Controversy Over Natural Hair in the Military Raises Its Ugly Head Again

The U.S. Military seems to be grappling with regulations surrounding the hairstyles of Black women who choose to wear their hair in its natural state. Natural hair is usually thicker and more voluminous than chemically relaxed or otherwise straightened hair.  Because of the coiled or curly pattern of natural hair, it can be neater and easier to maintain when braided or worn in dreadlocks.  But the U.S. Military hasn’t figured out where to draw the line between accommodating nature and standardizing appearances.  This week, a female sailor was actually honorably discharged for wearing her hair in dreadlocks.



Unwritten Rules – Hilarious YouTube Series About Race in the Workplace

A friend sent me a link to this wonderful series on YouTube called The Unwritten Rules, which chronicles some of the ackward interactions that the only Black co-worker might encounter in the office.  Some of the incidents may seem over-the-top, but sadly, they aren’t that far off the mark, and I’d bet that there’s a Black co-worker out there somewhere that has encountered each of these issues.  What I like about the series is that it does not vilify the white co-workers.  These are not rabid racists out to get the Black co-worker.  They are simply, blissfully ignorant, and their comments are generally not meant to harm.  I think that the series can be a good conversation starter for workplace diversity prorams.  Kudos to the creator, writers and actors. In  Episode 4 of The Unwritten Rules deals with Black hair and all the questions that it can raise in the workplace.  As the Only Afro in the Room, I can certainly relate.

This Week’s State of the Union

The State of the Union is the Only Afro in the Room’s weekly line-up of news related to race relations and diversity. Stories are organized by their relative impact on these issues: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

How Unified Was the Human Race During the Week of August 12-16, 2013?


In the United States, a Court Holds That NYC’s Racist Implementation of Stop-And-Frisk Is Unconstitutional, and a Real Discussion on Racism Occurs in Philadelphia.

While, in Israel, a Teacher’s Conference Discusses How to Improve Anti-Racism Education in Schools.


In contrast, Most U.S. Public Schools Are Failing to Teach the Civil Rights Movement, which would explain why, Smart Whites Are Just As Racist As Dumb Whites, According to a Scientific Study and a New Poll Reveals Racially Segregated Friendships.

Meanwhile, people are experiencing racial intolerance all over the globe, including in Ireland where Eye Witnesses Report Recent Incidents of Racism (25% Committed Against Blacks), and Even Americans and Brits Wonder Why Australia is So Racist. Sounds to me like the teapot and coffeepot are calling the little Outback kettle black?

Finally, I can’t overlook the irony that Racism Still Exists in the Fashion Industry.


Racism Is Really Bad For Your Health. Scientific Studies Link Racism to high blood pressure and adult onset asthma in African Americans

It’s Also Really Bad For Your Mind, as evidenced by the racially defeated Wendy Williams who commented that “Natural is for personalities, not hair,” in conjunction with her launching a new line of wigs because, you know, that’s what Black women really need: access to more fake hair. Just…Wow.

Obama Was Targeted by Racists Across the United States. I admit that this isn’t really news as racists have targeted him throughout his presidency, but I did find some of this week’s taunts to be particularly low-brow. It’s as though all the racists got together and decided to stop the coded speech and veiled references, and instead let it all hang out like their Confederate flags.

To confirm my suspicions, Texas Openly Defended Its Racially Discriminatory Redistricting.

Lastly, you’ve already heard about this, but for the sake of posterity, I had to share that Oprah Was Snubbed By A Snooty Shopgirl Who Wouldn’t Let the Billionare Hold a Bag Because It Was “Too Expensive.”

“Big Mistake. Big. Huuuuge!”

Pretty Woman (1990)

Oprah Wears Giant Afro Wig On O Magazine Cover

O Mag - Sept 2013 - Giant AfoLast week, my blog post pointed out that Black female celebrities rarely wear their natural hair in public. Well, I guess I stand corrected. Oprah, the most famous of all Black female celebrities, is donning a gigantic afro wig that would make even Mufasa, the original Lion King, bow down. There is a small part of me that worries our hair may be viewed as an amusing charicature; however, if allowed to grow without mitigation, some of us would actually look like this. Natural hair, at it’s absolute best, grows up and out like a halo surrounding the head of a Renaissance saint. So, do your thing, Oprah. Even if it’s not really yours (and thus not really natural), I choose to look at this as a bold celebration of all that Black hair can be.

Learn more about the genesis of this O Magazine cover at US Weekly:

School Bans Afro Puffs (Then Apologizes)

Lorain Horizon Science Academny In Ohio Reverses Afro Puff Ban, Admits It Was A Mistake

I missed this news when it came out six weeks ago and stumbled upon it today through serendipitous circumstances. A school banned afro puffs and hair braids in its new dress code.  The school issued an apology the next day, and an African-American board member claimed the ban was aimed at African-American boys rather than girls.  I commend the school for recognizing its mistake and quickly resolving the issue.  By changing the policy, they have certainly demonstrated that they were concerned about the well-being of their student body.

Nevertheless, I’m sharing this link to Huffington Post’s coverage because I think the incident spurred some very interesting conversations about identity.  If you have thirty minutes to watch Huffington Post’s extended video to hear all of the comments it’s really a worthwhile experience.  A professor discusses how growing out his afro has resulted in colleagues saying he looks like a criminal and police seeing him as suspicious. He goes on to discuss the subtlety of racism these days, as opposed to the overt racism of the Jim Crow era.   The interviewer herself shared that just before she left home to attend Harvard, her female relatives ran an intervention to try to get her to perm her natural hair. She laments that she wishes she had a choice.

I think that “choice” is the key word here. Equality comes in many forms. Having the choice to accept and embrace your identity is a fundamental aspect of equality.  Black women stand alone in all of humanity as lacking the choice to grow their hair natural.  Sure, we can do it if we really want to, but we do so with consequences that women of no other race will encounter.  You see, we do not know if wearing our natural hair will prevent us from being hired, promoted, loved, or apparently even tolerated in school.

If you think this is an exaggeration, take a look at the Black women on TV.  How many Black female news anchors, politicans, judges, entertainers, and models wear their hair naturally? How many Black female “sex symbols” wear their hair natural?  The vast majority wear their hair permed, straightened,  weaved, or wigged.  If most of them are choosing to alter their hair as a form of individual expression, then we have equality. But if they are essentially forced to do so in order to be acceptable in the public eye, then we have a lot of work to do.

Equality encompasses the right to be.  Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, Black women now have the right to live where we want to live, get the education we’d like to have, enjoy any public space we wish and even marry those of whichever race we happen to adore. But, we haven’t yet gotten to the point where most of us feel free enough to be natural.