Black Hair, Great Law (Part II): Black Lawyers’ Hair’s Strongest Critics

unhappy black lawyerEd. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in collaboration with our friends at mothersEsquire. Welcome Angela Mackie-Rutledge back to our pages. Click Here if you would like to donate to MothersEsquire.

To gain a better understanding of the encounters and situations faced by Black attorneys, paralegals and law students, I created a survey in conjunction with the Big Law Black Hair Symposium.

I researched who already did the serious, detailed quantitative research on Black Hair and Big Law. There really wasn’t much out there. I realized that the research I expected would be the only research available on the subject.

The lack of existing research has sharpened my focus. I soon had great hopes that the initial research I was asked to do would eventually form the basis of another student’s master’s or doctoral thesis. I would lay the foundation and someone else could take the baton and carry on with it.

The basics

The poll ran from September 10 to October 9, 2022 and was open to people of all races, with a focus on black advocate groups and black student groups. In total we received 205 replies. SurveyMonkey performed the initial calculations, after which we performed an in-depth analysis by Kingsley Ukwuoma, a biostatistician and systematic review and meta-analysis expert.

10 questions

We asked 10 questions in our survey. We left the last question open to allow individuals to tell us more about their personal hair situation. Although we were somewhat limited by the free version of SurveyMonkey, the questions got to the heart and ethos of the information we wanted to research. This article examines five of the ten questions.

Question 1: How would you rate your natural hair?

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A simple summary of the survey tells us that 50.25% of the legal professionals who took the survey had Type 4 hair on Andre Walker’s hair typing system. Andre is known for having been Oprah’s stylist for many years.

Type 4 is a category of frizzy, curly hair that many black people have. While my survey does not ask for racial classifications, the hair type selected is a rough guess. Black individuals may have hair in more than one category, or they may have hair that does not belong to Type 4. Blacks and people of mixed race are heavily represented in hair types 3B and 3C. As a rule of thumb, the closer the hair type is to Type 1, the less likely it is that the person is of African descent. This is of course just a general rule and exceptions apply.

Question 2: What is your job?

  • 43.90% of the people who responded were attorneys: attorneys, government attorneys, prosecutors, retired attorneys, etc. (This percentage was calculated taking into account the “other” written responses.)
  • 22.93% were law students. (This percentage was achieved taking into account the “other” enrolled responses.)
  • 8.51% of law students were also paralegals. (This percentage was achieved taking into account the “other” enrolled responses.)
  • 17.56% of paralegals were also law students. (This percentage was achieved taking into account the “other” enrolled responses.)
  • 1.46% were students who did not identify themselves as law students.

The “other” answers included answers such as: paralegal, legal internship coordinator, prosecutor, prosecutor, and various types of paralegals.

Question 3: How much do you spend on your hair per month?

  • 43.84% spent $50 or less per month on their hair.
  • 30.05% spent $50 to $100 per month.
  • 25.80% of respondents spend more than $100 a month on their hair.

This question is relevant given the amount of current coverage of the vast amounts of money black women spend on their hair. According to a statistic from Essence Magazine, African Americans spend $127 million a year on caregivers. From personal experience I can tell you that the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the more you spend maintaining the hairstyle that got you the job in the first place.

Question 8: How big is the company you work for?

  • 14.15% worked in law firms with more than 500 employees.
  • 20.00% were students who did not work in a company.
  • 11.22% were solitary practitioners.
  • 12.20% worked in companies with 10 or fewer partners.

Question 9: Who do you think judges your hair the hardest at work?

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  • “Nobody” was the main answer with 29.6% of the answers.
  • “Myself” was second at 22.93%.

Of the selected racial categories, white women were considered the most vocal critics of black hair in the workplace (15.61%). Interestingly, they were closely followed by black women (12.20%) and then white men (11.71%). Curiously, Hispanic men and women, Asian men and women, and Black men were found to be the least disapproving in this regard.

Additionally, the written responses proved insightful, with some of the responses criticizing the judges for their critical attitude towards black hair in court. Other enrolled responses were more introspective, with one respondent admitting, “When (my hair) is worn naturally, I don’t feel judged, but treated more like a spectacle in the eyes of my non-black peers.” A black British respondent who shared his Wearing dreadlocks with a turban, stated that he “gets the strange comments from people who are Sikh or who belong to the Asian community”.

I continue to be amazed by the results of our Black Hair Big Law Symposium as well as the research findings which continue to be fascinating. Part three of this series will dive deep into the research that shows what percentage of law firm peers make negative comments about black lawyers’ hair. We also explore the hypothesis that black women lawyers go out of their way to straighten their hair for interviews, but do things differently after they are hired.

If you haven’t read Part I of the Black Hair Big Law series, now is a good time to start.

Angela Mackie-RutledgeAngela Mackie-Rutledge is a dual British and American citizen and mother of twins and a cheeky single girl. She holds a BFA from New York University, an MSc from the University of Brighton (UK) and an LLB from the University of Law, London. Angela is a former Mastermind contestant whose special subject was Morrissey, his life and his solo career. She was a 2017 Choose Law Full Fee Scholarship winner, which awarded her a full scholarship to attend law school. She is currently an LLM candidate at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. She can be reached on LinkedIn.

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