I love Black History month because it allows so many conversations to come to the surface. These are conversations that happen far too infrequently in my book, so I celebrate them with extra joy when they do. For example, while the focus of this month is on voting (something I am also passionate about), there is also a dialog about black hair.
Now, many of you might think, “This is not my issue.” Yet I will contend that it is. Allow me to explain. As a black woman with natural hair who does it herself, it takes time, resources and energy. I have a toddler, a husband and a full-time job. Something has to give. Often, it is my hair. This means that I am Queen of the Bun on my worst days and Queen of the Ponytail on my best.
I have had people reach out to touch my hair to see if it is real (it is) or out of curiosity because they have never seen black hair up close. I’ve even had people pull my hair because they think that my hair is a wig (it is not, but there is nothing wrong with wigs – I just think they are hot). I have had people tell me that I would be more professional if my hair were straightened or relaxed. I’ve even had people tell me I should dye my hair because, “the grey is showing through.”
Among my peers, I have friends who wear the wig, the weave, the dreads, the natural and everything in between. We have all been told that we do not look professional enough; that we do not fit the model of education executives. Yet students see us and smile. They recognize the versatility in what is possible with our hair. And, sometimes, they see themselves.
At the same time, employers have strong feelings about black women’s hair. Sentiments are so strong that states, including California and New York, have passed legislation to stop natural hair discrimination.
To this end, what is seen as professional hair impacts adults in the workplace, adults such as award-winning journalist Brittany Noble of Jackson, Mississippi. Her boss told her that her natural hair was unprofessional and the equivalent of his, “throwing on a baseball cap to go to the grocery store.” She was terminated from her job after filing discrimination charges.
Chastity Jones lost a job offer because she would not cut her dreadlocks in Alabama. Worn short, her natural dreadlocks violated the company’s grooming policy because, “They tend to get messy,” according to a human resources manager. For context, the job was managing a call center.
The NCAA released new rules last year regarding hair length of wrestlers following the demand that Andrew Johnson, a high school wrestler, cut his dreadlocks off. He had the choice to compete or lose his own identity to fit someone else’s standard. Third grader Marian Scott was excluded from a class photo for wearing red hair extensions – which she had done regularly since the start of school.
I could go on, but why would I want to? As someone who has been pressured to use excessive heat, chemical relaxers or weaves to conform to European hair standards, I simply do not have the time, money or patience. Instead, what I have is a desire for people to learn about black hair and how it affects the lived experiences of black people – at home, work and school.
An opportunity to begin this exploration exists. Join the community beginning Feb. 7 from 6-8 p.m. at Ogden’s Union Station to celebrate Black History Month. Held in conjunction with the First Friday Art Stroll, the event will include a short film about hair, demonstration tables on African-American hair care, head wraps, and the Crowns exhibition, along with an interactive display on church hats. Visitors can try on the hats and take a photograph. This family friendly event is free, open to the public and in partnership with the Project Success Coalition and the Union Station Museums. The exhibit is on loan from the West Valley Arts and will remain at Union Station through Feb. 28, 2020.