Dreadlocks Don't Make the Cut
Black Enterprise Enforces Its Dress and Hair CodeA couple of months ago, Susan L. Taylor, editorial director of Essence magazine, the nation's leading magazine for black women, said she had backed out of a speaking engagement at Hampton University after learning that "braids, dreadlocks and other unusual hairstyles are not acceptable" for majors in a five-year master's of business administration program at the university.
"Perhaps the greatest challenge . . . students will face in the work world is remaining whole and true to themselves in environments that are often hostile to African-Americans. Staying connected to our community and culture is critical. Trying to transform themselves to fit into hardly welcoming environments has scarred countless numbers of Black people," Taylor said in a recommendation to university President William R. Harvey. Her sentiments later were seconded by Essence Editor Angela Burt-Murray, a Hampton alum.
Their arguments don't wash at Black Enterprise magazine, as Mashaun Simon, the student representative to the board of the National Association of Black Journalists, found out. Simon, who attends Georgia State University, was told to cut his dreadlocks if he wanted to keep his summer internship at Black Enterprise. He said he happily complied.
"I never wanted my hairstyle to become an issue like it has become," he told Journal-isms. "Black Enterprise is one of the most widely respected magazines in this country and my being here speaks to the talent I possess as a student journalist.
"I am thankful to be here and blessed to have been chosen out of the many who wanted to be here. And so, I am very comfortable with the choice I made in cutting my hair. I understand what my position on the board of directors for the National Association of Black Journalists has brought to this discussion; however, at the end of the day I have to think about what is best for me and my still infant journalism career and govern myself accordingly. I have made that decision and stand by it."
Earl G. Graves, founder of the publication, outlined his philosophy in a February 2000 "Publisher's Page" column. "Simply put, we must remove every reason – including things as superficial as our style of hair or dress – that an advertiser, an event sponsor, a subscriber, a job candidate and even a co-worker might have for not wanting to do business with us," Graves said.
"What's alarming about the desire to subordinate traditional dress codes to personal preferences is that too often those who want to make the most radical departures are those who are the most poorly positioned, in terms of career survival and advancement, to do so: young, inexperienced black professionals who are in the vulnerable early stages of their careers. It's the equivalent of an unproven third-year player trying to enjoy the privileges accorded a 10-time All-Star."