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November 19, 2023

For many melanated people, hair can be an issue when it comes to succeeding in a white collar, corporate America type of structure. This applies to both men and women. One’s hair is one of the first things that is seen by those in a position to judge. Unfortunately, far too often, they may deem the hair to be “too black”, “too ethnic”, or “too ghetto” and immediately dismiss. This individual did not get a fair shake simply because of cultural differences. There have been numerous lawsuits throughout the country of unfair discriminatory practices regarding hair. Some states have even introduced or passed legislation to confront the issue.

              For black men, the white-collar world prefers a low-cut fade. It can be curly on the top but must be faded or low all the way around. Dredlocks and afros are strictly forbidden. One also should not expect success with cornrolls or a perm. Ponytails will not get anyone higher on the corporate ladder either. These styles are not considered “safe”. These are the hairstyles of gangbangers, troublemakers, and pimps as far as the white-collar environment is concerned. People who wear their hair in these styles should be avoided at all costs.

              Unfortunately, it does not stop at the hair on the top of one’s head. Facial hair also plays a prominent role in success. Men, especially black men are expected to be “naked faced”. No facial hair whatsoever. No moustache, no beard. When one has facial hair, it is believed they are dubiously up to no good, hiding something behind their facial hair. It is akin to the glasses and the fake moustache disguise. Facial hair on black men is a taboo that many do not realize when entering the white-collar arena. It is highly frowned upon.

              Women traditionally have more hair, so they have more opportunities to be more diverse with their styles, but black women still have plenty of limitations as well. All natural styles are going to cause concern. Also, what are deemed to be exotic colors will also trigger outrage. To be fair, this will be the case regardless of race. Black women can succeed with short cuts or weaves. In essence, their hair needs to look quite like their European counterpart’s hair. There is not much variation that is going to be tolerated. When it comes to white collar corporate America, the word to adhere to is assimilation. The goal there is for everyone to be homogenous.

              Many people who are not of color reading this may be somewhat confused. They are probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?” What is loss on many Caucasians is that hair is a part of black people’s culture. This goes back to the Motherland of Africa. Biblical stories of people like Sampson having his strength in his hair. It is disheartening for a child and his parents to work so hard grooming a head full of hair into the perfect afro, or dreadlocks, or braids and then must chop it all off to appear to look and fit into the white-collar world. What was a source of pride for years, ends up being something offensive to some which means it must be discarded.

              A great example of cultural representation through hair is retired NBA player Allen Iverson. Allen Iverson has been named one of the 75 greatest players of all time and is a cultural icon of a very important pivotal change in the NBA. If you look at Allen Iverson when he played basketball at Georgetown or when he went to the podium as the number one pick of the Philadelphia 76ers, you will see a young man, in a suit with a short haircut. As the season progressed, the hair became longer, and the skin became tatted. He was standing out for his style of play and his style off the court as well. The NBA decided to implement a dress code to control him. When he did photoshoots, his tattoos were photoshopped off. They insisted on headbands and hats to hide his hair. Allen Iverson was bucking the system and the NBA’s corporate sponsors were nervous. The league was considered “too black” in the 1970s. Rampant drug abuse was taking place, and many players were playing great but were high as they were playing. Magic Johnson came in the eighties and was marketable enough to save the NBA. Fifteen years later, Allen Iverson was about to undo all that hard work.

              Allen Iverson and the many that followed in his footsteps was a monumental figure for blacks. He ushered in a mentality for black people to be authentically themselves. He was able to show and prove that who he was, how he dressed or presented himself had no bearing on his talent, skill level, or professionalism. Many clean-cut basketball players hair began to grow, and tattoos began to show. When Kobe Bryant joined the trend and grew his afro, corporate America had to respect it. NFL players and MLB players followed suit. It safely opened the lane for rappers to also receive corporate sponsorships and partnerships while still “keeping it real”. This was all great for blacks on a whole for representation. I’m sure it played a role in reducing stereotyping and racial profiling although Trayvon Martin and countless others show that racism is not extinct. Although cultural appropriation took place and gentrification was taking place back in the inner cities as the housing market made the suburbs and traditional white enclaves too expensive, there was still one place that this acceptance was not able to permeate. That is the white-collar realm.

              There are people with black skin right now sitting in a call center that has no client/customer face to face interaction forced to wear a shirt with a collar and slacks or Dockers because that is deemed to be appropriate business attire. When they interviewed, they most likely got haircuts or traditional styles and covered all tattoos. Sadly, this battle is still being fought today in offices across the country.