The Intersection of Identity, Policy, and Black Women's Right to Wear Natural Hair


For Black communities, hair is intertwined with identity and emotional well-being. However, discriminatory policies and societal myths have long placed unfair limitations on self-expression.

By better understanding the roots of this injustice, people of all backgrounds can help foster inclusive environments where individuals feel empowered in their bodies and heritage.  

Understanding Hair Bias 

Hair discrimination has complex historical ties to systems of oppression but also continues today through implicit biases. 

School dress codes and workplace grooming policies still disproportionately target Black hairstyles, like locs or afros, as “unprofessional.” This regulates how individuals present themselves despite no evidence these styles negatively impact performance. Eurocentric standards of “neatness” fuel rules against ethnic protective styles.

Interpersonally, microaggressions also persist. Backhanded compliments about Black hair being “surprisingly professional” reveal lingering stereotypes. Myths that tightly coiled hair is “difficult to manage” or dirty continue being passed between generations.        

These biases take an emotional toll, especially on Black women and girls. Facing constant critique and messages their natural hair isn’t “acceptable” fuels pressure to undergo expensive, painful procedures to straighten hair, just to avoid discrimination. This creates a heavy burden on wellbeing and self-acceptance.

Why People Discriminate

Hair bias ties closely to Eurocentric favoritism for straight hair. After slavery, Black people were expected to conform as a way to be accepted into wider societal structures. Though explicit legal barriers have decreased, implicit pressure to assimilate has never disappeared. This learned behavior persists, as even well-meaning people often center Eurocentric hairstyles, pushing natural Black hair textures to the margins of politics. 

Celebrating one’s hair has become a signal of isolation from other groups when in reality, it is simply the hair that grows from the scalp. 

To be included and accepted, many Black women cover their true identities or use harmful chemicals such as relaxers just to fit into societal expectations. 

Celebrating one’s natural features is seen as counterculture and often offensive.  

Another key driver is a lack of understanding. Many people have had limited interactions with Black hair culture, causing unfamiliar styles to be perceived as odd or unprofessional. 

Moving Forward: Fostering Inclusion

It is important to understand that centering Eurocentric standards of appearance, or approaching this issue from the assumption that all people have hair, dismisses the lived experiences of many individuals. Natural hair is an aspect of identity that people should not have to conceal. There is an opportunity to foster greater acceptance by addressing the root causes of bias.  

Institutions could audit their policies through an equity lens, consulting diversity experts to identify where standards disproportionately exclude certain groups. Updating language and guidelines to focus on safety and hygiene, rather than regulating personal styles, can help create more inclusive environments.

Individuals also have a pivotal role to play through self-education and expanding their own mindsets. When unfamiliar with an aspect of someone's identity, it is natural to have questions or feel uncomfortable. Yet leading with curiosity and compassion, instead of judgment, enables deeper listening and awareness.

Celebrating Diversity

Embracing the vibrancy within our communities enriches everyone's lives. Creating spaces where individuals feel empowered to express all facets of themselves fosters belonging that uplifts human potential.

The journey continues toward a world where hair discrimination transitions from painful past to history. With understanding and care from all people, barriers limiting identity and advancement because of hairstyles can disappear for future generations.  

What You Can Do

  •  Educate yourself on the Crown Act and the history of hair discrimination
  •  Reflect on and check your own implicit biases  
  •  Show support for those embracing natural styles
  •  Advocate for policy changes in your school or workplace
  •  Vote for leaders passionate about diversity and inclusion

We all have room for growth when it comes to building a just society. 

But step-by-step and heart-by-heart there is hope for transformative change.

crown act  | black history month | hairvine pro

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