White Women Wear “Black” Hairstyles To Work. Project Asks ‘Are They Ghetto’?

Posted in Black History

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I am very selective when taking on issues of race on my blog. I think that it is a very tired argument to be having in 2013, however I do recognize that issues do exist. Being a former corporate slave, I can relate a million times over to feelings of of trying to fit in and toiling over conformity. As a society, we have come to recognize the acceptable corporate look as this one dimensional, standardized, “in the box”,  physical manifestation of some ideal. No tea no shade, we’ve adopted this standardized image of a white collared white man as the rule for what men and women alike should look like in a corporate setting. Often timess, for reasons far beyond our control, minorities have difficult time conforming to to these standards. Physically, many of us just aren’t able to. The few modifications we can make to our physical appearance to to conform to these standards lend themselves to high anxiety and a heightened self consciousness in the workplace.

In the words of India Arie, “I am not my hair.” This project forced viewers to reexamine all they’ve come to know. The most compelling aspect of the photos is not necessarily the physical discrepancy between a white woman and her black hair, but all of the complex histories, assumptions, silences and transformations that make such a discrepancy so apparent to the viewer. Catch these T’s when Becky becomes Tanisha.

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For a photo series entitled “Can I Touch It?” Beal approached white women in their forties — some colleagues, others strangers — and gave them a hairstyle typically seen on black women. After the makeover, the revamped women posed in corporate portraits, suits and all, donning their corn rows, braids and finger curls. The resulting images offer a striking juxtaposition of the women’s demure button-ups and pearls and their intricate, seemingly out-of-place coifs. ~ Huffington Post

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What inspired you to do embark upon “Can I Touch It?”

I recently graduated from Yale with a masters in Fine Art and while I was there I was interning at the IT department. I am 5’10″ and I have a big, red afro. And most of the office was men. White men. A friend of mine told me the men in the office were interested in my hair, kind of fascinated by it. So I set up two cameras in the middle office space and allowed them to touch my hair. Only, I didn’t want them to touch it, I wanted them to pull it. A lot of the men were white and it was the first time they had ever touched a black woman’s hair.

A week later I interviewed the men and asked them how they felt about touching my hair, if they liked it. Participating in this project was very new for a lot of them and made them feel — weird. ~Huffington Post

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And what about the photos?

After that experience I shared it with a few of my colleagues and many people could relate to feeling other within the corporate space. I was trying to think of a way to take it to another level, while dealing with the issue of performativity in the corporate space. So many minority women have had to change the way they look to fit in in a corporate space. I approached colleagues and other women who were recommended to me, and they allowed me to change their look and give them a new hairstyle. With this project I want to explore the corporate space and how women feel within that space. This idea of performativity crosses racial lines, gender lines and generational lines — people literally change themselves to fit in certain environments. ~Huffington Post

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How did the women respond to the project?

I came in with a certain perception. I thought these women would not be able to relate to a 28-year-old black woman in the corporate world, but the response was amazing. So many women had similar stories. One woman, whose name was Desiree, told me her employers once asked her to change her name, because it was inappropriate. Another woman had her boss tell her that her hair wasn’t appropriate for the boardroom and asked if she could send a representative in her place. It’s not just a minority thing. It’s a woman thing. All women can relate to that experience in some way. So I really learned something through this project as well.

Thoughts?

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34 thoughts on “White Women Wear “Black” Hairstyles To Work. Project Asks ‘Are They Ghetto’?

    • Really and knowing how to do finger waves (a 20′s hairstyle by the way), is required learning, in Maryland anyway, to get your license. Not unless that has changed. When I attend “hair school” I couldn’t get those waves to lay on that white doll head with that hair for nothing in this world.

      • I know, I wish that I knew how to do those finger waves, because they are doing finger waves and combing them out to get a new look.

  1. I loved this article and the project when I first saw it. I think it´s a great message about how women are treated in the workforce in terms of their looks, especially black women. It´s not a way of making in fun of “typically black” hairstyles like someone else suggested above. That´s ridiculous.

