On Being Black in the Corporate World

new-yearsI flatten my hair before I go to work. While the straightener is heating up I look at myself in the mirror, knowing I didn’t want to become like this: A woman who gains confidence from the approval of others. But I have, and that’s why I woke up an hour earlier to flick on the bathroom light and fill the hall with the smell of burning hair.

I feel most confident when I wear a dress and smooth down my hair. Why? Because that is how professional women are often portrayed.

I remember reading a chapter from the novel Americanahby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The protagonist, a young Nigerian woman seeking a career in the American corporate world, goes for a job interview with her Afro hair. The interviewers read her resume and ask questions but she doesn’t get hired. Afterwards her friend tells her that she needs to straighten her hair so she will look more professional for the next interview. And when she does, she gets the job. Although this book is fictional, it is not far from reality.

Is my untamed curly hair the most professional appearance in the office?

Something tells me no.

I don’t think in my agency, where the staff are the nicest people I know, would I be looked down on if and when I wear my natural hair, which I do sometimes. It’s just that I don’t feel put together when all my curls are pointing different directions and the frizz just might bear its teeth if I step outside.

Now that I’m out of school and part of society’s working class, I’m very conscious of my skin color and my hair. In my senior year of college I began to see how much of a minority blacks are, and how most people in power are not black.

In my cubicle at work there is a poster of all the state representatives. Eight out of the 100 are black. Four of them are women. I’m not sure what to think of this new-found knowledge. I’m just now becoming aware of how few of us are out there.

After pondering all this, I turn off the straighter and see a girl in the mirror. She isn’t black anymore, she could pass for a Latino, an Indian,  or a black person who is almost white.  Do I like this girl, who hides her natural hair  and lightens her face with make-up?

When you’re both black and white it’s tempting to choose one side and hide the other in your closet ’till the day is over.

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Can I touch your hair?

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Have you ever seen a girl, or a guy, with curly hair and had the impulse to reach out and take a fist full of it?

Yeah I know, we all do. It’s a child-like response to something interesting.  But as an adult shouldn’t we be culturally aware of the human bubble? You know, the invisible bubble around your body that people know better than to pop. 

#personalspace

On the topic of hair, m y recent post, Why I Don’t Wear Braids, inspired me to continue the conversation regarding elements of beauty in conjunction with racial identity.

#storytime

My close friend from Rwanda just recently went natural. In other words she cut off her permed straight hair and now has a TWA (Tinnie Winney Afro). Her new due is adorable and works with any snapback or beanie she owns.

One day, before church, a group of us were waiting for our ride when one of our white friends came over and placed her palm on my friend’s head—to feel the soft freshly combed hair.

“Don’t touch it!” my friend squealed pulling away quickly. “It took me thirty minutes to get it like this.”

While the white girl laughed playfully, I could see the self-conscious anxiety in my friend’s face. She gave me a look that said “You don’t just touch someone’s hair.”

#DamnRight

Could I blame the white girl? It is actually quite common among some girls to touch each other’s straight hair. As kids, during movies or sleepovers, my friends always asked, “Can I play with your hair?” It should be noted that I did not grow up with a lot of black people and apparently  neither did this white girl.

As we continued waiting for the church van to arrive, another white girl appeared.

“Did you cut your hair?” she asked my friend. “It’s so cute!” With that, another oily hand put a dent in her fro.

Why don’t black girls like when you touch their hair? Aren’t you complimenting them in noticing their beauty? Aren’t they just being overly sensitive? I mean, come on, there’s no harm in complimenting someone’s natural beauty.

Some would beg to differ.

The responses to having one’s hair touched involve more than the encroachment on one’s bubble.  The experience is the impact of a microaggression accompanied by feelings of dehumanization, and unrepresented beauty in society’s media.

The importance of not touching a black girls hair relates to the historical components of black women in America. Born into a society where their kind have been victims of objectification, and dehumanization for decades, black women are faced with daily reminders that they are unrepresented and degraded in everyday life.

