In recent weeks the media has highlighted a policy out of Hampton University, a HBCU (Historically Black College & University) forbidding students in their five-year M.B.A. program to wear dreadlocks or cornrows. Per an article published by the Huffington Post, ” Sid Credle, Dean of the Business School, believes that the hairstyles will prevent students from securing corporate jobs. ”
This policy is a tough pill to swallow, especially considering that Hampton University is a black institution of higher learning. One would assume that HBCUs would be more lenient and understanding of African-American hairstyles and they would recognize that maybe it isn’t the hair that should change, but corporate culture.
This issue goes back to stereotypes. Dreadlocks haven’t been considered a political hairstyle since the 70′s. Having dreadlocks doesn’t mean that a person is unclean or unkempt. Black people have had to assimilate into white American culture for hundreds of years. It’s sad that Hampton University is supporting this sort of assimilation and divisiveness instead of celebrating cultural identity.
I’m an African-American professional with dreadlocks. I have been growing my hair for over a decade. I recall when I first interviewed to work at the non-profit organization that I am currently employed with, the day before my interview I went home and un-braided my cornrows. Yes, Mr. Credle would have hated me. I had cornrowed dreadlocks! Anyway, I took out the cornrows and rolled my hair up into a conservative bun. I walked into that interview the next day and the rest is history, I got the job. About a year later I was discussing hair issues in the workplace with my superior. I mentioned to her the steps I had taken with my hair prior to my interview. She said, “Oh, you didn’t have to do that – you would have gotten the job anyway.”
The non-profit world is more culturally sensitive as compared to corporate America. So having worked for this organization for 5 years, I’m not surprised that I got the job as Outreach Coordinator with dreadlocks. I work with a progressive group of people.
In many ways I’m the face of this organization. I’ve had numerous media appearances with my dreadlocks. I’ve given hundreds of presentations on various platforms to the public with my dreadlocks. I’ve gotten the same amount of respect as other people in this field with dreadlocks.
If anything, my hairstyle has been a conversation piece with people of different cultures appreciating my candid discussion about my hair. Unlike what the stereotype implies, I keep my locks neat. My hair is so well maintained that I’ve been asked on numerous occasions if it’s really all mine!
I’m glad that I haven’t had to face the stress of choosing employment over cultural identity. I hate to even call having dreadlocks a sign of cultural identity. How about I just want to wear my hair the way that is grows out of my head. I don’t want to straighten it. I don’t want chemicals in it. I don’t want to risk pulling my hair out using weaves or extensions.
I am not naive. I understand that black men have difficulty finding employment in corporate America even without dreadlocks and cornrows. However, I do believe the decision to chop ones hair for job opportunities is an easier one for black men then black women.
My brother, who also has dreadlocks, works in finance. A couple of years ago he was looking for a better paying job. My mother suggested to him that maybe he would get hired if he cut his locks. He refused citing ‘that times had changed.’ He looked and looked and finally he landed a job as an auditor working for the state. Not only did he get a better paying job but it was a job working for the government.
He didn’t cut or trim one lock off of his head. But, if his search had lasted a few more months I’m sure he would have eventually relented and cut his hair. He would have gotten a fade, caesar or some other kind of short hair cut and kept it moving. Is going bald, or close to bald, an easy choice for women with locks?
I like to say that “I am not my hair,” but the reality is that I would go through extreme turmoil if I had to shave my head bald or super short. Dreadlocks are a mostly permanent choice. You have to cut your hair off to get rid of them. Loosing my hair would change my whole appearance.
Just like women have breasts, a lot of women would not feel as feminine without long hair. I admire female cancer patients who have had to undergo a mastectomy and who have lost their hair because of chemo therapy. These are choices that these courageous women have had to make in order to survive. If I ever have to face that same decision, life or hair & boobs, I would choose life. But to cut my hair for a job, I don’t think so. With the snip of the scissors, I believe I would lose a piece of my femininity.
One day I hope to transition from the non-profit world over to the private sector. As a public relations professional, it’s my hope that I will be able to expand my own PR business or land a job at a prominent agency. Since this whole Hampton University issue, I’ve wondered in the back on my mind, if told that I had to get rid of my locks for career advancement, what would I do? Cut my hair and be border-line bald for a while? Wear a wig? Honestly, I don’t think I would be a good employee to any company that would rather me bald or wearing someone else’s hair than having dreadlocks.
So, you be the judge. Does the picture of me below look like someone who wouldn’t be hired in corporate America because of my hair? I look forward to your comments.