Have you ever seen “Awkward Black Girl,” with the obnoxious and highly inappropriate boss? Boss Lady? She’s a White woman, a fictional character but I would bet good money that she’s based on a real person. She has to be. How do I know? Because my boss behaves…or behaved the exact same way.
Let me explain.
I work at a small production company in Los Angeles, where many women are still beholden to wigs and weaves. I’m not here to shame anyone. That’s their choice. But I choose to wear my hair naturally or in natural styles. Read: Black, Afrocentric. Like most Black women, I like variety. One day, I’ll wear a sizable afro. The next it will be styled in an updo. Sometimes I’ll get braids and other times I’ll straighten it.
What, to me, is just a very common desire to switch the style up, is usually a huge topic of discussion for many of my White coworkers, particularly my boss.
When I came in for the initial interview, I had my hair slicked back into my go-to bun. But anytime I’ve ventured away from that style, my boss seems to believe that I’m trying to make some political statement. When I wore it in an afro, she made sure to pull me to the side. And after I dodged her annoying attempt to touch it, she smiled awkwardly before saying, “Oh, you’re more in touch with your roots today.”
When I had long extensions, she made sure to tell me I was giving her “homegirl vibes” before asking me how much of it was actually mine.
And then, most annoyingly, when I decided to wear my hair straight, she came up to me, touched my shoulder, looked straight in my eyes and said, “I really like your hair. It makes you look much softer.”
That was it.
I had to tell her about herself right then and there.
“You know, I would really appreciate it if you would stop commenting on my hair from here on out. In all honesty, many of your comments, while they might seem harmless to you, are offensive and stereotypical. Telling me I look softer with my hair straightened insinuates that, in it’s natural texture, my face looks more rough or masculine. It’s a sentiment rooted in a very Eurocentric beauty standard. And as a woman of African descent, it’s not something I’m trying to live up to.”
She stood there, her mouth agape, her eyes widened in horror.
Then, I pulled one of her moves, touched her shoulder gently and said, “I don’t really expect you to understand all of this. This is why it would just be better if we eliminate all conversation about my hair going forward. I’m sure you understand.”
She nodded slowly. I thanked her with a quick smile and walked off.
Aside from our very necessary professional conversations, very few of which don’t happen over e-mail, she doesn’t speak to me much anymore.
And that’s alright with me.