My senior year of college, I had a breathtakingly beautiful roommate from Syria. She had soft olive skin, a great physique, and outrageously long eyelashes. She also had a beautiful head of hair, but we only saw it while behind the closed doors of our apartment because she – like other Muslim women – would cover herself as a sign of modesty, protecting her crown of glory. Within the first week of sharing our living quarters, I asked her to teach me to wrap myself. She graciously agreed, simply asking if I was I Muslim. I replied, “Girl, this is for a bad hair day!” I checked to make sure my request wasn’t offensive or considered, in her eyes, as a form of appropriation. “You wouldn’t be offended if I, a Christian woman, covered with a hijab, would you?” She laughed hysterically as if I had told her the most gut-busting joke, and she assured me that she would take no offense to it. Our bond quickly flourished with because of our shared curiosity for each other’s culture, religion, and family dynamics, amongst other things.
I made the discovery that “Black women aren’t allowed to have a bad hair day” while in my second year of law school. I am a Black woman and I work in a predominately caucasian field. I also attended law school at a PWI. Oh, and did I mention that at the time I was transitioning to natural hair? That’s right, for 13 months leading up to this eureka moment, I had been clean from that creamy crack that we call a relaxer. And boy, was I going through some serious withdrawal. I was not “going natural” because of some Afrocentric, back to my roots journey of self-discovery. I certainly was not trying to stand up to “the man” or “the system” that tells Black women that the way their hair grows out of their scalp isn’t good enough. In fact, I’d always loved long, silky straight hair. I was simply curious. Curious to see what my hair looked like in its natural state. My mother has the cutest curls that glisten and coil with water and I was inspired by her bold cuts and wash-n-go styles. I wanted to know what that was like. I went in thinking I may hate it and end up relaxing it all over again, but whatever I decide, it’s my choice.
So while in my 2L year of school, I had my epiphany. I had just taken down an install – a weave sew-in. Because I had a hair appointment right after class, I would have to go to work and school with my hair washed and blow dried. Well, my hair is just way too thick to put it in a ponytail without straightening it, so a ponytail was out of the question. I didn’t have time to twist it up and I sure couldn’t wear it wild and crazy. Remember, I was transitioning so half of my head was natural, while the ends were still straight. *insert side eye* Ain’t nobody got time for that! So with all things considered, I turned to my trusty scarves in order to make a head wrap. I decided on a simple, classic head wrap with a low bun at the nape of my neck. “There,” I thought, “all my hair is neatly tucked away.” But the more that I looked at myself, the more conscious I became of my “ethnicity.” And the more conscious I became of my blackness, the more uncomfortable I grew with the thought of me walking into class and my corporate job with my head wrapped.
My culture had taught me to wrap my hair like this but my predominately white colleagues in the legal profession would certainly view it as “too Black” and “Afrocentric.” I remember thinking that I would rather not be on the receiving end of microaggressions because of my blackness, but time was running out and I had to do something.
The hijab! I grabbed another scarf and wrapped myself as our Muslim sisters do when they are covering themselves. That’s right – this little Christian went into her corporate world dressed as a Muslim woman because Black women aren’t allowed to have bad hair days. In hindsight, however, I did not give just deference to the enormous weight that Muslim women bare in America when they choose to practice modesty and cover. I chose to adopt the practice from another culture because I knew Human Resources wouldn’t reprimand me, for fear of a discrimination lawsuit. But by adopting that cultural expression, I felt as though I was placing my very own on the self.
While society has begun to accept natural hairstyles, corporate America could still stand a course in racial sensitivity. At the time, I thought there was no happy medium and certainly no room for compromise. That is until I saw a beautiful Black woman of influence and position walk into a law firm, reporting to work, with her African headwrap and her name on the marquee above the head. That was until I saw Black women in HR rock voluminous coiled crowns that smelled of shea butter and natural oils. Don’t tell me representation doesn’t matter! It matters; it will always matter!
Can you share a time where you censored your hair because of societal norms?