In this reported op-ed, Kaitlyn McNab explores how Black news anchors are embracing their natural textures and hairstyles, and redefining what “professionalism” looks like on television.
Sixteen years ago, India.Arie released the song "I Am Not My Hair." Lyrically, the song explores the societal biases associated with Black hair, and the self-affirming chorus is a mantra of resistance: one should not be defined by the way they wear their hair.
Sixteen years later, Black hair is still a political artifact.
Nationwide, Black people are still disproportionately affected by aesthetic norms and expectations in school and the workplace, by standards that belong to the white supremacist system of discrimination. In the fall of 2020, the CROWN Act — a law prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle and texture — was passed by the House of Representatives and moved forward to be considered by the Senate, but failed to reach a floor vote before the end of the year. If it passes the Senate and is signed into law by President Biden, hair discrimination would be illegal nationwide. As of 2021, at the state level, CROWN Act bills have been reintroduced in the legislative sessions of states including Kansas ?(one of the most recent states in which it was again brought up) and has so far been signed into law in eight states.
But the battle against hair discrimination is not only won on the Senate floor. It's also won in everyday life, through smaller acts of resistance that make a tremendous impact. Take recently-elected Mayor Brandon M. Scott of the City of Baltimore wearing his full, rounded Afro with a sharp line-up in his official mayoral photo. After growing his hair out at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when barbershops were shut down, he decided to keep his 'fro beyond lockdown. Mayor Scott made waves in local and national media when stepping out to perform his mayoral duties with this hairstyle, shortly followed by a deluge of opinions on how his hair will impact his job as a public official. Mayor Scott pushed back on these comments, instead taking pride in his contribution to representation.
Aesthetic statements like Mayor Scott's have been more common as we continue to sift through the national reckoning caused by the upswing of the Black Lives Matter movement last May — and many are being made by Black women in broadcast news. Reporters Lena Pringle, Samaria Terry, and Treasure Roberts all went viral within the last six months for wearing their hair in natural or protective styles on-air, disrupting the homogeneity of broadcast beauty.