By Chinwe A. Onuoha
Wearing an Afro made such a powerful statement in the 1960s, but that doesn’t seem to be the case today. In recent news, employers and school administrators have regulated policies that could make finding employment hard for people with natural hair.
This issue could push people to hold onto their hair relaxers for the fear of joining America’s long unemployment line, but Rutgers University’s PhD candidate, Shana Russell, has remained unmoved.
Her decision to join partners with a pair of scissors at a barbershop in 2006 was simply out of curiosity. Unlike most naturals, she didn’t start a hair blog, a YouTube vlog series, or write in a journal about her big chop experience. Instead, she took each day with stride and allowed her hair to “do its thing,” as she recalls.
At that time, Russell was a recent graduate of Florida A&M University, a historically Black institution, where twist outs, Afros, and bantu knots were common hairstyles for many of its students. For the English major, that was a home stretch from the multicultural, military town that she grew up in.
In Newport News, V.A. she never saw anyone with natural hair except for herself. With Russell’s hair growing fast and long, her mom didn’t know what to do with it. After wearing her hair in pigtails, her mother permed her hair in their kitchen with “Just For Me,” a no-lye conditioning relaxer cream.
Russell was 12-years-old then, but by that age hair relaxers were nothing new to most young Black girls. With the “Just For Me” jingle attracting more mothers into buying their products, getting a perm appeared to be more of a necessity.
“I wonder whether she was worried about people pressuring or ostracizing me about having wild hair,” she says.
Her mother might have thought about that possibility then, but it’s a pressing issue for many Black naturals who are looking for employment today. According to hbcudigest.com, “Hampton University School of Business has a special condition for male members of its five-year MBA program. No locks, no cornrows.”
Its Dean, Sid Credle, stated that “all we’re trying to do is to make sure our students get into the job.”
Considering the economy that we live in today, getting a job after graduating is ideal, but what Credle may be neglecting in his message is the need for individuality. At Hampton University, which is also a historically Black institution, one would think that wearing something that’s as “home-grown” as dreads or cornrows would be encouraged.
Once a trademark for bravery in the 60’s, natural hairstyles have turned into a taboo in the American workforce, and through it all Russell has remained true to herself.
“I think that one of the best things that could have happened to me was when I cut my hair. That was the last step that I took toward accepting myself. I did the emotional work of going, ‘O.K., I know exactly what I look like without any help,’ and now I’m happy with me being authentic with myself,” she says.