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COLUMN: It’s 2020 and Black reporters are still asking to wear their braids on TV

'I didn’t realize the lack of ownership I had in my hair until I tried to switch it up'
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Posted at 7:12 AM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 10:34:38-04

Whitney Miller is a multimedia journalist for WCPO 9 News.

CINCINNATI -- After eight years as a news reporter and anchor, I just started wearing my hair in braids on air for the first time in my career.

You might ask, "What’s the big deal?" And you’re right. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is, at least it is for me and many of the Black female television reporters I know who are finally getting the chance to wear a style we’ve had to deem “vacation hair” for decades.

Currently, there are plenty of people rocking natural styles all over television and social media. Pop culture has embraced the look. But, sadly, corporate America is slow to change, and TV news has been even slower.

RELATED: COLUMN: Decision to 'go natural' has deeper roots for 9 On Your Side reporter Kristen Swilley

An unwritten rule

For a Jamaican girl like me, born and raised in hot Houston, Texas, braids were a necessary go-to hairstyle.

When I was in high school, you would definitely catch me with some "Lil Mo" braids: straight to the back and usually with some honey blonde hair added in.

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When I was in high school, you would definitely catch me with some "Lil Mo" braids: straight to the back and usually with some honey blonde hair added in.

I loved wearing them. I loved the ease of waking up each day and only having to worry about taking a shower and getting dressed in the morning before going to school.

But in college, as I decided to pursue a career in broadcast journalism, I realized my braids had to go.

It was an unwritten rule. When I interned in TV newsrooms in Chicago and Columbus, I didn’t see Black female reporters rocking natural hair. They had relaxed hair or weaves, wigs and extensions.

When I started my on-air career in 2012 in Alaska, I was just happy to get a job.

Like many of my colleagues, I wore my hair the way we all had been advised by mentors and professors: “professional and straight.”

For me that meant wearing weaves, wigs and extensions. I didn’t want to damage my natural curls by adding heat to them every day to keep them straight.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE a good wig and long bundles, but if you work in the Texas heat, as I did between 2014 and 2019, you get tired, sweaty and miserable.

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Switching it up

I didn’t truly realize the lack of ownership I had in my hair until the time I tried to switch it up.

At the time, I was reporting during another hot summer in Texas, and I'd had enough. So I had a fellow anchor friend (@tasharaparker) braid some cornrows for me, and over the weekend I spent hours crocheting a cute curly afro.

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I was so excited to debut the look on TV; the style was cute and way more manageable. But after my weekend shift, I received a text from my boss saying they liked the style but wished I would have consulted them before adopting it.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel small and owned.

Black hair is known for its versatility, so to be told I didn’t have the right to change it without permission was deflating. But it’s a reality for so many Black women in this industry. Some have even been told flat-out NO to any natural style.

It’s frustrating. Ever since then I’ve always asked news managers about style changes. I’ve showed them pictures of other women so they have an idea of what they will be getting.

But I’ve never dared to ask about braids -- until now.

The braid-down

COVID-19 had me down and I wanted a change, so I reached out to my boss here at WCPO to ask about getting braids. I was shocked when she said I didn’t really need to ask. In fact, she was excited to see what it would look like.

My news director even suggested I write about my experience wearing my hair in braids on TV for the first time in my career. I’m so blessed to work for a management team that embraces what makes their on-air talent different.

Braids are professional. Being "professional" shouldn’t exclude an entire culture. It’s time for corporate America to get with the times and allow Black people to wear their hair any way they see fit.

I always have felt that as long as you look nice and feel comfortable, you will do your best work. You will be your best self.

I won’t always wear braids or cornrows, but I deserve the right to be able to wear a style that represents who I am and where I come from.

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Whitney Miller showing her braids on air.

So tune in and check out my braids -- and send me some inspiration from your favorite braider.

In October 2019, Cincinnati passed an ordinance creating a ban on natural hair discrimination in the city. The ordinance bans discrimination based on hairstyles that are "commonly associated with African Americans." It includes hair texture and styles, aiming to protect cultural identity throughout the city.