I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Whether then or now, Black women have been striving to voice themselves and gain the visibility they deserve. We know the powerful legacies of the women in The March on Washington on August 28, 1963. And we know that unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before we can finally entirely dismantle discriminatory standards.
Despite the Civil Rights Act, Afrocentric features were still deemed inferior and people of color, specifically Black women, have been marginalized in their workplaces. They have been pressured to appear as someone they are not. Even worse, their cases have been denied in courts, with the Supreme Court deciding to ignore discrimination against Black hair.
Black women in broadcast media have been on the frontline facing the everlasting backlashes of white supremacists when they try to be their real, authentic selves on-air. They have been evaluated according to how they looked, rather than their own expertise and competencies. If anything, such willingness to reclaim their power, and still represent the true beauty of textured hair has amplified their voices, along with the voices of every fed-up woman who finds themselves discriminated against because of their natural hair texture.
Here are four women in media who stood up for their right to be who they are, and wear their natural hair.
Tashara Parker is a community-focused storyteller known for her #BunMinistry hashtag. She is the creator of CultureD on WFAA-TV. Parker went viral in October 2020 after going on-air wearing her natural bun.
Starting her on-air journey with WFAA-TV in 2019, Parker has worn her natural hair from the beginning, advocating both on-air and on her social media profiles for the professionalism of textured hair, asking her famous rhetorical question: “Who determines what’s professional?”
“The reaction from the community has been largely supportive, but of course there are critics,” Parker told TODAY over email. “I’ve been told in the past by a viewer … ‘You look like you stuck your hand in an electrical socket,’ referring to my natural curl pattern.”
“I received regular notes from a viewer who liked to respond to my 2016 election reporting by letting me know that my hair made me look like ‘a wet dog’,” Angela Rye, CNN political commentator and NPR political analyst, told Glamour. “That is the magic of black hair: It exposes much of what’s hiding under the surface.”
In their book Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, Ayana Byrd and Lori L. Tharps explain the deep-rooted history of hair discrimination. “The light-skinned slaves were said to have ‘good hair,’ and the dark-skinned slaves to have ‘bad hair’,” the book clarifies. “Good hair was thought of as long and lacking in kink, tight curls, and frizz. And the straighter the better. Bad hair was the antithesis, namely African hair in its purest form.”
The “Good Hair” study by Perception Institute demonstrates that only 10 percent of white women “feel social pressure” when it came to straightening their hair for work, in contrast to 20 percent of Black women who has pressured to do so.
“When someone recently suggested that I shouldn’t wear my hair curly on TV,” Rye added, “My response was, ‘for little Black girls everywhere, I’m going to wear it curly!’”
Just like Parker and Rye, Corallys Ortiz, WBBJ TV meteorologist and multimedia journalist, started her #NaturalHairOnAir journey when she wore her natural curls on air — only to be met by racial slurs for appearing with her natural hair instead of simply focusing on the job she was doing as a meteorologist.
Ortiz decided to post a video of one of the negative messages she received on her Facebook profile in order to address the struggle that Black women and women of color have to go through in their workplaces just because of the beauty standards set by white supremacists.
“In the TV industry there is a ‘standard’ in which people are made to have their hair worn,” Ortiz wrote on her Facebook profile. “The issue with this is that it always targets and pressures women of color to present their hair in ways that are unnatural just for the sake of having their hair look ‘professional.’ For years on end, women of color have always been told their hair wasn’t professional or ‘neat’ enough for the workplace, and for years, women of color would have to adhere to ‘white beauty standards’ in order to get ahead.”
Even before the passing of The CROWN Act — an acronym for “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair” — in the House earlier in 2020, many Black women and women of color working in media have been dismantling hair discrimination in their workplaces even when they know the gravity of them wearing their natural hair — which led to having some of them fired.
“I think representation matters,” Ortiz told Glamour. “I’ve had viewers tell me they appreciate me being myself because they see how their daughters, who have the same hair type as me, feel more confident. That’s so important.”
Sia Nyorkor, a chapter director and board member for the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), was also pressured by her managers to straighten her hair when she went to her workplace with her hair braided. “What’s going on with your hair? We like it the way it was before. Please put it back,” she quoted her managers to Yahoo Entertainment.
Not caring so much about getting the job the next time she applied for one, Nyorkor just decided that she would wear her natural hair — and to her surprise, they allowed her.
“I came back, and I said, you know what, I don’t want to put my hair away, and I don’t want to straighten it,” Nyorkor added. “I just want to wear it the way it is. So, I just did it. I didn’t ask for permission, I just did it.”