Working While Black: I’m Scared To Wear My Natural Hair At Work
It was comedian Paul Mooney who said “When your hair is relaxed, White people are relaxed.” From my own life experiences, reading the news and seeing the ways in which Black people bend to adhere to the standard of “acceptable” hair, I know that to be true.
Many of us have dodged eager hands reaching out to touch our kinks and curls. We’ve fielded ignorant and sometimes offensive questions like “why our hair was like that?” or “Is it clean?” And we’ve seen the news stories where Black hair was under attack, whether it’s in the magazines or the military.
It was likely with those stories and our cultural climate in mind that I decided my best bet for getting hired would be to wear a wig. Truth be told, I didn’t buy a wig for the occasion. I’ve always been a fan of switching the style up. Braids, weaves, wigs, etc, in addition to my natural afro. But honestly, I was very strategic about making sure that I had an appropriate wig laid out for the interview, making sure that something as trivial as my hair didn’t hold me back from being offered the position.
Well, I got the job. For the first few days, not wanting to shock my coworkers or make sure they recognized me when I reported for duty, I decided to wear the same wig. Within the first few weeks, I realized that the environment was more conservative than I would have liked. I was one of three Black people in the whole building. And the other two, one man and one woman, were…let me just say “not woke.” Not only did they not do much to make me feel welcome, they basically ignored me all together. It seemed like they were under the impression that we were in competition with one another.
Even though they were ignoring me, they always seemed anxious and even a bit scared that their positions were in jeopardy. As much as I would like to think I’m stronger than that, I subconsciously let their attitudes influence me in terms of keeping my natural hair tucked away under my wig. Every weekend, I swore I’d wear my real hair and every Monday morning, I’d punk out.
What started out as an interview strategy has become a bit of a crutch.
I literally have anxiety about my coworkers seeing my natural, kinky Afro for the first time and the things they might say in response to it. And Lord knows I don’t want to hear any of my bosses tell me anything about my hair not being professional or appropriate for the job.
I’m hoping one day I’m able to get past it and my coworkers, bosses and even the strange Black folk will either understand and embrace it or learn to deal.