05 August 2022

Black Females’ Natural Hair

Welcome back. Two years ago I added a research publication to my list of possible blog posts as I regularly do. Like most papers on the list, I never got to it, though I was happy to find I hadn’t deleted it. A related study was recently published, and I can now review both studies to offer a wider perspective.

The topic, as you’ll see from the title, is Black/African American females' natural hair. The earlier study demonstrated job recruitment bias against women with natural hairstyles; the recent study examines the negative experiences of young girls related to their hair. 

Example natural hairstyles (by Melanated Rose from www.pinterest.com/pin/377246906283514170/).
Job Recruitment Bias
Researchers affiliated with Michigan State and Duke universities conducted four tests involving hundreds of participants of different races. They asked the participants to screen potential job candidates based on mocked-up Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.

In one test, participants evaluated profiles of Black and White female applicants across a variety of hairstyles. Black women with natural hairstyles were perceived to be less professional, less competent and less likely to be recommended for a job interview than either Black women with straightened hairstyles or White women with curly or straight hairstyles.

In another test, two groups of participants were asked to evaluate the same Black female candidate. One group saw a photo of the candidate with natural hair, the other saw an image of her with straightened hair. The latter group gave the candidate a higher score for professionalism and more strongly recommended her for interview.

Results also varied by industry. For example, Black female candidates with natural hair were discriminated against for positions in management consulting, which has conservative dress norms, but not for positions in advertising, a more creative industry with less rigid dress norms.

Addressing Hairstyle
The lead researcher pointed out that a Black woman with a natural hairstyle should not be seen as making a statement. The style might just be the easiest, healthiest or most cost-effective, given the cost of straightening treatments and their potential negative effects on hair and scalp.

It should also be noted that, in recent years, the US military services have adopted hairstyle policies to be more inclusive and that several states, following California’s CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act, have passed legislation banning discrimination against natural hairstyles.

Assessing Black Girl’s Natural Hair Experience
After obtaining input and approval from parents, consultants and the university, researchers with Arizona State University, Mayo Clinic and the Unilever House conducted an online study with 105 Black/African American girls, 10 to 15 years old.

The study encompassed self-reported measures and 16 focus groups of 3 to 12 girls to assess satisfaction with natural hair, extent of bullying and teasing due to hair, the degree to which they engage in social comparisons, and friends and family’s perspectives on their hair.

The Negative Experiences
A majority (81%) reported experiencing or witnessing hair-related bullying or teasing by peers and educators predominantly in school settings--approximately 22% of 10-year olds, 14% of 11-year olds, 54% of 12-year olds, 35% of 13-year olds and 32% of 14-year olds.

Bullying and teasing consisted of negative comments or hair touching without permission. The higher the frequency, the lower the hair satisfaction and general self-esteem.

All focus groups showed an awareness of negative stereotypes associated with natural hair, lack of representation of natural hair in the media and the pressure to conform to Eurocentric hair ideals, where good hair is depicted as long, straight and smooth even in media images of Black women.

Engaging in hair comparison with models/celebrities and peers was significantly associated with less hair satisfaction. But having friends who like one’s natural hair was significantly associated with higher hair satisfaction scores.

Focus group questions and themes of girls’ responses from a total of 16 groups of 3 to 12 girls (from journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550620937937).
Wrap Up
From what I see in the media, from military policy changes and from states passing legislation to ban discrimination, I’d like to think things are improving. A federal law prohibiting racialized hair discrimination has moved ahead in the House but stalled in the Senate.

As for young girls, it’s of interest, albeit sad, that the study corroborates the recall of Black/African American adults’ experiences with hair discrimination. The researchers suggest that schools consider banning hair discrimination.

Thanks for stopping by.

Study on job recruitment bias in Social Psychological and Personality Science journal: journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550620937937
Articles on study on EurekAlert! website and CNN:
Wikipedia articles on discrimination based on hair and California’s CROWN Act: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_based_on_hair_texture_in_the_United_States

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