Black women are fighting stereotypes and restrictions surrounding their natural hair
Bianca Ngala shook her head indignantly. Her dark-brown curls brushed the back of her neck as she voiced the most frequent jabs that individuals fling at her about her natural hair.
The 19-year-old sophomore behavioral and community health and public policy double major revealed that she embraces her tight, plentiful ringlets with pride and self-confidence. However, her glossy reflection of her own identity doesn’t negate how deep generalizations and stereotypes can wound a young woman if they pierce her where she’s the most vulnerable.
A disparaging microscope hovers over Black female hair, especially within the present-day era of dominating social media, whether it’s styled in natural waves, braided extensions or heavy deadlocks.
Criticism is everywhere.
“People just assume that your hair is extremely rough, that you can’t have that wavy kind of texture,” Ngala said. “They usually think that if you wear it out, it’s gonna be in an afro or something. It’s like no, it curls. I won’t just have a big lump of hair on my head.”
According to Ngala, the most damaging stereotype that has struck her and her freewheeling curlicues remains the 14-letter word that has obstructed her ever-changing path toward occupational success.
“I remember when I walked into Rita’s with a twist-out, and my manager was like ‘No, you have to put that up,’ but there was no way that I could just, like, I would’ve looked like a hot mess if I had put that particular hairstyle up,” Ngala said. “I think that was a little weird because I wasn’t even working with the ice cream that one time, I was just at the cash register. But she was like, ‘You can’t just have it down, it’s unprofessional.’ I was caught so off guard.”
Unfortunately, her summer job experience at the Rita’s Italian Ice in Burtonsville, Md. wasn’t an isolated incident in terms of how her previous employers attempted to micromanage her routine hairstyles. Before she transferred to the University of Maryland, College Park, she departed from her dining hall position at Pennsylvania State University last year because they constrained her to one fixed way of taming her crimped curls – a taut knot at the back of her head.
The extensive negative generalizations that society fabricates and promotes about Black women’s hair can, and most often do, impact their management in the working world. They’re pressurized to adapt and adhere to relatively strict regulations that hinder them from diving into a significant aspect of their cultural individuality.
“Changing myself in order to advance in certain careers, especially if it’s something that doesn’t affect the quality of my work, it really sucks,” Ngala said. “It really sucks to have to pull back, literally, a part of myself because of the stupid stigmas that surround Black women’s hair, my hair. But I won’t let them affect me, I won’t let them touch me. Not where it counts.”