Many see trend toward natural Black hair styles as the start of a movement

ATLANTA — You have probably seen more people wearing their natural hairstyles these days, from braids and twists to Afros.

Channel 2 Action News took a look into Black hair. and why so many men and women are choosing to wear their natural hair, especially in professional spaces.

Channel 2′s Audrey Washington talked to many people who see the trend as a movement.

When you look up the terms “African American hair” online, a number of images pop up from women with braids, weaves, perms and twists to Black men with Afros, fades and dreadlocks. Black hair can be straight, kinky, curly -- and controversial.

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“In 2021, to actually be talking about hair not as a beauty, but hair as a barrier for housing, education workplace, in general really is bothersome,” Rep. Kim Schofield said.

In Texas, a Black student received an in-school suspension and was banned from walking in his high school graduation because of his long locs. He refused to cut them, and in August, a court ruled the district’s hair policy was discriminatory.

“That whole stigma around professionalism and what professionalism looks like (is troublesome),” Schofield said. “Were being forced to put chemicals in our hair to make sure we have jobs, and that shouldn’t be the case.”

Many Black people have reported that they don’t feel accepted around their white counterparts, especially in the workplace, if their hair is not straight.

After a number of discrimination cases, California passed the Crown Act, which stands for Create Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair. The act, which was also recently approved in Clayton and South Fulton counties, prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture.

Schofield is now pushing to the extend the act statewide.

Former Channel 2 anchor Monica Pearson said she, too, faced difficult choices about her hair as well.

“When I first came to work at WSB, I had an Afro, but I got really good advice 45 years ago that if I was going to break into the Atlanta market, I was going to have to look more middle-American, which basically said you need straight hair,” Pearson said.

Throughout the decades, Pearson wore several different hairstyles on air, but said the changes weren’t always welcomed. She said she got negative responses from viewers after wearing her hair in braids.

“Your hair is distracting, please change it,” Pearson said a white man told her. She took the braids out days later.

Washington asked Pearson how those comments felt.

“It was hurtful, as a matter of fact, it made me feel less than,” Pearson said.

Pearson said she eventually wore everything from perms to wigs to natural short styles on air.

Celebrity hairstylist Derek J., who owns the J Spot Hair Salon in Buckhead, said more of his clients are requesting natural styles these days, meaning no perms, no weaves, just styled the way people’s hair naturally grows.

“It gives women a chance to take a break from manipulating their natural hair, so whether it’s heat, or chemicals or any of those things,” Derek J. said. “What you consider professional is not what my hair does, so you making me do something that my hair doesn’t naturally do. It’s damn near saying being Black is not professional.”

At WSB-TV, some reporters and anchors are following suit, sporting braids on air. After 15 years on air, Washington finally decided to wear her hair in braids on television as well.

“For me and so many other Black women, the change was both authentic and freeing,” Washington said.

As for the future of the natural hair movement, many are optimistic.

“This movement is not about conforming or disrupting. It’s around acceptance and around alignment with the person that we are on the inside and hair that we project on the outside,” Schofield said.

Derek J. said that he thinks that with time, natural hair will become more acceptable.

“But right now we’re just fighting the fight to be who we are,” Derek J. said.

Pearson said it’s important the movement continues for the next generation.

“To be able to wear your hair in a teeny-weenie Afro, in a big Afro in braids, in locs, however you want to wear it, it’s more than just an expression of who you are, it’s an expression to a child of who they can be,” Pearson said.

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