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Black Newscasters Are Redefining What It Means to “Look Professional” On-Air

It’s time that society is able to separate a professional’s natural hair from their capabilities. In a recent op-ed by Kaitlyn McNab at Allure, she explains how multiple newscasters are redefining the public’s perception of Black hair.

Credit: Treasure Roberts and Lena Pringle

In this reported op-ed, Kaitlyn McNab explores how Black news anchors are embracing their natural textures and hairstyles, and redefining what “professionalism” looks like on television.

Sixteen years ago, India.Arie released the song “I Am Not My Hair.” Lyrically, the song explores the societal biases associated with Black hair, and the self-affirming chorus is a mantra of resistance: one should not be defined by the way they wear their hair.

Nationwide, Black people are still disproportionately affected by aesthetic norms and expectations in school and the workplace, by standards that belong to the white supremacist system of discrimination. In the fall of 2020, the CROWN Act — a law prohibiting discrimination based on hairstyle and texture — was passed by the House of Representatives and moved forward to be considered by the Senate, but failed to reach a floor vote before the end of the year. If it passes the Senate and is signed into law by President Biden, hair discrimination would be illegal nationwide. As of 2021, at the state level, CROWN Act bills have been reintroduced in the legislative sessions of states including Kansas  (one of the most recent states in which it was again brought up) and has so far been signed into law in eight states.

But the battle against hair discrimination is not only won on the Senate floor. It’s also won in everyday life, through smaller acts of resistance that make a tremendous impact. Take recently-elected Mayor Brandon M. Scott of the City of Baltimore wearing his full, rounded Afro with a sharp line-up in his official mayoral photo. After growing his hair out at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when barbershops were shut down, he decided to keep his ‘fro beyond lockdown. Mayor Scott made waves in local and national media when stepping out to perform his mayoral duties with this hairstyle, shortly followed by a deluge of opinions on how his hair will impact his job as a public official. Mayor Scott pushed back on these comments, instead taking pride in his contribution to representation.

Aesthetic statements like Mayor Scott’s have been more common as we continue to sift through the national reckoning caused by the upswing of the Black Lives Matter movement last May — and many are being made by Black women in broadcast news. Reporters Lena PringleSamaria Terry, and Treasure Roberts all went viral within the last six months for wearing their hair in natural or protective styles on-air, disrupting the homogeneity of broadcast beauty.

Credit: Lena Pringle

These women belong to the newest class of Black female newscasters who embrace natural hairstyles on camera, the newest class of women actively reshaping the narrative of professionalism with their beauty choices. However, making radical change was not the primary intent for these women, only a welcome side effect of social media virality.

Pringle, an anchor/reporter for WJXT4 in Jacksonville, Florida, got a new haircut — a short fade with a part — to boost her spirit. “During that time, I remember feeling particularly down, not really my best mental state, and in an effort to kind of give myself a boost, I was like, ‘Maybe I should just try a new hairstyle.'” Although she’d been wearing her hair short and natural since 2018, this was the shortest it had ever been. 

She snapped a few selfies and took to her Instagram and Twitter to document this personal milestone — after all, she had been told throughout her journalism education that she wouldn’t be able to land or keep a broadcast news job with that very haircut. “[When I was in college] I remember [someone] specifically telling me the] look was too urban,” Pringle tells Allure. “That it was not going to be versatile enough and [I would not] be able to further my career as a journalist or even get in the door. In this field, you hear a lot about what is coming your way, especially as a Black woman. And if you don’t have [the] European standard of beauty of a straight bob or straight hair, you hear a lot about the possible pushback that can happen.”

Roberts of WKMG News 6 in Orlando, Florida was told something similar while attending a career fair before she broke into the industry. She was advised to remove a clip included in her newsreel because she was wearing braids in it. As she noted in a tweet, she was told that she wouldn’t get a job in broadcast news wearing the hairstyle. Last summer, she wore braids on air for the first time.

Credit: Treasure Roberts

In the replies to Roberts’s viral tweet was New Orleans-based WDSU anchor Christina Watkins, who tweeted back a short video of herself wearing knotless braids and a message of solidarity, complete with crown emoji: “Yesssss! Come through, black women on TV with braids!!!! Wearing mine for the first time, too!”

In January 2021, Terry, the weekend sports anchor/reporter of WREG 3 in Memphis, joined Roberts and Watkins in their protective style on-screen debuts. The brevity of Terry’s tweet was reflective of the situation’s gravity: Mustered up the courage to rock braids on air! “It was ingrained in my brain that professional hair was straight,” says Terry. “I learned this in school, from watching people on TV growing up, from image consultants that we have at stations that I [previously] worked in… mustering up the courage was really hard.”

After another Black anchor at her station posted a negative comment she received from a viewer after wearing braids on-air, Terry was worried about how her own hair would be received by viewers. “We’re so presentable and relatable and people feel like they know us,” Terry explains. “They see us out, they speak to us, they will message you, and they will tell you what they like and what they don’t like.”

Get the full story at Allure!

Vanessa Roberson

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