A new twist: Natural hair in the work place is becoming more popular

A new twist: Natural hair in the work place is  becoming more popular
July 30
00:00 2015

In above photo: Ayana Hardin, back left, owner of Ayana’s Glory Locs, catches up with client Angel Lee as Hardin provides her expertise in “sister-locking” Lee’s natural hair, interlocking her hair between itself to tighten and form the desired locks. (Photo by Erin Mizelle for the Winston-Salem Chronicle)

Felecia Piggott-Long, Ph. D.

For The Chronicle

Hair politics in the workplace has been around as long as black women have been there.

Some black women have lost their jobs for wearing their hair in natural styles.

For instance, Shreveport, Louisiana television station KTBS fired meteorologist Rhonda Lee after she responded to racially charged remarks about her short natural hairstyle.

The topic has even popped up in panel discussions, such as the one sponsored by Georgia State University, which formed a panel discussion titled “Black Women, Their Hair & The Work Place – A Dialogue.”

However, the new millennium has set the stage for a paradigm shift in hair politics and hair fashion in the workplace.

Today, it is not surprising to see women sporting kinky twists, locks, Nubian Knots, braids, afro puffs and even afros.

The twist now is that many of the black women wearing the natural styles are women in charge.

“Naturally kinky hair was viewed as dirty, unkempt and unattractive into the mid-20th century,” Tiya Miles, chairwoman of the Department of Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, said on CNN.

Dr. Trudier Harris, the former J. Carlyle Sitterson Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has much to say about negative attitudes that have been extended toward natural hair and locks in the workplace.

“You can easily document negative attitudes toward locks in the workplace” Harris said. “I mention some of those in my essay on hair in Summer Snow [her book “Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South,” published in 2007]. African-American females and males have been required to cut their locks in order to lessen friction in their places of work.

“It is noteworthy, however, that, given the numbers of professional athletes and other highly visible African-Americans who currently have locks, that the climate of tolerance is stronger these days that it has ever been,” Harris said.

According to Ayana Harding, the owner of Ayana’s Glory Locs in Winston-Salem, the year 2000 marked the explosion of a trend for African-American women toward embracing their natural hair, free from chemical straighteners.

“Going natural is empowering, and it says something about who we are as a people. We are no longer suppressing our hair. We want to show ourselves as people of beauty,” Harding said. “We are showing that there is nothing wrong with natural hair,” she said.

“… Since I started my shop in 2000, there has been an explosion, a revolution. There is something very positive about it. I know that one day there would be more people with natural hair. What will happen in 15 more years? Who knows?”

Ayana’s Glory Locs serves a clientele comprised of 75 percent professional women, such as doctors, professors, dentists, corporate executives and clergywomen.

At this shop they can have their hair done in sister locs, g-locs or traditional locs.

For Harding, having her hair locked was very liberating.

“When I looked in the mirror at my locs, I felt that the ceiling had been lifted from the shop. I felt like chains were being released from my arms and feet. I wanted every black woman in America to feel what I felt,” Harding said.

Minnie Ervin, owner of Ervin’s Beauty Services on Patterson Avenue, has been in business since 1976.

She has only had one relaxer in her life, and that was in the 1960s.

She prefers the bounce and body of natural hair that is straightened with a hot comb rather than with chemicals, and so do many of her customers.

“During my years of service to the community, I have to say that 80 percent of my customers who had perms or relaxers have gone back to natural hair in the last 10 years. Permed hair seems to lay too close to the head, and the chemicals take the elasticity out of the hair and makes the hair too straight,” Ervin said.

Recent data from the global research firm Mintel supports the claim that natural hair may be the current norm in African-American haircare.

In her article “Natural Hair: It’s More Than a Hashtag,” Kerisha Harris records the following research.

Chemical relaxers “now account for just 21 percent of Black haircare sales, and the sector has declined 26 percent since 2008 and 15 percent since 2011, when sales reached $179 million, the only category not to see growth.”

The natural hair trend shows an increase the sale of styling products such as moisturizers, curl creams, setting lotions and the like – sales of products to maintain natural styles – but the multicultural analyst at Mintel shows that “expenditures from 2008 to 2013 shows steady growth in the Black haircare category for all categories except relaxers/perms.”

Also, more women are making the choice to wear natural styles in the workplace.

Shontell Robinson, human relations director of Forsyth County Government, is an African-American woman who helps interview people for the 2,100 jobs in the county.

“Whether a person’s hair is natural or processed does not determine whether that person is professional. Natural or processed hair does not have an impact. I have two staff members with natural hair, and they look very professional. We look for people who can do the job,” Robinson said. “Whether they wear braids, curly styles or a bun, they have a professional demeanor, and they perform professionally.”

Pam Small, receptionist of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Human Resources Department, has seen many of the more than 7,800 workers who serve the school system.

“I have never heard that hairstyle has an impact on the hiring practices here. Some women’s hair is skin short, or may be worn in a braid. I have never seen a hairstyle have any impact here. People are judged on their job performance,” Small said.

Chronicle Managing Editor Donna Rogers contributed to this report.

Coming next week: African-American women in charge speak about natural hair.  

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