Battling Over Black Hair

OPINION

by

Cindy Barnes-Thomas

Will “ethnic” hairstyles keep African Americans out of corporate America? (Stockfresh)

Kids these days with their cornrows, tattoos, sagging pants and piercings—how will they ever get a job if they don’t look respectable? This is a moot question if the “kids” in question are earning MBAs to create jobs, not just land one. I understand that often one has to be twice as good to get half as far, but in a global society, is it really productive to police personal style? With that in mind, it is simply baffling that the administration of Hampton University’s MBA program continues to ban male students from wearing cornrows or dreadlocks.

The rationale for the rule is that individuals with such hairstyles are less employable than others with a more corporate style. In a time where the Brooks Brothers suit is the exception rather than the rule, this attempt at increasing Black men’s chances of getting a good job is not only antiquated and misguided; it is a complete and utter waste of time. These self-appointed grand poobahs of what constitutes an acceptable Negro for mainstream society are relics of the Civil Rights Movement. Since when does a hairstyle give any indication of intelligence, aptitude or job performance?

If this were the policy of a mainstream university, there would be hell to pay.  Imagine the fallout if the illustrious business schools of Wharton, Kellogg or Harvard implemented such a policy. Rallies, boycotts, marches and gnashing of teeth would ensue; Black folks would ask for the dean’s head on a platter. So why do we expect others to treat us better than we treat ourselves?

It is a certainty that Wharton, Harvard and Kellogg do not waste time concerning themselves with the appearance of their MBA candidates. They attract the best and the brightest and it is understood that a degree from any of those programs is money in the bank–literally and figuratively. While Hampton is stalling in the starting blocks, the rest of the country’s MBA candidates are off to the races and crossing the finish line. Blacks have fought so hard to be judged on actions, deeds and achievements so it is even more disappointing that an HBCU has resorted to the very same tactics Blacks would fight against in any other context.

It smacks of an Our Kind of People mentality that is equal parts bourgeois gatekeeper and plantation overseer keeping all the darkies in check for Massa. No doubt, some of it is well-intentioned but that doesn’t make it any less appalling that a Black institution would make a value judgment on something so trivial.  How sad is it that an HBCU–presumably a haven where Black students are nurtured and encouraged—would resort to what amounts to a paper bag test in the 21st century?

Operating as if it is 1912 instead of 2012 is doing a disservice to the next wave of potential entrepreneurs and trailblazers. These are adult men pursuing graduate degrees and treating them like children is as emasculating as Jim Crow. Everyone pursuing an MBA isn’t looking for a 9 to 5 or aspires to work for someone else. Tools for success are within reach, but the lack of vision is apparently an  obstacle because it isn’t hard to see that the focus should be on what is in their heads and not what is on them.

Cindy Barnes-Thomas is Deputy Editor of The Burton Wire.

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