’s not,” says Onke Dumeko. She adds that the lack of understanding of natural hair shouldn’t affect what she can and can’t do with her crown. “The organisation must make an effort to educate themselves and understand black hair and make allowances for it. We’re living in an African context; you can’t be ignorant about such matters.”
- How would you feel if something you were born with were deemed unacceptable?
As a black woman, your hair grows out the way it’s meant to. No one has control over their hair type, so if your hair is type 4c, then no one should make you feel bad for that. Though there are options to blow-dry, straighten or relax – you don’t have to do. “I’d tell him or her not to infringe on my right to be exactly as I am,” says Dumeko. You can’t judge me on something I can’t help.”
- How does my hair impact my performance at work?
Depending on your field and speciality, wearing your natural hair can have limitations. “As ‘naturalistas’, we’re fully aware of the risks that come with wearing our hair in its natural state, but still choose to wear it that way,” says Mutuma. “It’s about authenticity and staying true to yourself.” She adds that her brains, skills and experience will earn her a job or promotion – not her hair. Busi Manunga says she would ask what she should do. “When the person gives me options, I would then ask who should pay for it,” she says. “Because for as long as I’m able to be effective and efficient at work, I don’t see why we’re having the conversation.”
- Don’t touch my crown
If there’s one thing that 2016 has taught us, it’s that black hair is political and personal. Mutuma says she’d immediately rebel and not change how she wears her hair. “Hair is personal; it defines the personality you’ve taken on,” she says. Mutuma goes on to explain that it’s more than just hair on your head – it represents who you are.
- I will not conform to your standard of beauty
For the long time, black people have had to conform to Western beauty ideals and standards. That ship sunk a long time ago. Mutuma believes we can’t change people’s perspectives of hair if we keep conforming. “I shouldn’t have to alter myself to fit into someone’s box of success or professionalism. It’s our job to challenge and ultimately change the negative view of natural hair by rocking it unashamedly.”