The Power Of The Black Hair Bonnet: Why It's Not Unprofessional To Wear It Outside

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
Nia Tipton

The history of bonnets is not lost on Black households.

For many Black women and men, wearing a bonnet to bed has been the way of protecting our hair and keeping it moisturized throughout the night.

Growing up, it was strictly only for wearing around the house. It was the routine: wake up, take your bonnet off, and go about your morning routine.

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A bonnet was never seen as a hair accessory to parade around outside; in fact, I remember all the times my mother and I would be running errands, and we’d see a Black woman walking around in her black, silky hair wrap.

My mom would wrinkle her nose, turning to me to whisper how such an act was “ghetto.” 

I used to agree with her, thinking to myself, “Why couldn’t she just have done her hair? Why did she have to come outside like that?”

Now, as I’ve gotten older, I don’t blame myself or my mother for having those thoughts. 

It’s always been instilled in every Black person that we need to leave our houses looking presentable. Have our edges done, hair slicked back, braids in pristine condition.

Because everyone is already judging us, and we don’t need to give them another reason.

Even at the age I am now, when I need to run down to simply get a package from my mailroom, I quickly do my hair in a manner that won’t cause people to stare or make comments.

Because that’s the reality of being a Black woman.

Black women have been fighting for the freedom to wear their hair however they want to for way too long.

From fighting to wear their afros in the office to braids at school, it’s been a constant uphill battle to simply be viewed equally. 

It’s different when a Black woman leaves her house with her hair sticking up — the concept of a “messy bun” isn’t in our vocabulary. 

But why is that?

Why can’t we go outside in our bonnets and head scarves, especially to work or to school? Why can’t we hop on zoom calls in the luxury of our own homes wearing them?

It’s the fear of how society will look at us, how they will wrinkle up their noses like that many times my mother has done it. 

We’ll look as if we don’t have any home-training, we don’t know how to present ourselves to the world. As if the world determines our own self worth, our own value.

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Black hair shouldn’t have to symbolize our work ethic.

It shouldn’t matter if our hair is braided up to perfection, or straightened with no hairs sticking out. There is no difference between that Black person and the one who is walking down the street with their hair wrapped under that bonnet.

No one blinks an eye when a white woman wears a bandana in her hair, or even steps outside with a messy bun.

In fact, there are too many YouTube tutorials to count of the same white women showing their audience how to roll out of bed and throw their hair up.

But I’m here to say, "To hell with that."

Black women have been berated and kicked aside for too many years. 

We have been the butt of horrible jokes, and the punching bag for not only America, but the entire world.

If we want to start wearing our bonnets outside, then we will.

It doesn’t affect our capacity to work, and it doesn’t mean we are any less then our white counterparts. 

If you’re a Black woman reading this: go out in your silk scarves and bonnets.

And don’t ever let society tear you down for something so sacred, something that defines who we are, and especially what our hair means to us.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.