How Leaders Can Create a Paradigm Shift That Protects Black Hair in the Workplace
For the last year, St. Clair Detrick-Jules has been on a mission to spotlight Black women’s hair as a means of celebration, sisterhood and, most importantly, self-acceptance. In her book released last fall, “My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood,” the 27-year-old filmmaker, photographer, author and educator chronicled the stories of 101 Black women with natural hair through photojournalism.
Her book, which was originally inspired by Detrick-Jules’ desire to empower her little sister to love her hair, has since become a celebration of Black women’s hair everywhere. With the recent passing of the CROWN Act in March 2022, and the nationwide ban on hair discrimination in the workplace, it seems like no better time to celebrate Black women and the complexities and unqiueness of their “crowns.”
Here’s what Detrick-Jules had to say about the importance of the CROWN Act and how conscious leaders can take action to protect Black women in the workplace:
The Female Quotient: Let’s start with a few words to describe your hair or hairstyle.
St. Clair Detrick-Jules: My hair is a gift from my ancestors — joyful, protective and free.
FQ: What has been your experience with bias or discrimination in the workplace because of hair texture/ hairstyle?
Detrick-Jules: I have a looser curl pattern, so I will almost certainly never face the same level of discrimination as Black women with tighter curl patterns. I also haven’t experienced any explicit bias at work, in part, because I’ve mostly worked on my own. Since I graduated from college, I’ve only worked two jobs where I wasn’t my own boss: as a teaching assistant during a summer program at MIT and as a private tutor in northern Virginia.
In the latter, while my bosses care deeply about being anti-racist, unfortunately, I was painfully aware that if I were to wear braids or cornrows I might be looked at differently. America’s 400-year bias against Black hair has been ingrained into our culture. While nobody said anything to me at my job, I felt that my students and their parents might see me as less intellectually capable if I wore hairstyles that reflected my Black culture.
FQ: Can you give examples of bias against Black hair that you have experienced or heard about?
Detrick-Jules: I have so many examples of bias and anti-Blackness as it relates to Black women’s hair, from my childhood friends to the 101 Black women and girls in my first book, “My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood.” Hair discrimination starts at a young age. My little sister Khloe was only 4 when her white classmates demeaned her afro and told her hair was ugly. She came home from school crying. Khloe is just one of many millions of young Black girls who have felt the sting of anti-Blackness.
Studies show we don’t get educated out of anti-Blackness, but we get indoctrinated into it. The common excuse “but those were little kids who didn’t know better,” doesn’t work. Also, the fact that 4-year-old girls have already absorbed anti-Blackness speaks volumes about our society at large. Our white supremacist society has anti-Blackness embedded so thoroughly in its infrastructures that it’s actually an uphill battle to not be invested in anti-Blackness.
FQ: What does the passing of The Crown Act and protection against hair discrimination mean to you?
Detrick-Jules: The passing of the Crown Act is exciting. It’s critical that we have the legal right to wear our hair however we want. However, in an ideal world, the Crown Act wouldn’t have to exist. It’s also silly that it’s taken more than 400 years of Black people being in this country to legalize our hair in all its styles, which is a reflection of our white supremacist society.
FQ: How can conscious leaders and business executives build off the momentum of The Crown Act and take action to protect Black women from discrimination in the workplace?
Detrick-Jules: The business world has been built on the backs of underpaid labor, so there is little equity there. Conscious business leaders must understand the history of “business” in this country and allow that to inform their desire to create a workplace that protects Black women from discrimination. Leaders must be devoted to true equity — not just for Black women or to protect Black hair, but true equity in all things. Once they understand how business, labor and the workplace have worked historically, they can create a paradigm shift in the workplace.
FQ: What advice or words of wisdom would you give to your younger self who perhaps did not love or value her “crown”?
Detrick-Jules: I would tell myself, “You’re not gonna believe this, but there’s gonna come a time when you will love your hair and keep it close to your heart.”
Also, storytelling is so impactful in empowering Black women to love their hair. For my sister Khloe, hearing the struggles of Black women that mirrored her own and how they overcame it, empowered her. I’m so lucky that it did. She fell in love with the women’s stories and her hair.