Help! My Boss Thinks All Black Hairstyles Are Unprofessional

Race Manners: It’s not your job to tell your boss he’s racist. But you can clue him in that his standard threatens to run afoul of everything from modern style to the law.

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Chances are—and maybe I’m just getting a little cynical here—you won’t convince him that his opinions on hair are fueled by racism if he’s not interested in being convinced. Evidently, the new thing is that no one—even those who openly say the most racist things you can imagine—sees him- or herself as racist (even Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling). So I wouldn’t feel comfortable advising you to try to teach this guy anything about the inner workings of his own mind.

What I do think you can do is tap into his evident interest in fashion, style and image. Is there a way to suggest to him that the limitations he’s placing on black women’s hair are out of touch in these areas? After all, this isn’t 1954; it’s 2014. Has he been living under a rock? (Don’t ask him that—maybe just point to how much your employees’ styles are on trend and reflect what your customers see more and more in fashion magazines, on TV and even on runways.)

The phrase “natural-hair revolution” is perhaps a little overused, but it was named that way for a reason. What your manager sees as unkempt is, in fact, just contemporary. And more than just being acceptable, these styles might make your employees-–and the clothes they’re wearing—look better and more appealing to customers.

Also, definitely express your concerns (depending on your comfort level and the protocol, either to him or to him and someone higher up) about the legality of a potential racial crackdown on hairstyles. Maybe hand over a copy of this case or the many like it as a gentle warning. And by all means, don’t enforce his preferences yourself. The last thing you want is to be named in a race-discrimination lawsuit, so do what you need to do to make it clear that you’re uncomfortable—from both a moral and a legal perspective—putting his out-of-touch and unfair opinions about hair into action.

The Root’s senior staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

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Previously in Race Manners: “Donald Sterling vs. Systemic Racism: It’s OK, We Can Talk About Both

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