Taking back my edges.
And happily being the angry black girl.
By now, you’ve probably seen the video posted by WNCT news anchor Angela Green on Facebook last month.
In it, Angela advised a young intern to straighten her ridiculously gorgeous curly hair for on-camera reporting to appease producers who feared her hair might distract viewers.
My first thought after watching the video was: “Damn. That girl’s hair is AMAZING!” My second thought was: “If I could just get a piece of her hair, I’d add killer highlights to my extensions!”
Yes. Those were my first thoughts. Judge me not.
Then I read through the comments below the video (not all of them because #aintnobodygottimeforthat). Many people felt Angela was out of line for encouraging the intern to straighten her hair and that doing so encouraged self hatred.
As much as it pains me to admit, a piece of me can understand where Angela is coming from. Now, before you throw tomatoes, hear me out.
Sometimes, when you’re a minority in your work environment it’s just easier to stand down than fight. Sometimes, when it comes down to choosing between your paycheck and a 400-degree flat iron, it ruffles fewer feathers to say, “Okay (white) people. I’ll straighten my naturally kinky hair and slick down my “unruly” edges so YOU can feel comfortable.” Sometimes, as much as it feels like self-betrayal, going with the flow is just plain easier. Hell, a chick has to eat!
When I worked in the corporate world, I was notorious for wearing long, flowy hair extensions. For me, hair is an accessory, so I like to switch it up on the regular. On one occasion, I wore my natural hair because you know, it’s my natural hair.
Then it happened. A colleague shuffled over to my desk, sidled up behind me and whispered words I never thought I’d hear:
“Onye, we have a meeting tomorrow, can you make sure to fix your hair?”
First of all, she tried it seven different ways from Sunday. I never leave the house without “fixing” my hair. And on this particular day, my coifs were neatly packed into a bun on top of my head.
Stunned, I was left with her words dizzily ricocheting off my cubicle walls and violently crashing back into my head.
Where was the disconnect? How did my colleague view my perfectly cute natural hair style as unkempt and in need of “fixing”?
Looking back, I should’ve advised her to shut her pie hole — and I would’ve been within every inch of my rights to do so — but I didn’t. And although I should have shown up the next day rocking the BADDEST ‘fro anyone had ever seen, I arrived the following day wearing the finest Cambodian hair extensions, curled and prepped to perfection. Silky and smooth. Non-threatening. Acceptable.
Why did I fold?
Back then, the part of me that wanted to fight simply wasn’t strong enough to overcome the fear of losing my budding career or worse, being ostracized as the “angry black girl” at work.
I wanted to do my freakin’ job and go home. I just wasn’t aware that putting my hair on the receiving end of micro-aggressive behavior was part of my job description.
The waters of race relations are murky and deep, especially in corporate America. Requiring a 20 year old to navigate them alone is asking for a lot. So, yes. At the time, flying under the radar was easier for me, my sanity, and quite honestly, my bank account.
Eventually, I did get tired of it all. I had to stop and ask myself why I was giving another person so much power over MY hair. When I couldn’t scrape together a reasonable answer, I knew then that something had to change.
What’s more, doing battle with my hair every morning, trying to convince it to be something that it wasn’t, only added to my fatigue. In the years since “the incident”, I’ve come to realize that attacks on my hair are attacks on me.
Being a black woman in America is a nuanced, loaded experience. On one hand, we’re asked to be quiet and conform to get ahead. And on the other, we need to push back so that we can move forward.
Young “me” would’ve told the intern to straighten her hair and keep it moving.
But 2015 Onye? She’s way more brave. She would tell the intern that we have to become more comfortable making other people feel uncomfortable when our personhood is at stake. We can’t continue to let other people’s discomfort or ignorance, dictate how we live our lives, or in this case, style our hair. At some point, we must speak up and say enough is enough.
Our hair is beautiful as it is. It doesn’t need to be straightened, dyed or manipulated to meet anyone’s inflexible beauty standards. Trust me, those same people who are telling you to straighten your hair are the same ones who will look at you crazy when all of your edges are gone and your hair has been fried to complete nothingness.
I’ve taken a personal stand by wearing my natural hair whenever and however I see fit. So if that means I’m perceived as the angry black girl at work, so be it. I’ll wear that crown. Happily.
And it doesn’t stop with me. I’ll support anyone who is struggling to share that crown. (Don’t do too much, now. Onye doesn’t dispense unemployment checks).
I’ll exit with this message: Embrace your natural hair. Wear it how you want and make not one single apology for it. If anyone asks you why your hair is so “distracting”, so unkempt or so anything-less-than-beautiful, look at them and say:
I am not my hair. (But my hair is fabulous.)