How do I handle this racially charged situation?
My co-worker and I are both black women in a corporate environment. I’m on what is called in my community the “creamy crack.” It’s a derogatory way of saying I chemically process my afro hair to be straight and smooth. My natural hair is very hard to manage and having straight hair is, in my opinion, easier and more professional.
My co-worker has recently decided to go natural with her hair. To each their own and what not – but it looks terrible!
Afro hair in its natural state takes a lot work to maintain. It looks like she just took off her weave and is letting what God gave her sprout in all directions. It’s not professional and it has no style.
The office is gossiping hard about this and I heard my manger say something about this new look impacting client relations.
We are acquaintances through work only, so I’m not sure how to – or if I even should – approach her about this. I don’t want to be accused of trying to get her to fit into a “white woman’s world,” but that’s what I’m worried she will say if I speak up.
But at the same time, woman to woman, I’d like her to learn how to care for her natural locks so she can continue to advance in her career.
Do I talk about the fro or is it a no go?
Fro to Go
I must say, I have never heard that terminology. So thank you, because when my mom asks me “What did you learn today?” that will be my thing.
I am a big advocate for professional appropriateness, if in fact that is a term. If you work in an office that has a dress code, you need to tow the company line. If you don’t like those restrictions, perhaps an office is not the best place for you. Just check out a question we received way back on that very topic – Casual Friday.
I don’t think you are trying to push this woman into having her hair chemically processed. I think you are just advocating for a professional appearance. So in thinking that, you are probably safe from sounding like you are trying to make her fit into a “white woman’s world.” (Can I pause a moment to say that even typing those words made me feel very sad?)
There’s really no easy way to approach this lady. You absolutely run the risk of offending and thus creating a level of conflict in your own life, so you first need to decide if preventing conflict in her life (when she finally does get approached by a manager) is worth the possibility of adding conflict to your own (should she get offended and shoot you dirty looks every time you pass in the hall for the rest of time).
Should you decide to go ahead with a conversation, you could say something like, “I love that you’ve decided to go natural with your hair! Trust me, I know how difficult it is to maintain… It was a big decision for me when I decided to go with the chemicals, but for me, it just seemed more professional and a whole lot easier to manage. Have you ever tried (insert method of “care for her natural locks so she can continue to advance in her career” here).”
Would be interested to know what you decide to do. And as a side note, if you decide to do nothing, that doesn’t make you a bad person. That’s what HR is for, right?
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It’s shocking to me that someone would think that an Afro isn’t professional. I don’t know what kind of profession they are in, but unless they are in the hair processing industry, that shouldn’t matter at all. So disappointed in the society we live in. I think that the only way that woman’s hair wouldn’t be “professional” is if she doesn’t take care of it…Afro or not, people have to take care of their hair with products but having an Afro should NOT matter on a professional level. I’ve seen family members hair get ruined because of all the processing over the years to straighten their hair. I say power to the coworker with her natural hair!
It’s an excellent point you make, MJ – the only thing that should be considered unprofessional is if someone simply isn’t taking care of their appearance. The Afro is irrelevant… or at least it should be.
Thanks for the comment…
Dear Dharma, do you see how racially charged this issue is? I applaud your advice to stay out of it, because there is no way she could win, if, in fact, her motivation is to help a colleague with her (the colleague’s) career.
Indeed I do, and the fact that this is even a fricking issue makes me sad. It’s 2018. Donald Trump is a super power. I’m thinking we have actual things to worry about, right???
Always appreciating your comments…
I don’t think Trump has anything to do with it. I’ve taught college students in what is euphemistically called “racially sensitive areas” for 30 years, through several different powers in the White House, and it is changing somewhat, but very slowly, unfortunately.
No, no – I’m not saying Trump specifically has anything to do with this question… it was more a tongue in cheek reference to say that we have bigger things to worry about in a world where a goofball like Trump sits in such an important chair. 🙂
He is not doing such a bad job for a goofball, though.
You missed the mark !!! If this woman is making sure she’s doing her absolute best for the company and her works speaks for her, why is it that she’s being judged on her hair. I used to be a prisoner to the chemicals until I was diagnosed with Cancer and the treatment resulted in me losing all my hair. When my hair started to grow back along with other things I decided that going natural was going to be best for me. With that being said it’s been 14 yrs and the best decision I ever made. i was in a managerial position on my job making really good money and the one thing I remember was my boss and job embraced me through my journey. My best days were the day after I washed my hair, I loved not having to worry about anything but preparing for my day I continued to climb to corporate ladder until I came out of remission and was dealt a second blow with the big C but again I continued to stay away from the chemicals and it’s been the best. Last but not least the question that was asked started out sounding so racial and ended the same way.
Of course, the quality of her work should be the only thing that matters, but we still live in a world where appearance plays a role in things. We all fall prey to that. We clean our house before company comes over. We dress up for special occasions, we put our best foot forward when we go on an interview or a first date All of that is about appearance…
Do chemicals need to play a role in that for this woman? Not at all. But a professional appearance doesn’t seem like too high a standard to aim for in the workplace.
Really appreciate your comment, and hope you are doing as well as possible with your diagnosis. Strong and healing thoughts being sent your way…