Marie Claire (South Africa) - - BULLETIN - COLUM­NIST ZANELE KU­MALO

Afros. Corn­rows. Braids.Twists.To­gether with a Ri­hanna-in­spired pixie, a bob to ri­val Anna Win­tour’s and a hotly de­bated weave,they’re all styles I’ve worn as a ca­reer woman.But only the first four would have ren­dered me un­em­ploy­able by the US Army. Yep, ac­cord­ing to an up­dated ap­pear­ance and groom­ing pol­icy is­sued by the de­fend­ers of the free world to their per­son­nel,Afros, corn­rows, braids, dread­locks and twists have been banned for duty.Their ra­tion­al­i­sa­tion? Th­ese styles are ‘un­kempt.’

I’ve al­ways felt a pe­cu­liar pres­sure to style my hair ac­cord­ing to what might or might not be ac­cept­able for work. It goes beyond look­ing neat and pro­fes­sional. Beyond pulling it into a pony­tail or scrap­ing it into a bun. It mea­sures stan­dards about groom­ing based on one race that re­jects another: white women’s hair is fa­mil­iar, straight,‘fine’ and con­sum­mate, while black women’s hair is strange kinky, coarse and un­pol­ished. Scalps must be burned with chem­i­cals or a heated in­stru­ment in or­der to com­ply – an ab­sur­dity that af­fects even white or mixed-race women who te­diously iron their curls in fear of send­ing the wrong com­mu­niqué.

But it’s not just about styling, it’s about chang­ing the na­ture of the way your hair grows out – a cul­tural tra­di­tion linked to eth­nic­ity. Black women should have the op­tion to wear our hair how­ever we choose, with­out feel­ing that our iden­tity is be­ing un­der­mined be­cause peo­ple feel un­fa­mil­iar with the way it looks or that it makes us less em­ploy­able.That a per­fectly groomed Afro would have jeop­ar­dised my earn­ing po­ten­tial more than my cat­a­strophic raven weave is tragic and mis­guided.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.