‘I am not my hair, I am not this skin
I am not your ex-pec-tations no no
I am not my hair, I am not this skin
I am a soul that lives within‘
During a recent holiday to Portugal, I was relaxing with my girlfriend and naturally, she decided to braid my high top (because in her words what belongs to me, belongs to her and what belongs to her, is hers). I was thoroughly pleased with the result as I had previously braided my hair but decided to switch it up as I wanted to try something new. That feeling was swiftly replaced with guilt. Upon further reflection, I remembered that the real reason for the switch was an effort to widen my appeal.
Job applications fill me with dread, which is only compounded with the common knowledge that Jamal and Mohamed are less likely to be interviewed than Greg and Adam (not going to lie, this is part of the reason I usually introduce myself as Jordan). But, okay I could just whiten my name you might say (I mean it’s not like my Mum put effort into my name or anything). Let’s say I do that and by chance get an interview one look at my braided hair could actually lose me the job. You might say that sounds crazy but textured natural hair still has negative connotations associated with it. People boldly declare that dreadlocks signify drug use and braids make you look unprofessional (discounting the fact that millions of people outside the western world, in places such as Africa, rock braided hair OR the fact that when celebrities wear the style it is termed ‘bold’ and ‘epic’).
So why in the famous words of comedian Paul Mooney, does relaxed hair relax white people and nappy hair make them not happy?
You see people are still more likely to hire someone who they can relate to, who they could see themselves having a drink with, who look like them. Therefore minorities are encouraged (or just flat out told) to adopt more western hairstyles such as short, cut hair for black men and weaves for black women. Thus, we adopt European beauty standards in an attempt to reduce conflict or to be seen as more ‘white’ and therefore more palatable. The result is that we have workers who are ‘different’ but by and large look, think and act the same. This produces diversity of colour but not of thought which is crucial to actually effect change.
Another side effect of this, workers spend much of their time being inauthentic. Think about the amount of energy it takes when you are trying to impress a potential partner on a first date, now imagine trying to keep up that charade for two years, ten or even twenty-five (For a more in-depth explanation of the value of being our authentic selves check this out, great job Rene).
Most troubling is what this really says about the West. The UK and US are often hailed as melting pots of society but is this actually the case? If the common belief is that you have to whiten your name or adhere to prevailing standards of beauty to simply gain an entry level job can you truly say you are welcome in that place? As much as we like to believe that we are truly British or African/Asian/India American etc. is this true or are we merely residents rather than citizens?
But maybe it’s not that bad and I’ve just been targeting the wrong companies, let me know about your experiences in the comments below.
Peace and love,
Aharoun the Author
9 thoughts on “Unprofessional.”
I understand the struggle. At my last job, I kept my hair in twists and updos all the time until a colleague saw a picture of my afro online and asked why I never came to work like that. It was this weird moment where I realised I’d felt that my afro wouldn’t be accepted. That being said the one time I went full fro someone called my hair ‘wild’ so my gut feeling wasn’t exactly wrong.
Thank you for sharing your experience Mariam.
The last few jobs I’ve gone for, I’ve done so with my hair out full and proud. I remember meeting my mum the day before an interview and her asking me what I was going to ‘do’ with my hair, insinuating that wearing it out wouldn’t be a good move.
I got the last two jobs I went for with my hair out and proud. It meant I knew I was being accepted for me and all of me, large, afro hair and all. It could of course have gone the other way but how a person wears their hair, whether in braids, a fro or shaved to the skin doesn’t give any merit to their ability to do the job they’ve applied for!
I fully agree, I’m glad you’ve found such places.
I enjoyed reading this. I come from a conservative christian background so I can relate. Even in Africa sometimes there’s prejudice against man braids in corporate circles. It’s a shame, but until we own our own businesses, we have to adapt or die.
Very true Hannu, thanks for the feedback
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Aharoun the Author! Kudos to you. Unfortunately it’s a matter of when in Rome…
Perhaps one day it’ll be diffetent(I doubt it), but hey ho.
Great article. 👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾
I hope so too