Jonathan Edwards, Washington Post, November 17, 2022
First lady Michelle Obama considered wearing her hair in braids while living in the White House. But then she thought of the American people.
They were “just getting adjusted” to having a Black president in the Oval Office and a Black family in the White House, so she decided to keep her hair straight, Obama said at the Warner Theatre in Washington on Tuesday, the first of a 13-night cross-country tour to promote her new book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.”
It would have been easier to keep her hair in braids, Obama said, but “nope, they’re not ready for it,” she added, recalling her thinking at the time.
So she sacrificed doing her hair as she would have liked so her husband’s administration could focus on achieving its goals instead of sinking political capital into putting out a hairstyle-induced firestorm. “Let me keep my hair straight,” Obama said of her mind-set at the time. “Let’s get health care passed.”
Obama said her dilemma was an extreme example of the decisions Black women make daily to navigate the politics and sensibilities of their workplaces. They often find it easier, healthier and safer to wear braids, dreadlocks or Afros, but feel the pressure from White beauty standards and workplace norms to chemically straighten their hair for a more professional, “clean-cut” appearance. “We deal with it, the whole thing about, ‘Do you show up with your natural hair?’” Obama said.
Attitudes about natural Black hairstyles, such as braids and dreadlocks, have shifted. Earlier this year, the House passed the Crown Act, legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on someone’s hairstyle, including those “in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, and Afros.”