Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Hair Dilemma: Conform to Mainstream Expectations or Emphasize Racial Identity


You know when I shared what was a very positive story yesterday only to get some lamebrain anonymous commentor bring up affirmative action, it only brought home how deep these problems run.

It definitely connects to the workforce and going out from academia to the big bad world to make your mark. Black women have a serious decision at that point. It's the decision of how you're going to "do" your hair. Usually, by then, the choice has already been made. But you go through the cycle again as graduation is one of those life markers. I truly object to the world "choice" for quite a few reasons. The most important being it makes it sound like it's easy. It's not the same as choosing between Chinese chicken salad and Caesar salad. That's a choice.

You'll frequently have people saying "oh, it's a choice" or "it's just hair." The "choice" of being a black woman and wearing your hair natural or nappy is a vigourous debate right now. Yes, if you parse it down to this: chemically straighten your hair versus wearing it in its natural texture, it's a choice. However, this level of thinking is so delusional that I just avoid the topic if someone says that.

It will be a choice when all the negative implications of being black are gone. It will be a choice when you're no longer scared that someone is going to mention Buckwheat when referencing your hair. It will be a choice when nappy hair is no longer villified. When employers are still banning natural hair styles, it's not a choice. When the mere issue of a black woman wearing her hair natural will send her family into a panic and when the black American experience has a rich history of those with lighter skin and straighter hair being treated better, which still seems to be the norm, it's not a choice.

Don't fool yourselves.

I found out about this article in the Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, The Hair Dilemma: Conform to Mainstream Expectations or Emphasize Racial Identity. They hit it dead on:
Black women do not have the luxury of mere preferences; their choices are colored by a historical lens that includes negative stereotypes and lowered expectations. Throughout American history, skin color, eye color, and hair texture have had the power to shape the quality of Black people's lives, and that trend continues today for Black women in the workplace.

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