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Natural Hair and the Professional Environment

In addition to being concerned about my family’s reactions to my hair, I was also concerned about the professional implications of wearing a TWA. I cut my hair during winter break between my first and second year in the MBA program at the Darden School of Business. My classmates and I either wanted to become investment bankers on Wall Street or consultants at top management consulting firms. Umm, my TWA didn’t seem to fit either environment. How in the world was I going to get a job at a prestigious firm when folks might take one look at me and think I was a big, militant black woman? The other concern I had was that my new hair cut had practically made me a museum piece at school. Wait, people tend not to touch museum pieces, maybe I felt more like an animal at the petting zoo. I mean, I’ve seen people oh and ah over someone’s new hairstyle but the kind of attention I was receiving was unprecedented. One situation exemplifies my experience.

I was standing in what is now called the Pepsico Forum at Darden. It is a beautiful entryway with vaulted ceilings, marble pillars and beautiful interior design. We use the Forum to have First Coffee, a tradition where the Darden community (faculty, staff, students) convenes to socialize in the morning. One day, I was waiting in the Forum (I cannot remember for what), when one of my classmates approached me, shrieking with delight about my new hair. “I looooveeeeee it”, she gushed. Then, without invitation, she put her hands into my hair and begin to somewhat massage my head. If you read my 4/20/11 post, “Coming to the End of the Road: Bald Spots and Still Relaxing”, you’ll note the parallel between this situation with my classmate and that club situation with the cute guy I met at Club Zei. Why do people think that they have the right to touch my hair? I hear some of you, “Aw Tina, chill out, you are overreacting!” What would you say if you were on public transportation and someone just came up to you and put their hands in your head? You would probably go off and ask them what their problem was. I know it’s different because I knew my classmate, but I didn’t know her like THAT! Your hair is intimate, personal. It felt like the combination of my uniqueness and her white privilege made her think that it was okay to cross this personal boundary without my permission. I couldn’t hold it. I said, “Girl, get your hands OUT of my hair!” She looked hurt by my response. I then took the time to explain to her why it is offensive to do what she just did, how I felt objectified. I told her that I was not an inanimate object to be fawned over and ogled. By the end of our conversation, I think she got it and we continued our friendship. However, the experience left me wondering if I was going to spend precious time having to educate folks about my natural hair.

  • AJ

    Tina,I have had people touch my hair whether it was natural, braided, weaved, etc. And I can tell you right now that I am appalled by people's lack of manners. It's one thing if I was asked. That way it was my choice to say yes or no. If someone just did it, I swear it was like an out of body experience and I felt transported back in time to slave auctions. It was as if massa and his wife had come down to check me out. This one here is clean, good teeth, no bugs in her hair. Total freak out. I am so glad that you have done this blog. Thank you so much!Alicia

  • topie

    Hey AJ! Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, it can sometimes be a challenge, keep up the faith! 😉 An out-of-body experience indeed! :)

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