If you were to ask a Black man or a Black woman what is so unique about them, some of them would say that it would be their hair. If you think about it, we can wear it in many different styles: braids, dreadlocks, twists, wearing our hair natural, the list just goes on and on. We can take pride and care for our hair because that’s one of the things that makes us… well… Black.
Currently in an educational or work setting, the majority of the Black men and women you see, will want to wear a protective hairstyle (i.e., Braids) because it’s easier to manage when we are on the go 24/7. However, it is baffling that people who are in the highest education or work force will want to try and find an alternative for us Black men and women who wear protective hairstyles. With situations happening like this too often, a law was created and passed by the House, but has yet to be passed through the Senate as it most likely won’t be able to get a hearing, as this particular law is to protect Black men and women who want to wear their natural or protective hairstyles. The CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act was introduced in 2019 by Dove and the CROWN Coalition, for the purpose of gatekeeping the protection against hair discrimination that is being made towards Black men and Black women who wear protective hairstyles in an educational or work setting
California became the first state to pass the CROWN Act with the help of Senator Holly Mitchell. States also passed the Crown Act such as New York, Colorado, New Jersey, Washington, Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut. As for the state of Florida, Broward County actually became the first in the state of Florida to ban hair discrimination. There is still clearly a lot to be done, with the hope that other states will be able to pass the Act as well.
I had the chance to speak to several Black FAU students, as they were able to share their story on how they faced hair discrimination during school. I had the chance to talk to rising Junior, Michaela Wooten who is a nursing student, she begins to tell me that when she was a Sophomore, she felt discriminated against her hair because of after being honest with her teacher about getting her braids freshly styled. The teacher took it upon herself to think that Wooten was being non-compliant, which resulted in Wooten having a few points taken off her assignment that day. Wooten recalls, “One time in my Sophomore year I expressed to my teacher that I just gotten my braids done and I couldn’t put them up that day for class, (they obviously were new and they hurt to put up). She thought I was being non-compliant and she took off points that day.” Michaela even mentions how within the same year and with the same teacher, she (her teacher) tried to make her find a solution for making her braids less of a problem by burning them after she was honest with her teacher about how much her braids were hurting her at the time. “Another time is when she was telling me I can burn them to make them shorter next time since I can’t put them up right away …. just bad vibes overall. Like I’m explaining to you that I will be in physical pain putting these up and you’re telling me I have to…? Yikes.” Obviously, Michaela’s teacher didn’t show compassion or understanding when Wooten was being honest about having her braids newly styled and how uncomfortable it would be for her to wear her hair in an updo or a ponytail. This was clearly expressed by Wooten’s teacher deducting points thinking that she didn’t want to follow through with the rules of the teacher’s guidelines. Which is obviously not true because if Wooten was determined to be disobedient in not following through with her teacher’s rules, she probably would not be taking that class.
Wearing different and a variety of hairstyles doesn’t have to be about Black men and women trying to get verbal validation about how their hair looks, it can simply just be them wanting to be able to express themselves with their hairstyles’ however, sometimes they receive insensitive remarks because of their hair and hairstyles which can negatively impact their self-esteem and confidence.
Another Black FAU student, Lex shared with me how during her time of being involved in Owl TV, the student media for the FAU campus in 2018-2020, she felt that there were several insensitive comments being made about whatever hairstyle she had as well as two other black females on camera. It made her contemplate and become insecure about expressing herself due to negative and insensitive comments being made about her hair. She was losing focus on herself and was focusing on satisfying her peers.
“I was always on camera. Being one of the two black females in the student media department at the time, we had comments said towards us or about that seemed too insensitive about our hair. I’ve heard comments about our hair being “fluffy” and being called “puffballs”. I had many thoughts about flat ironing my hair or not having vibrant color to satisfy my peers in the department.” Lex adds that with her being multi-racial, it became harder for her hair to be secure within herself and the various hairstyles that she wanted to try because she was afraid of either being told that she was too White or too Black from her peers. “I remember having braids done with pink or purple ombré. I loved it so much. It was different and a style I wanted to try often. But it wasn’t until one day I had several comments from peers saying it’s “too much” and I’m “a pretty girl, I don’t need those types of styles.” After those comments I got scared to even do anything else with my hair. Not braids, faux locs, or wigs. Sometimes the comments were from Black peers. It’s almost like I was stuck between being too White for the Black kids and too Black for the White kids. Especially being mixed.” It takes a lot of courage to be black female student in the student media, especially in front of a camera, and it’s simply wrong and ignorant to be told negative things about their hair or that they should stop with these types of hairstyles because they’re doing too much or too little. In the end, these types of insensitive remarks can affect the levels of confidence of Black men and women. Owl TV was contacted for a response, but no comment has been made.
Sometimes we as Black men and women hesitate to do certain hairstyles that we’ve always wanted to do because we want to avoid facing hair discrimination from our peers, our instructors, or in a professional or educational environment. I had a chance to speak with another nursing student who was able to tell me how they’ve always wanted to try another hairstyle, but they felt too anxious about what other people may think, and was worried about being viewed as unprofessional.
“I’ve personally never been asked to change my hair but I’ve always felt like having my hair out was unprofessional so I usually just kept it in box braids and knotless braids. But even with having my hair in that style I still feel like my hair is considered unprofessional.” This particular student has always wanted to try a different hairstyle, but because she was in a high professional setting, the hospital, she felt insecure about expressing herself with a hairstyle. “One time I decided I wanted to try something new and get these cooper braids and I felt so much anxiety about what my instructors would think because we’re only supposed to have our natural hair color. Although my instructor didn’t say anything I still felt the need to tell her that I understand that the hair color is unprofessional and that I would never wear in a professional setting where in my case would be the hospital. My hair is something that I am very insecure about and I feel like it determines my mood. I’m trying actively every day to embrace it in society that doesn’t and only really accepts a particular type of “natural hair”. It’s sad to know that we have to at times consider whether or not the hairstyle we have is professional enough to wear in an educational or work setting because we don’t want to experience hair discrimination.
What surprises me is that people can feel the need to say something when it doesn’t even concern them or have anything to do with them in the first place. In other words, why do people even want to try and decide that someone’s hair is ‘too much’ or ‘unprofessional’? Did it ever occur to them that it’s our hair and our choice to style however we like? The only people that have a right to decide what to do with our hair is ourselves. Why is there even a conversation about a specific hairstyle being something to determine if a person is unprofessional or they’re non-compliant? I thought it was the person that mattered. Not a hairstyle.
At the end of the day, our hair shouldn’t be the main focus on whether or not we are doing too little or too much. We dedicate time to style our hair and we will not be told what to do with our hair. It is our majestic crown and just like how a prince or a princess need their crown, we Black men and women need our crowns… our beautiful, expressive, and elegantly styled crowns.