Throughout history, black people have been stereotyped because of their hairstyles. Wearing an Afro in the 1960s, for instance, was often seen solely as a political statement even when it was a purely stylistic choice, says Noliwe Rooks, a professor of Africana studies at Cornell University.
“People read our bodies in ways we don’t always intend,” Rooks says.
Many black adults have stories about how their hair has affected them in the workplace. Avery, who works in New York City in court administration and declined to provide her last name for fear of losing her job, says her supervisor, who is white, encourages her to relax her hair, which she often wears in shoulder-length chestnut-colored braids.
“She’s like, ‘You should do your hair,’ when it is already styled, or she says, ‘Straight is better,’” Avery says.
A young black woman who gave her name only as Enie says she quit her job as a cashier at a Wendy’s in New York last year when a manager asked her to cut off her 14-inch hair extensions.
“I quit because you can’t tell me my hair is too long,” says Enie, “but the other females who are other races don’t have to cut their hair.”