A friend sent me a link to this wonderful series on YouTube called The Unwritten Rules, which chronicles some of the ackward interactions that the only Black co-worker might encounter in the office. Some of the incidents may seem over-the-top, but sadly, they aren’t that far off the mark, and I’d bet that there’s a Black co-worker out there somewhere that has encountered each of these issues. What I like about the series is that it does not vilify the white co-workers. These are not rabid racists out to get the Black co-worker. They are simply, blissfully ignorant, and their comments are generally not meant to harm. I think that the series can be a good conversation starter for workplace diversity prorams. Kudos to the creator, writers and actors. In Episode 4 of The Unwritten Rules deals with Black hair and all the questions that it can raise in the workplace. As the Only Afro in the Room, I can certainly relate.
Lorain Horizon Science Academny In Ohio Reverses Afro Puff Ban, Admits It Was A Mistake
I missed this news when it came out six weeks ago and stumbled upon it today through serendipitous circumstances. A school banned afro puffs and hair braids in its new dress code. The school issued an apology the next day, and an African-American board member claimed the ban was aimed at African-American boys rather than girls. I commend the school for recognizing its mistake and quickly resolving the issue. By changing the policy, they have certainly demonstrated that they were concerned about the well-being of their student body.
Nevertheless, I’m sharing this link to Huffington Post’s coverage because I think the incident spurred some very interesting conversations about identity. If you have thirty minutes to watch Huffington Post’s extended video to hear all of the comments it’s really a worthwhile experience. A professor discusses how growing out his afro has resulted in colleagues saying he looks like a criminal and police seeing him as suspicious. He goes on to discuss the subtlety of racism these days, as opposed to the overt racism of the Jim Crow era. The interviewer herself shared that just before she left home to attend Harvard, her female relatives ran an intervention to try to get her to perm her natural hair. She laments that she wishes she had a choice.
I think that “choice” is the key word here. Equality comes in many forms. Having the choice to accept and embrace your identity is a fundamental aspect of equality. Black women stand alone in all of humanity as lacking the choice to grow their hair natural. Sure, we can do it if we really want to, but we do so with consequences that women of no other race will encounter. You see, we do not know if wearing our natural hair will prevent us from being hired, promoted, loved, or apparently even tolerated in school.
If you think this is an exaggeration, take a look at the Black women on TV. How many Black female news anchors, politicans, judges, entertainers, and models wear their hair naturally? How many Black female “sex symbols” wear their hair natural? The vast majority wear their hair permed, straightened, weaved, or wigged. If most of them are choosing to alter their hair as a form of individual expression, then we have equality. But if they are essentially forced to do so in order to be acceptable in the public eye, then we have a lot of work to do.
Equality encompasses the right to be. Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, Black women now have the right to live where we want to live, get the education we’d like to have, enjoy any public space we wish and even marry those of whichever race we happen to adore. But, we haven’t yet gotten to the point where most of us feel free enough to be natural.