Working While Black: My White Coworker Told Me Braids Elevated My Look
This morning, my sister woke up and went about the business of doing her hair. We just came back from Kenya and like millions of Black girls before and after her, she decided to get her hair braided so she wouldn’t have to deal with it during our trip. This is the second set of braids my sister has had within a calendar year. Unbeknownst to me, at work, she called the first set “Winter braids” and the second set “Summer braids.”
After spending ten minutes crafting a low bun, she announced that she wanted to wear it down. She snatched the pins out and chuckled, in a way that let me know she had a story to tell. I looked at her in anticipation.
“Girl, the other day one of my coworkers [a White woman] said, ‘Ooo the summer braids took you to a 10.”
I admire my younger sister for several reasons. But chief among them is an ability she inherited from our mother and grandmother: the art of checking people in the moment.
With her index finger extended she said, “Oh no, I’ve always been a ten.”
The White lady tried to justify. “But I mean they just elevated your look…”
My sister, “No. It’s been consistent. These braids are for convenience. And nothing else. I’ve been…”
At that point, I cut her off, finishing the story, “…a bad b*tch.”
“Right! These people are obsessed with length.”
I took a beat before shaking my head. I know that White lady thought she was complimenting my sister. But a simple “I really like your braids” would have been sufficient. Because at the end of the day, what she was saying is that the length of my sister’s hair made her more physically appealing. And these extensions are not a part of my sister’s natural look.
I’m always thinking about the ways in which we’ve been influenced by Eurocentric standards of life and especially beauty. And while Black women have come a long way in embracing our natural hair texture. Length is still something we yearn to attain. From t-shirts that measure hair retention, to people asking you how long you’ve had your locs–simultaneously seeing where they stop on your back. We see it with brands only promoting natural hair of a certain length. And hear it in the insults from our mommas and aunties, “Their hair don’t grow.” It’s an obsession and a problem.
Quiet as it’s kept, length is a Eurocentric standard. Many of us are still overly and unhealthily concerned about hair that hangs. Drapage. And a part of that comes from adopting the appearance and nature of White hair as the standard of which to be judged. But if you’ve ever visited African countries–while there are a fair share of weaves and relaxers– you’ll see women with fros and to my point, women who are rocking bald fades, beautifully. I hear a lot of Black people, men and women, express concern and fear about shaving their heads because they don’t know what shape they’ll have underneath. But more often than not, the shape is like most heads…round. And just like Black men are beautiful with bald heads, the same is true for us. I’m not advocating for us to shave our heads, but as Black women, we should know that the option is there for us and it’s still beautiful.