    Anyways, I think the women in the pictures look great.

  2. Black women wearing other hair is not the same as White women wearing traditional black hairstyles. Here´s why: Black women, because of White supremacist beauty standards, are taught through various mediums that long, straight, blonde hair is the epitome of beauty. CC: Barbie dolls, Pop Culture, any magazine not specifically aimed at communities of color. Black women have to often go through more extremes to achieve this standard. White women are affected because of the sexism and misogyny wrapped up in beauty standards but it is far more feasible for them to fit within these standards.

    It would be the same thing if White women were historically force to wear kinky hair in the presence of Black people because their hair made Blacks uncomfortable. But this is not the case. You can just act like these things exist in a vacuum.

  3. The issue I have with the original article are the hairstyles they choose to represent “black” women hairstyles. These are not black WOMEN hairstyles but black TEEN hairstyles, I don’t know a women over the age of 17 who wears flat-twist or bo-derek cornrows. In my opinion this was an insult. To have these childish, outdated hair styles “represent” how black women really want to look but can’t due to corporate norms makes me upset. I think this article missed the mark and while doing it, insulted a group of women who have to prove on a daily basis to the rest of the world that we aren’t all “Laquanda-nisha’s”. Even if it WAS appropriate the styles represented would not be the style of choice for any black women working corporate America. This is equivalent to putting up pictures of White women with pig-tails and french braids….

    • I have natural hair, so I incorporate flat twist and corn rows in my hair and I’m well over 17. Just because you don’t wear your hair like that, doesn’t mean no one does it.

    • I wanted to just chime in and beat you up with words, but then it dawned on me that maybe, it’s demographics. So,, with that in mind, I will say this, just about every woman that I know, and here I go with telling my age group-over 50, are still wearing braids or twist. They may not wear them year round, and some of them do, but please believe me, we are still proudly wearing braids. Now, not only are we talking Corporate America, but also, political officials. So, maybe where you are from, they do not wear natural hairstyles, but where I am from, they still do. Also, when crack-on-a-track, I mean weaves, took over, they also took out alot of our hair, thus we have gone back to natural. P.S. personal summers have forced some of us back to natural.

  4. Jason Saunders feel how you´d like, but if you kept my comments in the context in which they were written, I was simply saying its a shame that in 2013 we have to still have conversations about race and inequality. That fact that we are still dealing with these types of issues in 2013 is tired. I´m perfectly aware of who and what i am and the issues we face today. TRUST ME, i´m very much present

    • I totally understand what you were saying, and the context. I, too, think that it is a shame that it is 2013, and we still have to have these types of conversation. I understand that you are saying that in 2013 we SHOULD have been past this, and I understand that YOU understand it is still an issue. Lawd, when the people gon learn? lol

  5. I can see why this experiment was done. However, it’s not a black or white thing. There is actually a strict standard on tidiness. White men can’t wear beards, sometimes even mustaches. They can’t have shoulder length hair. White men can’t show up to work dressed in Hawaiin shirts and khakis. Everyone is held to the same “neat, clean, organized” standard. So, while I understand everyone’s personal discomfort with corporate America’s narrow perception of looking professional, I can’t say I agree that there’s a specific group of people under attack.

  6. It´s interesting that you think talking about race is a “tired” argument given that 1) there are more black and brown people in prison today than their were slaves and 2) save East Asia, the world´s racial composition still looks a lot like it did in the 17th century with the richest countries consisting of white-identified people and the poorest consisting of non-white people. We´ve seen the murderous consequences of that composition in natural disasters such as Katrina and the recent earthquake in Haiti. What´s really sad is that, in 2013, we have to repeat these basic social facts to seemingly competent people such as yourself. I´m disappointed.

  7. Personally, I loved this experiment. I can definitely relate, as I too was a “corporate America slave”. I never felt comfortable just being myself and when I did, I felt out of place and…”ghetto” if you will. Every time I changed my hairstyle, be it weave, braids or my hair, the questions and sometimes touches would flood in. After a while, it got overwhelming and annoying. I would have loved to have been apart of it…mainly to L.M.B.O., but to also see how this made these ladies feel.

