Black hair deserves respect

Sie’anna Mitchell, Opinion Writer

I am excited to be a new college graduate starting my first corporate job in public relations, a job I earned after working as an intern this semester. But I’m nervous about what is ahead of me as a professional Black woman with natural hair.

Courtesy of Sie’anna
Mitchell The CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair, argues that hairstyle and texture should be added to the statutory definition of race. If it were to get passed, it would prohibit employers from discriminating against Black hairstyles.

So far, being in a corporate setting has been one of my proudest experiences. But if I’m honest, I am also apprehensive. Though my workplace is welcoming and supportive, I feel uneasy as I navigate the realities of being a Black woman with natural hair in a mostly white environment.

I am used to being in predominantly white settings; there was little diversity at my high school, university and the offices where I interned. Feeling like the odd person out in the room is not new to me. I always stand out because of my skin color and the different hairstyles that I choose to wear.

Honestly, sometimes I feel alone because I look different when I wear a new hairstyle to work. I wear different hairstyles like braids, cornrows and dreadlocks, or I go natural, because it is part of my culture and who I am as a person. I choose these styles to express myself and to keep my hair protected and healthy. In its natural form, African American hair takes a lot of time to manage. Wearing my hair in braids, cornrows and dreadlocks protects and reduces damage to it from straightening and coloring.

I dislike stereotypes and the attention they bring me. Yes, I know that not everyone internalizes these stereotypes, but we all have biases in our head that are attached to these kinds of hairstyles. Subconscious biases are the stereotypes and assumptions that individuals form outside their own consciousness. In some cases, the biases we have are centuries old.

I love all the compliments I get about my hair, but I dislike it when people want to touch it or say something like it does not look neat or clean or that it looks better than other hairstyles I have had. Why is what others think of Black hair so important? Simple: It can impact your career.

Black women have been fired and turned down for jobs because their hair does not look “professional.” AJ Walker, an Emmy award winning investigative news reporter, worked at different news stations for more than 10 years. For a long time, she asked to wear her hair in braids on air, the answer was no.

According to Walker, when she would try to ask why they wouldn’t allow her to braid her hair, they said: ‘We like your hair the way it is, you look good the way you are … That’s a really dramatic change, AJ, I don’t know if that’s something we want to do right now.”

“It was always a roundabout way, but the end result was always me walking away without my braids every time,” Walker said.

Stories like Walker’s aren’t unusual in that they show how black hair can limit opportunities for Black women. In order to stop this from happening and to make the world a more inclusive place for everyone, people must become more aware of what is going on in the world and learn about others’ cultures.

The discrimination that has happened to Black people because of their hair have brought upon the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and in March 2021. GovTrack estimates that the bill has a 3% chance of being enacted federally.

However, several states have passed versions of the Crown Act, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington, making discrimination against natural black hairstyles in those states illegal. In addition, 34 municipalities have passed Crown Act legislation, according to

The Crown Act generally states that hairstyle and texture would be added to the statutory definition of race. Protected hairstyles include knots, twists, locs and braids, according to Multistate Policy Analyst Lisa Kimbrough. This means that employers would be prohibited from discriminating against these hairstyles.

The CROWN Act’s goal is to change the perceptions of what people think of Black women’s hairstyles and cultural hairstyles, while also making the workplace more accepting and comfortable for women of color, Kimbrough said.

Black women feel the discriminatory effects more than others because they feel like they must make significant alterations to their natural hair textures and presentation. In the workplace, Black women are 3.4 times more likely to have others perceive their hair as unprofessional, 1.5 times more likely to have an employer send them home because of their hair, 80% more likely to change their natural hair, and twice as likely as white women to straighten their hair to fit in at work, according to a 2017 study.

Although the CROWN Act is far from becoming a federal law, its introduction is just one step in the right direction of acknowledging that black hair is professional. Hopefully, the CROWN Act will foster more diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well.

In the corporate world it is common to see people that fit the societal norms put in place long before anyone can remember. But having diversity in the workplace can help people become more educated about different cultures and stereotypes. The CROWN Act can break the stigma of black hair being seen as unprofessional and allow Black people to feel more comfortable when wearing their natural hair in the workplace, at school and elsewhere.

Biases and stereotypes toward African American hair have been in the U.S. for too long. It’s time for these biases and stereotypes to end so people feel included and comfortable. We need to start by making advertisements, movies, TV shows, etc. more inclusive so that little girls will see themselves in their favorite media. This will help create positive affirmations of black natural hair and let people know it is OK to wear your hair in cornrows, dreadlocks or other styles.

But the CROWN Act is a start in encouraging Black women to wear their hair as they want in the workplace, school or other public settings. It lets Black people know that they are supported, and that people respect what they are going through.

In the future, I hope people become more educated about things happening in communities that are not their own. It means people will have to do their own research or that training must be offered on the job so people can learn to understand and appreciate cultural differences. But it does not need to be formal training; education can start by just talking to someone who does not have the same cultural background as you.

Today’s African Americans are paving the way for the next generations to be considered equal by everyone. But there is still so much work to be done before Black people can feel comfortable in their own bodies and are willing to wear their hair in braids without fear of someone saying that it is not professional.

Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” As a UW Oshkosh alumna, I hope to spread awareness about the African American culture in whatever I end up pursuing. I hope my “stone” will create “ripples” that spread awareness, too.