September 28, 2023

Black TV news reporters talk about why they wear their braids on air

A photo illustration shows a woman with pigtails in profile, along with images such as check marks and eye icons associated with television production.

Braids are becoming more common in newsrooms across America. (Illustration: Aida Amer for Yahoo; Photo: Getty Images)

When Houston-based news anchor and reporter Briana Conner took a vacation to Belize in March, she had no idea the tropical getaway would lead to a big break when it came to her relationship with her hair.

“For black women, your vacation style is typically braids, especially if you’re going on a beach vacation. You want a protective style that’s easy, that you don’t have to mess with, so when you’re in the water, hair isn’t an issue,” Conner tells WebMD. to Yahoo Life.

But because of her screen presence as a reporter, for which she usually wore her hair in a curly bob, Conner felt she couldn’t “invest” in such a style. She compromised by opting for a “sew-in”, a method in which the natural hair is braided and wefts of extensions are sewn onto the braids. Unfortunately, the style was incompatible with her water activities and led to extreme tangles.

“I just thought, I’m going to do what every other black girl is doing. The fact that I work in TV shouldn’t stop me from experiencing my hair and my culture in its fullest,” she recalls.

She booked an appointment to get braids, which led to her rocking the style on-air for the first time. Conner says seeing other black women don their protective gear in front of her on TV, including Janai Norman from Good morning America, helped her take the plunge.

“It was getting hotter in Houston. I saw protective styles popping up on black women everywhere, and I thought, ‘That’s it. I’m doing it.'”

Now, Conner joins a growing number of black women wearing braids on the air — including ABC 11’s Akilah Davis, who marked the date of her “natural hair liberation” to commemorate her achievement of “hair freedom,” and Joneé Lewis, a Fox 13 reporter in Tampa Bay, Florida, who says she had avoided such on-air styles due to early career encounters with discrimination based on her.

“A reporter at one of the places I was interning came to work with her natural hair, and one of the white executives said to her, ‘Hey, you need to do something with that,'” Lewis recalled. She says she carried that experience with her and said to herself, “If I’m going to get into this industry, which black women already have a hard time getting into, I have to have a certain kind of appearance to be accepted by news directors.”

Black hairstyles at work

This mindset extends beyond the newsroom, as black women in all career arenas have faced some level of concern about the perceived professionalism of their hair. According to a 2023 CROWN workplace survey on race-based hair discrimination, black women’s hair was perceived as unprofessional two and a half times more than non-black women’s hair; Black women with coiled or textured hair were twice as likely to experience workplace microaggressions than black women with straight hair; and about 66% of black women change their hair for job interviews, with 41% of those women changing their hair from curly to straight.

But the parameters for what counts as “professional” are largely shaped by a norm that excludes black people’s hair profiles, says diversity and inclusion expert Chela Gage.

Janai Norman is on the set of Good Morning America.

Janai Norman on the set of Good morning America. (Michael Le Brecht II/ABC via Getty Images)

“In corporate America, there are a lot of people at the boardroom tables [are not Black]Gage tells Yahoo Life, explaining that this lack of familiarity can often translate into exclusionary practices. “I think that’s why our natural hair isn’t valued, because there isn’t enough [Black people] at the top to carry it and make it mainstream.”

This, explains Lori L. Tharps, co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and founder of Read, Write and Create has created a standard of ignorance around the nuances of black hair in professional settings.

“Diversity at all levels of business is very important because so much of the discrimination black people harbor regarding their hair is due to a lack of knowledge,” Tharps tells Yahoo Life. “Representation is education.”

Without it, such different workplace behaviors are often promoted by editors who prioritize “consistency,” Lewis explains.

“How I presented myself on my resume tape, that’s what they’re going to expect every day,” says Lewis, who points out that this goes against the versatile nature of black hair.

“The reality is you don’t feel the same every day, you don’t look the same every day. So the hair isn’t going t
o be the same every day,” she says, noting that she decided to live that reality starting in the summer of 2020, when the combined impact of a global pandemic and racial reckoning forced her to make a change.

“I saw a shift among my colleagues and I where we thought, ‘We need to speak more in meetings. We’re going to be confident,'” says Lewis. “And I remember on my Twitter timeline seeing so many black women popping up all over the country wearing braids. And with each photo, I felt inspired and confident and empowered enough to wear the braids.”

She and Conner both explain that getting past the preconceived notions of what a reporter should look like wasn’t easy.

“My mom was actually a college TV news reporter,” says Conner, who grew up wanting to be just like her, right down to her “traditional” editorial haircut. “It’s that sleek, short bob with volume and length on top, that classic feminine news anchor look.”

Adds Lewis: “When you go into this industry they tell you that you have to have a certain presentation about yourself in terms of your speech, your clothes, your makeup. For me that also translated into how I should wear my hair .”

Gage notes that there is still “a long way to go” in terms of undoing the years of damage caused by discrimination based on hair – and that the CROWN Act, a law that prohibits discrimination based on hair and which passed in 23 states and counting, is a start — but it’s a big step forward in getting public figures to embrace their protective style. “For those who want to be authentically themselves, there’s a model for what that can be in the workplace,” she says.

This sentiment is rightly noted by Lewis, who says the positive reports from viewers confirm she’s doing something right.

“I get emails saying, ‘My granddaughter is watching you on the news, and she’s like, ‘Grandma, she looks like me,'” says Lewis. “The importance and power of representation, it’s greater – and it goes beyond one person.”

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