  8. While I am conflicted about the aesthetic on its face, this social experiment, taken in context with its intention and its inspiration, has proven its value to me.

  9. There is a certain image CA expects ALL of us minions to uphold. I don´t think it has anything to do with black and white. Becky wouldnt dare wear her Friday night club fits and updo to the office on Monday, and neither should Nessa….IJS!!

    • People have to adhere to the rules of the office. In my office we are not allowed to wear certain nail colors, can’t have our nails past a certain length and cannot decorate them in a gaudy fashion. All this is because back in the 90’s during the SWV super long nail craze, apparently ladies were running around with neon colored claws that had dangly attachments on them. Also we can’t wear open toed shoes in the summer because they got tired of seeing ugly feet. I wish they would just address those violators instead of sending out a mass email to all alerting everyone what the dress code is.

  10. Loving the last lady, lol. I don´t think it´s a “Hair” issue, it´s more a “Women´s” issue. I remember when there was an issue of pantyhose in the workplace, some wanted to force us to wear it. The real question has to do with professionalism. A professional carries herself a certain way regardless of skin color. It´s not necessary for a mandate, it comes from inside the woman, as she will police herself <3

  11. these hairstyles are not “black” just like neither the word “ghetto” nor “urban” has anything to do with race. That said, I think these ladies look pretty bad ass in their corporate attire rocking these dos

    • First off, I think it’s funny that people use the word “ghetto” to reference a certain ethnic group, when that is not the meaning of the word. I think if people were to know a little about words, and/or a little about race, we would know the root of many issues. I think the real issue is more than race, but also gender and class. We cannot address 1 problem and leave the rest out like an elephant in the room. The real issue is assimilation. Whether we are talking gender or race, it is still a matter of assimilating into “the master’s” idea of corporate America. Of course there are certain dress codes in every profession, but when it is blatantly singling out 1 group, it becomes an ISSUE, not just office policy.

      I, too, have worked in Corporate America-Honda of America, and I was working in Accounting. There was hardly a White person in that department; the majority was Asian. I am Black, and unlike those who sat at their desk all day, my job duties included passing mail, talking to employees about their expense account, so I did not just sit at my desk. I was told that I talk too loud, so I became very conscious the volume I used when talking. Because I am very humorous, I was then told that I needed too much attention, so I just stop talking unless someone was addressing me. Next, I was told that I should take advantage of the gym; I am a Big Beautiful Black Woman who was not going to work to sweat out my hair, just because they called me fat. That is where I drew the line. I can’t look like size 2 Becky; I can’t talk like Becky, and I don’t have the personality to even work in Corporate America if I have to totally assimilate to be someone that I am not.

      This is a real issue, and dialogue is good.

  12. people should be able to do with their hair as they see fit… the only one i had a problem with were the fingerwaves i dont care what race have it… that shit played out lol af

  13. I think this was a great thing, white women where trying to show their love and support for black women lol i am sorry they look ridiculous THIS JUST SHOW BLACK WOMEN HOW THE WORLD LAUGHS AND VIEWS YOU AND YOUR HAIR LOL.

  14. Finger waves is not a black or white style, it’s a throw back style to the 20′s &30′s when it was popular. I like this project. In my office all the women fall into two categories long pretty dreads, or medium to long pretty weave/wig. The weaved women all have horrible hair under their wigs and weaves and it is rarely shown. I have not seen styled straightned black hair accompanied by twist and cornrolls in ages.

  15. I live for that last picture lol

    But this is pretty interesting. Corporate America is still placing so much stress on issues that their majority (white males) do not typically have to deal with, such as hair.

  16. This is really deep. I myself have experienced a lot of discrimination in the workplace since I decided to go natural back in 2003. It’s a shame, but education, talents, and skills don’t always speak louder than your outward appearance.

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