Working While Black: He Looked At My Hair And Asked If I Stuck My Finger In A Socket
By Vannesia Darby
There I was starting a business, becoming a blogger, and pursing a master’s degree. I just walked away from my full time job and made the decision to venture out on my own in the field of digital marketing. It was an exciting time to say the least and I felt bolder and more confident than I had felt in a long time.
During the beginning stages of my business, I took a job at my local gym to ensure that I would have an outlet to relieve stress and a secure way to stack up some extra money. Working the early morning shift left me time to acquire clients, have meetings, go to class, and blog in the afternoons and evenings.
Three days each week I woke up at 3:30 am to ensure I was on site, bright eyed and bushy tailed to greet the 5:00 am workout crew with a smile. Although my body never fully adjusted to the schedule change, my spirit was lifted from the infectious energy of the guests who arrived with a mission to better themselves and their wellness. I was encouraged by the humor and personality from both old and young alike.
Apart from the fabulous guests and my dope coworkers, the best part about working there was that no one expected anyone to be glammed up – which was completely opposite from the entertainment world I just left where Photoshop was as common as Microsoft Word. Half the time when people came to work out, they literally just rolled out of bed – no makeup, no penciled in eyebrows, nothing. You can imagine that at 3:30 am, there were days that I did the same (well, my brows were always filled in, let’s just be honest).
Although chemical free for most of my life, I flat iron my hair and tend to yield compliments and wanted touches on my Farrah Fawcett feathers. After two years of living down south, my texture and curl pattern underwent so many changes due to the environment. Flat ironing was always the safest and most familiar move; however, while I had the freedom from a traditional office, I began to experiment with crochet braids and different products to learn what this new hair was capable of. One particular day, I woke up with an old twist out reminiscent of the late abolitionist Frederick Douglass (which was totally not the look I was going for). I was already running late and grabbed the holy grail of natural hair care products: my spray bottle full of water, some oil, eco styler gel, and a hair tie. I didn’t expect anyone to say anything. After all, it was just a pony tail at the gym. No big deal.
When I got to work, everyone went about their daily routine, until one client walked in – for the purposes of this story, we’ll call him Bo. Bo was an older Caucasian gentlemen who always complimented me and the other girls when our hair was down. Regardless of our race, he felt compelled to comment if either one of us simply thought about putting our hair up.
When I prepared to greet him, he immediately frowned and furrowed his brow. It was right then that I knew it was coming, the backwards compliment, the sideways comment…I expected anything.
“What did you do, stick your finger in a socket?” he asked.
Now my Mom always told me sometimes you just have to play dumb. I’m pretty sure it was that home training, together with my newly found entrepreneurship swag, that made feel sorry for his ethnocentric, European view of style. After all, he never changed up his workout gear, so he couldn’t possibly understand the versatility of Black hair.
I responded with the same furrowed brow and simply asked, “No, what are you talking about?” I knew he immediately felt awkward with my response. He pointed to his own thinning, dry, white hair and quipped, “Well maybe I said that because I don’t have any hair of my own.”
I laughed, fluffed my puff, and bid him adieu as I greeted the next person.
Even in the today’s #BlackGirlMagic Movement, many women of color still struggle with revealing their crowns at work. I’m not advocating for either natural, straight, curly, TWA, fade, locs, permed or bald styles because ultimately it is up to you to decide what makes you feel the most beautiful.
In the case of my own hair, I had to learn that every style does not need for me to have an “I’m Black And I’m Proud” speech queued up. You never have to defend something you own – that includes confidence. There’s a billion dollar industry out there that we contribute to and even claim space in. YouTube stars like Naptural85, Mahogany Curls, KimmayTube, BeautifulBrownBabyDol, LipstickNCurlz, MyNaturalSistas, YouLoveMegz, ThomasAdrianna, April Bee, and The Glam Twinz Kelsey and Kendra have become BFF’s to millions of subscribers who dare to keep versatility alive.
In my own tribe, my girls can battle any chemist or scientist with their knowledge of chemical reactions, sulfates, follicle treatments, coconut oil uses, and protective styles.
Bo may be still running around feeling like he is justified and authorized to comment on the hair styles of women. As for me, my business soon picked up and I was able to stop working on site at the gym, but still maintained my relationships with everyone. Similar to wearing my hair straight and curly, I get the best of both worlds.
Whether your curls pop or your feathers allow you to take flight, just know that your mane is a work of art that not everyone is cultured enough to appreciate. Similar to an exhibit in a museum, just let them know they can look, but please don’t touch.
Vannesia Darby is a young millennial with an old soul. As a blogger and an entrepreneur in the field of digital marketing, she specializes in management, marketing, and motivation. You can follow Vannesia on Instagram and Twitter at @iSpeakLife3.