"God, What happened to your hair? It looks like someone scared the Hell outta ya, or you stuck your finger in a socket. It's ...everywhere!"
Yes fro sisters, I hear your teeth grinding from here. This isn't the first time Thomas, an elderly white man who is a regular at a restaurant I waitress at, has picked on me when my hair was in its natural state. Or in this case, in a big beautiful puff on the top of my head. But this time, I refused to be quiet and just graze it over with a smile like everything was okay. You see this is the story of my life and I'm about tired of this crap . . .
I responded accordingly... ahem:
"Let me ask you something, if I was a white woman with straight hair and a perfectly slicked back ponytail, would you be asking me, what happened to my hair? Because I don't see you asking any other waitress in here that question but ME." . . .
Cat caught his tongue, yall!!
Why was he suddenly speechless?Because I called out his racism and discrimination. Let us call it what it is. RACISM. And don't you know, that I had another occurrence happen just a week earlier?! Yes honey, ON THE JOB!
The rule is, as a waitress, your hair must be off of your collar. I had just washed and conditioned my hair the night before, so it was ready to be worn in not one but two fabulous puffs. Which is the equivalent to two pigtails. Something in my bones was saying, "make sure your hair is well off of your collar." I triple checked as I fluffed and squealed at my 'do' in the mirror . I love natural kinky-curly hair so much and when I walked out of the door that morning, I remember just feeling beautiful in my own skin!
Of course, the regional manager decides to drop by our store that day. So everyone had their butts squeezed tight and we are all constantly looking over our shoulders. We were following the rules a little too much to the 'T'. Which meant no free food for us until he leaves! In passing from busting one of my tables, I greet our regional manager. Let's call him Matt. "Good Morning Matt!" with a smile so sweet, it would give you a cavity (at least I thought so!). He says hello politely with such a kind smile, but I know better. This man is known for berating, yelling, and insulting. But of course all behind closed office doors. On the outside, he has an image to upkeep.
I was dumping my dishes in the sink when my store manager approaches me reluctantly, and says,
"So Matt isn't happy with your hair."
"And why is that?"
"I don't know. Apparently it's too poofy...."
He is looking down and busying his hands with nothing, really. I walk away to spare him and to process my feelings. I know this is not his doing and I know that he is just taking orders. But as I walk towards the break room, I feel this tiny flame in my chest start to break out into something uncontrollable. I stare in the break room mirror and begin to put my puffs into two buns. Hiding the kinks. Hiding the curls. Concealing myself.
The straw that broke the camel's back was when I noticed my white co-worker walk past me (and yes I'm using her race to make an important point. I'm not racist folks). Just earlier I saw Matt laughing it up with her for about a full 15 minutes. For that full 15 minutes and beyond, she had a ponytail. Touching not only her collar, but long enough to dance back and forth between her shoulder blades as she walks. Free to be who she is. Free to never have to conceal. Sleek, and straight hair that isn't "threatening".
And as I emerged from the break room I realized that she was one of several that Matt turned a blind eye to. . .
Oh. hell. no.
I power walk to the ladies restroom, hide in one of the stalls, and phone my moral compass. Or in other word's; my older sister, J'nay:
"Okay J'nay, should I fight or fly?"
I explain the situation to her in full and she says, without skipping a beat:
"Oh, you gotta fight that one, girl."
I'm not going to lie. I was scared. He was a tall white man in power who at the very least held my job in his hands, and I seriously doubt anyone else was going to have my back (out loud). Even though they saw what was happening and protested in their whispers. But what was bigger than my fear, were my experiences. Being discriminated against or being made fun of by people who don't care to embrace differences. People who live as if everyone should look one way. Even if that means denying your roots or ethnicity. I believe that the subtle offenses that we try to just look over, if not nipped in the bud, can turn into a whole lot of ugly.
So it was time to do some nipping. I waited for what seemed like a lifetime for him to finish up with an interview he was conducting. I planted myself and just tried to shut up my racing thoughts and focus on 1 thing: JUSTICE. He was coming my way. I waited until he was close enough and said:
"Matt could I talk to you?"
"Sure! Of course."
"I am just confused as to why I had to bun up my hair when it was well off my shoulders."
He turned red as a tomato.
"Oh. well, you see, so... you look as sharp as tack! Everything is perfect! I think its beautiful! It's just I try to put myself in the shoes of the customers, and when hair bounces...you know. You know I JUST had a hair problem at another one of my stores! Would you believe it? Hair in the food and what have you....The rule is hair should be off of the shoulders, you are right! I hope you don't feel like I'm picking on you."
Then, as if seeing my co-worker for the first time, the one that he was just earlier laughing it up with, he points a stern finger at her and says:
"Oh! Technically your hair is wrong too. Bun it up."
The poor girl was so confused. But then he did something interesting. He proceeded to do what he should have done before ; Enforce fairness and equality. He goes to every swinging ponytail that he just happened to miss before, and told them to, "Bun it up". Lrys be clear, I have no problem with rules, just as long as everyone is required to abide by them.
Here's my point:
My hair is apart of who I am. Little African-American girls, women, and men for that matter, shouldn't have to feel a strained obligation to conform to white standards of appearances or beauty. Because can we be real, white-washing is a thing. A big ole thing! Our hair holds our heritage. It holds an erased past. It holds our culture. For so long, the discrimination is so deep, that wearing an afro and locks as well, can get in the way of getting a job even! Listen, I have been called, "Brave" for wearing my natural hair or natural hairstyles. Though I appreciate the compliment, I look forward to the day where walking out of the house in my most natural state isn't seen as "Brave" but just Beautiful.
P.s. Too all of my white sisters out there reading, know that I have BIG love for you and when you ask to "Touch my fro", you know I got you!