From tight coils to braids to afros and shaved heads, Black hair has long been an important outlet for creative expression in the Black community. Throughout history, Black hair has been a reflection of Black identity and culture: Think 70s Black Panther activist Angela Davis with her afro or former Essence Magazine editor Susan Taylor with her signature cornrows or Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison with her gray locs.
“You can do anything with Black hair. When you walk into a space, people [notice],” said Shenita “Soul” Barnett, a loctician who owns a hair salon on Earhart Boulevard. “Our hair can be big. It can be straight. It can be short. It can be long and it still stands out.”
In recent years actress Tracee Ellis Ross and comedian Chris Rock produced projects focused on Black hair. Ross’ six-episode docuseries, “The Hair Tales”, was featured on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network and Hulu in 2022. The series featured Black women from all walks of life discussing their hair journeys and experiences navigating professional workspaces with society-appropriate hairstyles.
The CROWN Coalition, founded by a group of social justice organizations and Dove, the skin- and hair-care brand, led a campaign to get states to address race-based hair discrimination in the workplace and in public schools. The acronym CROWN stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. The coalition’s model legislation, the CROWN Act, prohibits “the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.”
But according to the CROWN Coalition’s 2023 Workplace Research Study, “race-based hair discrimination remains a systemic problem in the workplace — from hiring practices to daily workplace interactions — disproportionately impacting Black women’s employment opportunities and professional advancement.”
The study found that 54% of Black women “feel that they have to wear their hair straight for a job interview to be successful” and that Black women’s hair is “2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional.”
New Orleans native Sabrina C. Mays remembered her own hair experience at a former job. She said she would often wear her long locs up in a bun at work. But one day she decided to wear her hair down for a presentation. Her former boss reached to touch her hair and she stopped him.
“I said, ‘No, no. Don’t do that,’” Mays said. “This is me. This is who I am. This is my spirit.”
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