Colored People in Corporate America (CPCA) is a visual examination on how people of color get treated in the work force because of their hair. This expose explores the obstacles to advancing in corporate America, as well as, the angst that young people of color feel when entering the world of business.
officials & managers
College Degree Holders
With blacks making up 10 percent of college graduates, you would think there would be 50 black CEOs but there are only 4.
= Black Adults
From wild and kinky to silky straight, our hair reveals a lot about who we are and how others perceive us. Essentially it's one of the best forms of self expression, especially in the black community.
My inspiration for this Capstone visual expose came from my findings from an earlier project that I did this semester. I took pictures of myself and a friend wearing various types of wigs. I displayed those images around The University of Texas campus and asked people passing by to write down on a post-it the first word or adjective that came to mind when they saw the image.
The results of my little social experiment were quite interesting. It was fascinating to see how people could look at the exact same person, but just because their hair was styled differently or a different color they were perceived in a completely new way.
These reactions made me wonder if these biases regarding hair had a deeper, more harmful impact on the lives of people of color. My research revealed that there have been many documented microaggressions and discrimination against people of color originating from their hairstyle. To the extent that California passed a law protecting its citizens from discrimination based on hairstyle in 2019. This led me to interview several persons of color to gain insight into the emotional and economic turmoil they experience because of the stigma associated with natural hair.
Status Quo vs. Self- Expression
The image on the left showcases how corporate America wants to see women of color; their status quo. Where as the image on the right reflects cultural self-expression.
Same girl, same skill set, just different hairstyles
The goal of this project is to shed some necessary light onto the injustices and microaggressions that people of color face regularly in the workforce because of their hair. Black hair is often seen through a white lens. There have been numerous incidents in which both black men and women were asked to change or cut their hair for their jobs because it was deemed “unprofessional”. We must stop the policing and ostracizing of people of color’s hair, but instead embrace its uniqueness. Our Black culture-- its voice, expression, and love-- is rooted in our hair.
This exhibition is a series of photos that I captured to convey a sense of emotion that’s attached to the oppression so many people of color face in the workforce. CPCA encourages people to really reflect on how they often judge people based on their physical appearance, rather than the skills they may possess.
"My resume clearly shows I’m qualified, but all they see is the guy with locs"
Dylan Foster works for a gaming company in the technical operations department as the technical manager. Whenever the company is experiencing trouble with coding, hardware and or servers, he’s responsible for discovering why the incident occurred, trying to figure out the likelihood of that problem occurring again, as well as, the impact it may have had on the company.
During our interview Mr. Foster shared with me his experience of being one of the few people of color at his office. He stated, "I receive a lot of weird remarks about my locs. Comments like: Do you even wash it? And, You need to cut that off." Foster expressed that when he receives remarks like those he finds himself trying to show that he’s not offended or saying something more malicious back.
Foster conveys the sad truth, "My resume shows I'm clearly qualified, but no matter how well I communicate, I feel many of my colleagues only see me as the guy with locs." Working for a gaming company, people are accustomed to experiencing unique things. Still he notices the side-eye glances and unwanted attention that his hair gets around the office. Foster recounts that there have been incidents where he would be having a 5 minute conversation with someone, debriefing them on the latest project, and they’ll just derail him and make a remark like, “I can’t get over how crazy your hair is. It’s all over the place, almost like spider legs.” A comment they wouldn’t normally say to any of their other lighter complected colleagues.
"I will literally change my hairstyle like the day of or the day before just because I feel like certain hairstyles are not accepted in the workforce.”
Chelsea Curry recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, receiving her Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology with a focus on health promotion in behavioral science. Curry is interested in pursuing a career doing physical or occupational therapy and/or sports medicine. As Curry prepares to enter the workforce, she has concerns about applying for jobs. It’s natural for any graduate to feel a sense of anxiety during the transition from college to work. However, how to wear your hair should not be a cause of worry.
When asked what type of hairstyles do you typically wear to interviews, Curry responded, “Usually I’ll straighten my hair or do like a slicked back ponytail. I will literally change my hairstyle like the day of or the day before just because I feel like certain hairstyles are not accepted in the workforce.”
During the interview Curry related a time recently when she wore her hair natural to an interview for the first time. Everyone stared at her as if they were thinking: Who is this? Who does she think she is? Why does she think she can even work at this place? It was not a pleasant experience. Curry reflected that she gets a lot more positive feedback when she wears her hair down or straight, or a ponytail versus wearing braids or natural hair. In previous jobs where she had worked there for awhile, if she changed her hairstyle to braids or a certain natural style, they would look at her kind of funny with an expression like “what is this?”
When I asked how people’s reactions to her hair made her feel she said, “It kinda sucks, but I’ve gotten used to it because it has happened all of my life.” She hopes that things will change in the workforce; that people will become more accepting of hairstyles like braids, weaves, etc. She admits for natural styles to become “normalized” will require more people of color to make a statement and start wearing their hair naturally. For people just getting out of college, looking for a job it may be more difficult to take a stand.
“You are not defined by the size or texture of your hair, but rather your commitment to excellence.”
~ Areva Martin Esq
Thank you to Dylan Foster, Chelsea Curry Kendyl Patrece and Jkobe Stevens for letting me photograph you and sharing your stories.
Secondly, I would like to thank Kelcey Gray and Jason Wilkins for helping me translate and break down the abstract concept of systematic racism in the workforce into a visual examination.
I would also like to thank Ritambhara Singh, Jorge Zapata and Jasmy Liu for your feedback and guidance; it was greatly appreciated.
The University of Texas at Austin Class of 2020 BFA Senior Design Capstone Online Exhibition