Many, many naturals make a point to look fabulous everyday, spending hours on their hair, makeup and jewelry. Of course, not all of us are like this, but lots of naturals are. This is part of what makes it so baffling that naturals get harassed by their higher-ups and colleagues at work about their hair. Natural hair and harassment at work are two things that shouldn’t go together but are too often together in the news or in the social media sphere.
It’s baffling, but it does happen. It happens in the form of seemingly innocuous requests to fondle the hair or increasingly obtrusive remarks about how the hair looks. There have been stories of female colleagues ganging up on a natural at the behest of the boss, trying to get her to tame her mane as well as terrifying stories of bosses criticizing their worker’s natural hair in public. Women have also been outright fired from their jobs.
Rhonda Lee, a breast cancer survivor, was fired from her job as a meteorologist after revealing her natural hair live on air. She had tactfully responded to comments on social media, but this was not acceptable to her boss. Melphine Evans, a former executive at British Petroleum Oil Co., was also allegedly fired because of her natural hair. The stories go on and on.
If you find yourself in a compromising situation at your workplace because of your hair, here are some steps you can take.
First, know the rules. The U.S. Army has some unfortunate rules regarding hair; certain twists, braids and corn rows have been deemed forbidden for women. This is unfortunate and the backlash has been fierce, but to blatantly go against the rules is to only get into trouble in a situation like this. So know the rules for your work place, but if your boss only uses words like “unkempt” and “messy,” there is too much to be left to the imagination. Talk to your Human Resources department to see if there are any hard and fast rules about which hair styles are not allowed.
You don’t have to be a victim in this situation. If you feel uncomfortable because of the comments of others, or because people are coming up and putting their hands on your hair, act quickly. Talk to HR or your boss and try to put an immediate stop to this behavior.
I wish I could say that this is all easy to accomplish. It may not be. As I said, it could be your boss who is causing the problems, or maybe you work for a small place without an HR staff. If you have tried to reason with your boss, after making sure that you truly do look professional and neat, and aren’t getting anywhere, this can get incredibly frustrating.
If you do get fired from your job and you believe that it’s because of your natural hair, check out the law in your state. Also, take it to your local newspaper and to social media to get the rest of the natural world on your side.
However, it’s also praiseworthy to forgive mistakes. People of all different ethnicities are often simply curious about natural black hair and make mistakes out stepping boundaries. If a sincere apology is given, try to move on.
Relaxers and weaves have brought women of color to the point where society as a whole has forgotten, or is totally ignorant to what our hair looks like. Thankfully, the natural hair revolution is going strong. Natural hair and harassment at work will, hopefully, not be a trend of the future.