Thursday, September 22, 2016

#BlackAtWork: When "Look Professional" Means "Look Like a Straight White Man" UPDATES

Isn’t great that we live in a world where three men can decide unanimously that a black woman’s hair is a fireable/unhireable offense? The 11th US Court of Appeals decided that it’s not racist to not hire someone based on their hair type. Chastity Jones lost a job opportunity specifically because of her dreadlocks, was not valid, as her hair didn’t fit an immutable characteristic of racial discrimination. In 2013 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit on behalf of Ms. Jones against a Mobile, AL insurance claims processing company. In 2010 the company gave her an offer since she apparently was qualified. The HR director then told her that she had to get rid of her locs because “they tend to get messy”. Of course, Ms. Jones said something to the effect of, “That’s ridiculous”, and the company rescinded their offer. The EEOC case hinged on the fact that dreadlocks are culturally associated with people of African descent. The judges decided against that, as dreadlocks are a hair STYLE, not a hair TYPE. So now that we have this question out of the way, can we finally get to the heart of the matter and just admit something?
“Look Professional” is just dog whistle for “Look as much like a straight white man as possible”.
The fact that the HR director said that locs “tend to get messy” shows that this was completely an aesthetic decision on the company’s part. For one thing, dreadlocks, when tended to, are NOT messy. THey are probably one of the more manageable ways to deal with natural hair. For another, I fail to see how hair relates to the ability to process insurance claims. Are you supposed to manipulate the pen and computers with your hair at the company, and only straight hair will make it work correctly? Please; they just don’t like black hair.
I know, I know, there are plenty of other cultures in Asia and Europe who have the ability and have historically locked their hair, but let’s not pretend the dreadlocks in the United States were not primarily introduced and popularized by people of African descent. Locs were mainly a religious thing, but because the religion wasn’t Christianity, they were used as an excuse to discriminate against and criminalize blacks until locs and blacks were more mainstream. Now they are prevalent everywhere, from the street to fashion shows (I’m looking at you, Marc Jacobs), so now it’s “normal”...they’re also still used to discriminate against and criminalize black people. I have five dumb Predator jokes in my head that I heard from both black and white people to show how “scary” dreadlocks are.
Before dreadlocks, braids were the controversial hair style of choice. Before braids, any type of cornrow. Before that, the high top fade. Before that, it was the afro that was the offending hair style. And before that, just having natural black hair was enough of an excuse to fire to/not hire a person. This was the impetus for so many hair straightening products for black people. From the straightening comb to chemical perms, black people have been literally poisoning and  burning the fuck out of their scalps, just to get a job and look as our white male employers would like us to look. Hell, It’s partially why I have a shaven bald head now!

UPDATE: A black woman friend of mine just told me that when she shaved her head, she was told that she looked "unprofessional". Mind you, she does not work on a tarmac where too much moisturizer might cause glare and crash a plane. She works at a desk. So just sayinf, "Fuck it all", and going with the bald look is out of the question for black women, too. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
UPDATE: A white woman friend who works as a paramedic and/or superhero (she'll never admit it) told me about a time that she was admonished for having red hair. It's not even RED, like "your mother obviously had an affair with Ronald McDonald" red. It's just red, like "I initially thought it might be natural" red. Mind you she is a paramedic (and avenging angel of our city). She daily goes out and has to revive people and lift people larger than her and attain vital statistics from them to maintain their lives (and thwart midnight museum and bank raids by ninjas and mobsters). If anything, given that she'd be in an ambulance with a red cross or something on it, the red hair would EXEMPLIFY her passion for work (and strike fear in the hearts of the criminal underbelly). However, her boss not only didn't like it, he added a little bit of infantilization, acknowledging that he knows how long it takes for "you girls" to get their hair fixed. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It doesn’t stop at just hair. Never forget #TeacherBae. I would love to hear how many times women with...um...special assets...were admonished or fired because of their body types. Blame it on the clothes all you want; when you reach a certain size, especially when parts of you reach a size and other parts stay small, All clothes are tight. Deny that all you want, it’s true. Any time I see someone be punished for wearing “unprofessional dress”, I imagine the same outfit on someone super skinny, and I realize that punishment is utter bullshit.
Even if we DO have “professional” hair, if we DO dress “professionally”, that is no guarantee we’ll feel welcome in the workplace. It’s been more than a few times that I wore the traditional office polo and khakis, the Standard White Collar Uniform™, and still, co-workers would come up to me to demand I fix a pipe or mop a floor or something. I fucking sit in the cubicle next to you, Frank. We overcompensate so that doesn’t happen, and we get joked for “overdressing”. Sometimes that doesn’t even help. I was the branch manager of an IT department, wore a shirt and tie daily, while my henchmen wore the Standard White Collar Uniform™. Into the office comes a visiting manager from another branch, and he walks up to the one white dude in the office and asks, “You’re in charge here, right? I need blah blah blah…”
Motherfucker.
My point is, any deviation from Pleasantville-style “straight white man” is considered “not professional”. Unless you’re working where your hair might get caught in a machine, or a ring might facilitate electrocution, form of dress or amount of tattoos has nothing to do with how well someone can communicate with coworkers and do one’s job. Claims that it’s a “distraction to coworkers” is just code that the coworkers are too unprofessional to do their job. Hair, especially black women’s hair, is not the problem. Let’s hope this case gets appealed, and the judges aren’t a bunch of “professional” judges.

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