Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Am/ Am Not My Hair

Hair texture and hairstyles have been complex issues in the African American community. Some of us prefer to straighten our hair, while others prefer to “go natural.” No one is right or wrong, but the causes for these modifications may be deeply rooted in American society and socialization theories.

American society is driven by white standards of beauty—that blond hair, blue eyed and model thin look. Media perpetuates this ideology in movies, television shows and books. They teach us that there is only one way to look, well if you want to be successful anyway.

Braids, cornrows and dreadlocks symbolize our culture—where we have come from and where we have yet to go. They are a link to our ancestors and they pay honor to creativity and originality.

I wear long, flowing braids because they are beautiful and they allow me to pay homage to tradition. I cherish my badge of individuality, knowing that my braids may look odd to some people. However, I know that people judge me by my braids.

Growing up in Washington, DC, most of the girls that I knew had braids of all different shapes, sizes and colors. If I had some nice braids, people in my community would be sure to let me know. On the other hand, if I had too much “new growth” I would be told to get a “touchup” immediately. This is how things are. This was how things were—that is until I decided to go to predominantly white college in Pennsylvania.

“How do you get your hair like that?” “Does it hurt?” I heard all of these comments and more, on the day-to-day basis. While some comments were positive, some of them hurt.

The hair debate is very heated when it comes to the professional world, especially a career in journalism. For instance, I have been told many times that I should not wear braids to an interview, because it is not professional. People tell me: “It is better to straighten your hair and tie it back.” What is really being said is that white employers (and some black employers) will be less likely to hire me if I have braids.

Why is this? Do braids symbolize how smart I am? People might look at my braids and see all of the ethnic stereotypes—loud, uneducated ghetto girl, because that is what they see on television.

However, I am ME-the smart, funny, beautiful and polite young woman who likes to wear her hair in braids. I am just as qualified as the next person so check my resume before you look at my braids.

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