Naturally Professional & Changing Cultural Symbols

I spent this evening as a panelist with a very knowledgeable and fine group. Tonight’s event was hosted by the University of Memphis’ National Association of Black Journalists. We discussed being “naturally professional” — the stereotypes of natural hair in the corporate world.

Are there stereotypes associated with natural hair in the professional work environment? Yes. Some people view natural hair as untidy, or that it reflects rebellion and personality/attitude issues.

 

There was much to discuss and learn. From a sociological and cultural perspective, hair is symbolic. It carries a meaning, whether you like the meaning or not. Can we redefine symbols and change their meanings? Certainly. However, most people are resistant to change, especially when it comes to changing their minds, which rests on their values, beliefs, and ideas.

Beauty Culture

Realistically speaking, it is 2013 and we must confront the issue of what messages our chosen hairstyles and natural textures send to society. Most importantly, we must confront what those messages mean to us on an individual basis. Change happens one person at a time. Only you can choose to change your own mind, and how you see yourself and society. This includes ideas about beauty.

Isn’t that the real issue with conversations about hair ? Ideas about beauty? These are values or standards imposed upon us that we choose to internalize or not. Our society has sold to us its standard of beauty. As a culture, we bought it. That price tag was pretty hefty.

The perspective that I shared tonight was that whether you are natural, have relaxed hair, wear a wig, weave, or whatever; at the end of the day you must love you. If you can only love yourself based on the texture or style of your hair, we need to fix something. When you peel back all the layers, all the superficial stuff, do you love who you are? Do you accept yourself?

I honestly hate “natural” hair being solely applied to people of color, as though other races don’t have natural hair. I also hate the term “ethnic” hair, hair care, and hair styles being applied to people of color. We are not the only ones who have an ethnicity. Everyone has an ethnicity. A shared culture or nationality equals ethnicity.

The Movement

In keeping with the theme, there are many reasons why a person joins the “natural hair movement”. Whatever the reason, I sincerely hope it is a personal choice to open your perspective and just be who you are, and not a cover-up for the symptom of self-esteem issues, whose root has not been dealt with. Yes, someone with natural hair, just like someone with relaxed hair, can STILL have self-esteem issues that are not connected to hair, but to something much deeper.

However, if your personal choice to wear your hair natural boosts your confidence and feelings of self-worth — good for you! Still, be sure that you are you, not matter what you have or what you look like. True beauty radiates from a pure heart.

“Just Say No” to Self-Righteousness

I caution natural ladies to not think of themselves in a self-righteous manner, as though embracing natural hair means you love yourself and God more than a woman who chooses to wear relaxed tresses. Having natural hair does not mean you will avoid damage, split ends, and the like.

I equally caution ladies with relaxed hair to not think of themselves in a self-righteous manner, as though having relaxed hair makes them more polished and sophisticated. Straight hair is not more beautiful than other textures.

The Big Question(s)

Are we truly “not” our hair? We say that: I am not my hair. But do we mean it? Is this conversation just an extension of racism and colorism within our own culture and society in general?

The question of the evening was: Is natural hair professional? Yes. Just like any type and texture of hair, no matter what color you are, your hair is expected to be groomed, especially in the corporate world. If it’s groomed, it’s professional: kinky, curly, wavy, straight, and everything in between. The issue is that mainstream society has not caught on to this realization that your hair texture is not a reflection of your skills, efficiency, intellect and productivity. Through promotion, education and creativity, we can plant this thought: All hair textures —regardless of race and ethnicity— are beautiful.

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