I really think that it depends on the environment and the industry. Some industries are more accepting than others. For example, your more traditional industries like banking, it is harder to pull off non 'mainstream' appearance, whereas in the tech industry, it's more acceptable. Additionally, it also depends on the position one holds and how high in demand it is, for example, I see more specialized physicians sporting their dreads and naturals because anesthesiologist, cardiothorasic surgeons are hard to come by. If one is in a high visibility position, EVP, Sr. EVP, etc, it's harder to sport your natural, you gotta be the best in that field or be in a more permissive field. Sales positions almost definitely keeps you from sporting 'ethinic' looks, unless of course, that's what you're selling. If one is in sales, you're selling your company first, then the product or the services, so you always have to dress 'acceptable' as you can walk into any business and it's always best to play it safe.
All in all though, I think it's changing, more women are starting to embrace their naturalness so to speak, each person having their personal reasons for doing so, hence, I think the change is emminent, though it will be gradual.
But I've heard that racism is more prevalent in the UK than here.
In the UK, there are a lot more naturals, TV presenters with locs etc. They are a lot more accepting. I've been natural for almost ten years now and loc'd for almost three and it's never an issue. In fact the people that have issues with it are my fellow naija women...they will definitely turn you into a 'Natural Nazi' if you're not careful...the way they treat you because you're hair is not 'done'. The dirty looks they give when you go into a salon to 'do' your hair; the adding on of an extra £20-30 to have your hair in braids because 'your hair is too 'tik' '
There's a saying in Igbo - onye mee onwe ya nkilinka akwa, ewelu gi ficha ani - 'if you make yourself a rag, dem go use you clean ground.
Sure, there will always be people asking you 'when you're going to 'do' your hair'? 'Are you going to 'relaz' it?' but I usually reply gracefully, 'My hair is done' and it pretty much shuts them up (Incidentally, they are always Nigerian) Oyibo people want my hair like no man's business...my daughter's afro even more. She had to stop taking it to school as she was late to her classes 'cuz everyone wanted to touch it (teachers included) as she walked along the corridor.
The racism in the UK is a lot more subtle but I don't live in the States so I couldn't tell you if it's more or just different.
Gabrielle is a star that will inspire a lot more young people of African descent to take on sports that are usually seen as 'traditionally white' and that's all the counts. If people want to have hemarrhoids for her hair...they are more than welcome.