I Kept My Hair Straight to Get Healthcare Passed, America Wasn’t Ready for Natural Black Hair

When Michelle Obama became America’s first Black First Lady, she wanted to wear braids. After giving it more thought, she decided to keep her hair straight so it wouldn’t be a roadblock to getting legislation, like healthcare, passed.

According to The Washington Post, Obama revealed her thought process surrounding her hairstyles while in the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 15, during the first stop of her book tour for her latest release, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.”

Though wearing braids would have been easier for her, Obama recalled thinking of the American people and determining, “nope, they’re not ready for it” because they were “just getting adjusted” to having a Black first family.

“Let me keep my hair straight,” Obama said she thought. “Let’s get healthcare passed.”

She explained she was not alone in her dilemma as Black women regularly have to make decisions like this to be successful in Corporate America.

“We deal with it, the whole thing about, ‘Do you show up with your natural hair?’” Obama said.

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Obama’s story, and countless others like hers, is a part of why 19 states, led by California with 2019’s CROWN Act, have passed legislation to make hair discrimination illegal. 

A version of the bill also passed at the federal level in the House but has floundered in the Senate.

Natural hair is becoming more widely accepted; however, discrimination against Black hairstyles still occurs in the workplace and K-12 schools.

In 2017, 15-year-old twins Mya and Deanna Cook were told their braid extensions were a violation of their school’s “Hair/Make-Up” policy. The girls were students at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Massachusetts at the time.

The school ordered them to remove the braids. When they refused, the girls were put in detention, barred from participating in their extra-curricular activities and Mya could not attend prom.

The girls’ family retained the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice to help them fight it.

In July, Massachusetts became one of the states to sign the CROWN Act into law.

Obama described how she believed her braids would have been mocked if she’d worn them when her husband, President Barack Obama, was leading the country.

Obama said her potential critics might have said, “Remember when she wore braids? Those are terrorist braids! Those are revolutionary braids!” 

She also celebrated that she could now freely wear the hairstyle by showcasing her hair and saying, “Braids, y’all!”

PHOTO: Michelle Obama launches her new book “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.” at Warner Theater in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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