The unknown and often unrecognized aspects of black women conjures curiosity  in white people about hair texture and skin color. These inquiries such as, “You moisturize a lot. Do you just have really dry skin?” or “You hair is so pretty can you show me how to make mine do that?” categorize black women as objects of interest.

In her article on the 8 justifications of touching a black woman’s hair, Maisha Z. Johnson says the texture of black hair is interesting to white people because it is unrepresented in pop culture.”I understand the curiosity. But do you know why you’re so curious? It’s because the texture of my 4C hair is often invisible in mainstream society.”

 Telling a black girl that her hair is so cool or interesting and running your hands through it reminds her that her beauty goes unrecognized.

Hopefully anyone guilty of touching a black girl’s hair doesn’t receive my approach negatively.  I’m not trying to shame, rather to educated and inform so that the infringement on someone’s personal space is avoided. If you’re curious, then do some research. Just think about it; would you mind a strangers hands running through your hair, or would you too feel dehumanized?

Leave a comment below if you’ve experienced someone touching your hair.

#ShareYourExperience

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Wear Braids

A note to all biracial couples,

consider your children’s hair

I have never worn braids, weave, or extensions and I probably never will. The first time I straightened my hair was age fourteen when my Aunt Laura did it for me. It was a revelation. The silky smooth locks and the way it flapped in the wind made me feel like a model.

If I had known flat-irons existed with powers to transform my brown curls into something as straight as my white friends’ hair, I would have done it much earlier.

Hair is a funny thing. It took me a long time to appreciate my curly hair because for a long time I believed I was most beautiful when it was straight.

Getting to know your hair is like discovering a new talent. You work at it, experiment, get advice, and voila, it becomes yours. Well, until a spell of humidity rolls through.

But being mixed and having curly hair is a whole issue in itself. My mother always kept my hair clean and combed. But treating biracial hair was a new challenge for her.  Well, who really knows how, aside from the one born with it?  She would brush it when it was dry and use the same products as she used on her own hair. Can I blame her for trying?

When I first came to college, my black friends would talk about their hair all the time, about going natural, about their TWA(Teeny Weeny Afro), and about getting perms.

“What? I thought only white people got perms,” I’d say. Well, I thought a lot of things before I had black friends.

Sometimes I am so ignorant. Or am I just ignorant about the things people assume I should know because of my skin color? #confused

As a kid my hair was stick straight. It would curl a little in the humidity, but for the most part it was silky smooth. Then I hit puberty.  It changed like a tree in the springtime, with volume reaching unthinkable heights.

It was so curly I was afraid to wear it down around my friends. So, instead I pulled it in a tight ponytail everyday. At one point I used hair gel. I would leave the house with decent sized hair and return with a tumble weed on my head that even scared me when I saw it. Soon enough I discovered hair product for black girls. If only I had moved two feet down the shopping isle a long time ago.

Today, I use Pantene conditioner in the shower, hardly ever shampoo my hair, and apply Moose when it’s damp. It’s almost controllable. The weather usually has the last say. #hatehumidity

So why have I never worn braids or weave? Well, the insane amount of time it takes to braid hair compared to the amount of time to enjoy it, is one reason. And why is it so expensive?

But say I had the money and the time, would I do it? Maybe. Probably not. :/

The point is that I grew up in a white culture where girls only got their hair braided on mission trips in Africa, a culture where the only braided heads I saw were the checkout line women in Walmart. No one around me wore braids, so I never wanted to or even deemed it a possibility.

Coping with societal norms is a dilemma biracial people face more than others, one of many that come with the circumstances.

#racialidentitycrisis.

Solution? Identity crisis happens. And it’s good when it happens, when you struggle with who you are. Only then are you able to choose your identity rather than accept who society says you are. Just remember this, don’t be sorry for not being what people assume you should be.

Be you.

             Discover you.

                                       Let your race be a part of your identity, not all of it.