I’ve made a very intentional decision to discuss black beauty only in terms of physical beauty and its relationship with corporate America. There are numerous things that make my people beautiful. Some take pride in the strength of character and resilience of our people. Some take pride in our innovation and ingenuity. This discussion does not negate any of that. Because our physical beauty is always under attack in some way, I am focusing on our outer beauty and how we choose to express it or hide it. This is where I’d like to start.
“Black is Beautiful.” We’ve all said or thought it at some point in our lives or at least we’ve heard or seen it. I often wonder if we really believe it though. It seems that some people can’t decide if they think black people are beautiful or not. If I asked you to “share” this post if you’ve ever heard or said “Black is Beautiful” I’d have a lot of shares today. I think others like our features, just not on us. Sometimes we don’t even like our features on ourselves and we fail to see our own beauty. But, I guess it really doesn’t matter what others think as long as we can see ourselves as beautiful. I wonder if some of us say things like “Black is Beautiful” and wear the t-shirts because we think it makes us stand out or that helps us fit in? Either way is a dilemma for me.
I have often heard black people complain about not being accepted by mainstream America, i.e. white folks or black people in positions of power. In the past I’ve participated in discussions about how assimilation in various forms seems to be a prerequisite for moving to the top, professionally and socially. For some of us this struggle is most evident in the way we choose to wear our hair. (Disclaimer: This is in no way bashing my people that rock brush cuts and perms.) Some of us work afros, some us rock locs, and some of us ladies work brush cuts. I got cut and dyed last week so currently I rock the latter. How many of my sistas with afros fought with themselves about straightening their hair for a job interview? I did. How many brothas cut their locs in an effort to be more attractive to potential employers? Unfortunately, straightening and cutting usually wins. And sometimes, we decide against wearing natural styles all together because we’re not sure how it will go over at work or with our friends and family. How many of us were nervous on that first day at work with your new natural style? I know I was.
But the complaint remains that we aren’t accepted or respected when we walk into a corporate environment with our natural styles. So, I ask these questions: if those of us who wear braids, afros, locs continue to assimilate how can we expect to be accepted? And why should we be accepted and respected in the workplace with our natural styles? I and many others like me would like to see things change. However, we have to be the ones to take the chance and initiative to challenge what our bosses, HR professionals and CEOs see when they encounter us in our natural beauty.
Do we not think ourselves worthy of acceptance and respect? Do we find this fight to be futile and so refuse to put any energy into it? As long as we continue to assimilate, we will continue to assimilate. May I submit to you that we are worthy of acceptance and more? Furthermore, we are due and we deserve and this.
In 2012 some parents feel the need to teach their sons/daughters that their blackness is something to be turned on, off, up, down according to where they are and who they’re around. Is this really the message we want to send the next generation? How can one turn their blackness on, off, up or down?! To whose definition of “black” have we subscribed that makes us feel it’s something we can and should control with a cultural remote control? We are a colorful people. Color wakes up a dull room. It opens up small spaces and even brightens your mood. Why would we want to hide this? Why would we want to cover up and hide something so beautiful?
I bet some of you are thinking this is easier said than done. I agree. I understand that sometimes we feel like we have to compromise. I’ve felt that way too. For my last job interview I didn’t straighten my hair but I did wear it twisted. I was very concerned that my hair would get in the way—that I wouldn’t look professional enough and thus be overlooked for the position. I’ve walked into my office countless days concerned that my boss, VP or HR manager would pull me to the side and try to discourage my expressions of black beauty. But, they haven’t done that . . . yet. Everyday more and more of us are stepping up and bravely rocking our afros, locs, braids and other natural styles to work. May I encourage those of you that are still apprehensive to join in and demand to be respected and taken seriously no matter how you express your black beauty.