No offense to my caucasian compatriots, but I think we can all admit that there are some perks to working with Black folks. I should know. I would say that about 98 percent of the people in our office are Black. So, if one of us walks into the room with braids one month, afro the next, and a wig on an especially tricky hair day, it’s no big deal. The most you will see and hear is “Oooooh, that’s cute!” as one of us points to the other with a twisted mouth. No one loses their mind over it, and if someone does for some reason, it’s for no more than a few seconds. The inquiring mind gets the details on where they too can obtain such a style, and then we start talking about what’s going on in the news (i.e., gossip).
But that’s not the case for my best friend, Felicia. While vacationing together a few days ago, my girlfriend asked another one of my best friends about her braids. Felicia wanted to get some braids of her own but was worried about the reaction she would garner if she walked into her job with them. You see, my friend’s boss, a White woman, acts very brand new each and every time Felicia walks into the office with a new ‘do.
“Oh my gosh! Your hair! Did you do this yourself? What happened to the previous style? How do you do this one? You know I love your curls. My hair looks similar when I wash it…”
And not only does she gawk at it, ask round-the-clock questions about it, and attract uncomfortable attention to Felicia’s natural hair, but she also touches it–without asking. A lot. This bothers my sister from another mister. But because the touchy-feely hair creep is her boss, she doesn’t feel like she can say or do anything about the uncomfortable groping. If she does, she worries that she will get in trouble or make the situation a lot bigger than she currently thinks it is.
Therefore, Felicia avoids doing too much with her hair. The less she does, the less attention. But even a simple blowout can find my friend in the middle of a game of Twenty Questions. Felicia’s hair has become a form of entertainment for her invasive boss.
This struggle is not too far off from the one my sister deals with when she goes to her office with a different wig or style from week to week. She’s often asked how her hair goes from a healthy afro to a shoulder-length bob with bangs in one day.
“It’s a wig,” she tells them, to which they reply, “Ooooooh. How interesting…”
When my sister shares with me her workplace hair stories, I laugh. But she never finds them funny.
“It’s just so annoying at this point. It’s f**king hair! Enough already.”
And I can understand why she feels this way. I went to a holiday party with her and watched one of the partners of her firm and his wife have a colorful conversation about my sister’s choice of wig for the night. Ironically, they were the first of three people to say something about her hair that evening, and not just a simple “I love it!”
“Veronica has the most interesting hairstyles,” the sixtysomething man said to his spouse. “One day it’s long, the next it’s short. It’s always the topic of water-cooler conversation.”
And those conversations would be okay if it weren’t for the fact that they are exhausting for my sister.
I only field such questions about my hair when I’m on vacation somewhere far away, around people not used to seeing women who look like me: “Beautiful hair…is this yours?” Or, I deal with them when my hair is being groped by men who have had too much to drink at outdoor music festivals and lounges. They put their dirty fingers in my locs and then say, “Hey, I love your hair! Is this your natural color?” And in those few and far between instances, I’m quite irritated. I can’t imagine dealing with such foolery at my place of work. And yet, I know a handful of people who do, and who would rather play it safe with their hair than to attract unwanted attention and hands from coworkers and higher-ups.
But stuff like this always bothers me. And it confuses me too. People are either telling you your hair is too much for corporate America or drooling over it. The idea that one has to quell their mode of self-expression to avoid becoming the office science project is insulting. And it’s even more outrageous that my best friend is backed into a wall because her boss thinks it’s appropriate to fondle her hair and gets to do so because, well, she’s the boss. While I’m all for keeping the peace, I’m more for people keeping their hands to themselves and keeping the work environment a comfortable one. Just like we don’t need people grabbing on our limbs in the workplace, our hair is attached to our bodies and needs to be left alone as well. No one likes or wants their mane groped by tipsy and turnt men out in these streets, and it’s just as unacceptable, if not more, in a place where professionalism is supposed to be everything.
How would you handle this situation if your boss was inappropriately touching your hair and bringing a lot of uncomfortable attention to it?