I change my hairstyle often. It’s a part of my character and also a part of my West African culture. One day I can have my hair coiffed into long braids, and another it could be in a sleek short Afro.
I change it often because I like to experiment – nothing more. I don’t change it often because I am mentally unstable or non-committal or whatever weird psychological interpretation white people want to make of it. I change it simply because I like to and because I can.
It’s interesting however how white people feel they can comment and question me about my different hairstyles.
It’s particularly uncomfortable for me in a work environment because I simply cannot understand why my hairstyle no matter how ever-changing it may be, affects my work performance.
When I am at work, I expect my bosses and colleagues to judge the quality of my work, not my hair. But I guess that’s too much to ask because I get interrogated ever so often about my hair.
And I must admit that for a while, or rather – just so that everyone would leave me alone, I kept my hair in a conservative straight perm.
I didn’t like the way I looked with it, but it bought me peace.
What I really wanted to do was to braid my hair or put it into cornrows. But there were unspoken rules in the company that indicated that this wasn’t business appropriate.
One day, I remember sitting in my white boss‘s office as she studied me with a quizzical look on her face. She came closer to me as though to inspect what I had on my head.
“Why do you have your hair in braids. Isn’t that for when you are on holiday? It doesn’t look very professional,” she said.
“It’s part of my culture” …. I didn’t even have time to finish my sentence before she said:
“No one will take you seriously. You lack credibility with those braids. You need to take them off. Make them again for your next vacation”.
I felt uneasy but still managed to ask how my braids would affect the quality of my work.
“Oh, it not that, it’s just that you don’t look like someone who can be trusted, hence you’ll have a credibility issue.”
I was taken aback but soon realized that that was how white people had been socialized to judge black people with braids. A bit like how they think that anyone black person that wears dreadlocks must smoke weed.
These stereotypes are so very wrong and white people need to unlearn them.
The texture of black hair allows us to do a crazy amount of hairstyles. Our hair is versatile and can be a fertile ground for trying out all sorts of different and creative styles.
As black women, our entire personalities should not and cannot be judged on whether we chose to wear our hair in dreadlocks, braids, weaves, extensions, natural, or whatever.
Interestingly enough, however, I began to notice that there was a direct correlation between my hairstyle and the chances of me getting stopped for a security check at Heathrow or JFK airports for example.
I knew that with my straight perm and navy blue pantsuit, I could saunter across security without a worry in the world.
The minute I had my braids in, it was a completely different story – I was always selected for the so-called “random” and often unpleasant body search.
With time I began to learn that my experience of the world was a lot different depending on how I coiffed my hair.
One time at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, a security guard forcefully patted down my head – she later shared that she had to do that because female African drug mules usually hid illicit substances in their weaves or braids. I stared at her in disbelief.
Black women have been told how to wear their hair for centuries and this needs to stop. There is something fundamentally wrong with consciously or subconsciously pressuring black women to adorn hairstyles that fit into a white person’s ideal or view of the world.
We are not white, we are black — our hair texture is different from yours so we will do different things with it. Leave us be.
More and more black women are owning their natural hair these days — afros, dreadlocks, and twists included. We need to be given the freedom to do so without white people interpreting what we have on our heads.
We shouldn’t be judged or put into a box or category based on how we chose to style our hair.
Get to know us better. Look to our personalities, experiences, and qualifications to get an idea of whom we are. Don’t look at our hair and judge us.
Thanks for reading my perspective.