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‘Sideshow Bob’: A Natural Hair Story

An essay on the oppression black women face over the way our hair is kept.

Imagine this, right, you’re an 18-year-old girl who decided to transition from relaxed to natural hair. One day, you decide you’re finally comfortable introducing the world to your 100% natural hair after hiding it in protective hairstyles for so long.

So, you leave your fro out and go shopping in preparation for university. As you’re walking you notice a couple tracing the movements of your hair with their eyes and as you cross paths, the lady turns to her man and says, before bursting out laughing, “Look, Sideshow Bob.” For anyone wondering who that is, Sideshow Bob is a fictional clown, criminal, on the animated TV show ‘The Simpsons’ with ‘crazy’ hair.

I learned as I was growing up that natural hair was not something people celebrated much. Either you had relaxed or permed hair (straight hair) or protective hairstyles like braids and weaves. If you had natural hair, it was considered ‘untidy’ or ‘unacceptable,’ whereas having straight hair was considered acceptable and beautiful. For this reason, many black women tend to worry about how people will perceive them with their natural hair on show.

Hence why at times black women are less likely to leave their natural hair out. On Loose Women Judi White explained how she would always turn to wigs to cover up her natural hair as it was not considered ‘professional’ for the work environment. During an interview with the BBC on ‘Risk of discrimination against black employees’ an annonymous individual opened up about being told to ‘wear a weave at work’ more than once by her employer, as it was considered ‘unprofessional’ due to the nature of her consulting job.

black hair
Image of women's natural afro hair

An unreal amount of comments are made to black women because of their hair, be it in general life or in the workplace. An individual was asked when her hair would ‘go back to normal’ by her boss after styling it in cornrows. With all these comments, it gets to the point where it is much easier to have your hair in braids or weaves just to avoid comments being made. So, it is no surprise that black women turn to protective hairstyles as that is considered as professional, especially for job interviews.

According to ‘The Natural Hair Bias in Job Recruitment’ in Social Psychological and Personality Science “Black women with natural hairstyles were perceived to be less professional, less competent, and less likely to be recommended for a job interview than Black women with straightened hairstyles and White women with either curly or straight hairstyles”. For this reason, black women are more likely to face bias during their interview stages. 

It is not just at work that black women struggle with their natural hair – it is also in schools. Students as young as 14 are being sent home because of their natural hair. Back in 2020, 14-year-old Ruby Williams was sent home multiple times because her afro did not align with the school uniform rules. It even got to the point that for her year 11 yearbook, a photograph of her with straight hair from year 7 was used instead of a current image of her year 11 afro.

Seeing how schools are so against natural hair that they are willing to risk a student’s education for something out of her control is tragic. It’s not like we can do protective hairstyles all the time. They are expensive, time consuming and can sometimes damage our hair. If black women want to leave their hair out at work, in schools or in general they should be allowed to without the fear of being treated differently. It’s honestly so stressful and draining.

Sideshow Bob from 'The Simpsons' // Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Let’s not forget that when black women do put their hair in protective hairstyles, people automatically assume it is because we don’t have hair or because we are ashamed of our natural hair. No, sometimes we just like switching it up (the versatility is amazing, trust me), sometimes it’s easier to use protective hairstyles and sadly other times it’s because we need to (for work, interviews, etc). It’s like a cycle; we do our hair, people wonder if we have hair, we leave our hair out, get discriminated against or receive questions about whether that is truly our hair and back to protective hairstyles to avoid questions or discrimination and repeat. Not going to lie it’s a bit *sigh*, if you feel me. 

Black women should be able to wear their hair and be comfortable in it. We shouldn’t have to worry about what people will think about it, nor worry that we may lose our job because of it or if we will be sent home from school because of something we can’t control.

Image of woman's natural afro hair