The Office, Your Natural Hair, and How to Handle It

Serious question, why are we (and by “we” I specifically mean women of color (WOC) with 3C – 4C hair patterns) still having to explain and justify our hair and hair style decisions? Throwing in the “it’s just hair” argument” that many love to throw out when the debate of cultural appropriation comes into play, if it’s “just hair” why is it that we as women of color still have to battle between whether or not wearing our hair will make someone in the office feel uncomfortable?

This thought came to me while receiving a lecture from my parents (fun fact: while driving to get my hair braided) about being conscious on how I wear my hair to work since I’m the black woman in my office (yes, you read that correctly, I am the only one). Granted, I love my co-workers and I’ll even credit some of them to be relatively “woke” when it comes to certain issues. But, as my parents spoke to me, I couldn’t help but think about how my co-workers have never really seen my hair in its natural afro state or anything other than a weave, braids, or twists. Would they respond to me differently if I came in with cornrows? I really don’t know.

Over the years, natural hair in the workplace has transformed from taboo to a normality. While everyone may not agree with it, a majority of people are starting to tolerate and accept it. Thanks to YouTubers, blogs, and social media, there are tons of resources to help WOC find acceptable natural hair styles for the workplace. So, since it's out there that natural hair is a ‘thing,” it’s no biggie, right? We good? I thought so; but, the longer my parents spoke to me about consciousness when it came to my hair I began to not be so sure.

In an effort to not make this rant, so I decided to be proactive and provide you with a helpful guide to help educate and guide a discussion on natural hair in the workplace to those who just “don’t get it.

HOW TO TALK ABOUT YOUR NATURAL HAIR TO YOUR OFFICE

The day started out like any other, you woke up, got dress, drove to work, and now you find yourself at the coffee machine for your morning fix. All the sudden, you hear “oh, my goodness, your hair is so different today! How long did that take?” You turn around to find an eager-looking Suzie (yes, in the scenario we will call her Suzie; but, think of her as “that co-worker” we all seem to encounter) anxiously waiting for your response. The following steps are designed to help you through it:

Take a Breath & Assess the Situation

Let’s give Suzie the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she really is just curious. In which case, it’s important to use this as a teachable moment.

Respond Short, Sweet, and Patiently.

Now, Suzie probably doesn’t know any better or even understand how asking a question like this is not only annoying but awkward. In which case, a simple “yes, it is different. I enjoy switching it up from time to time, and it took a few hours as most trips to the salon tend to do. But, how was your weekend?”

Listen and Educate When Necessary

If Suzie just can’t let the topic go. Listen attentively and engage appropriately. Clearly, she wants to turn this into a teachable moment, so therefore we much teach. But, remember step 2, “respond short, sweet, and patiently.” For example, if she brings up anything regarding Kim K’s Boxer braids or Kylie’s wigs, nicely inform her that they are cornrows and are have been prevalent in the black/African community for centuries.

Use Examples

Videos and images are very helpful in getting your points across when it comes to explaining “how do you get your hair like that,” and “what do you put on your hair.” Thank you, Technology!

Be Willing to Teach

Now, this is very important, we must be willing to teach. That’s the only way to start a productive dialogue and allow people to understand.

If None of that Works…Let It Go

At this point, if Suzie still wants to talk about it. You have to dismiss her and move on with your day. If this conversation is already over thirty minutes and she still doesn’t get, she probably won’t for a very long time; so, don’t waste your time or let your coffee get cold.

It can be frustrating having to explain yourself to those who don't understand, but it's a part of life. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone, and the beauty of diversity is that we can have these opportunities to learn from one another. To end off this post, enjoy a video from the web series "Unwritten Rules," that ALL WOC can relate to.