By: Adwoa-Alexsis Mintah
I’ve always worked in companies that have had a good mix of people. Not too many of one kind of person but a nice mix of multi-cultural personalities and backgrounds. I suppose that’s one of best things about living in London. Up until the end of last year, I was working at an arts organization surrounded by similar people not just in color but in energy and diversity.
That changed when I decided it was time for me to make a change and move into the private sector. Now coming from an arts background, I knew moving into the private sector was going to be different, but how different, I definitely was not prepared for. I had gone from being one of many black women in a company to being the only one.
When I Initially started this new job I had a kinky straight 18 inch wig that I had been wearing for the previous six months. During my time with it, I had received so many compliments that I started to believe it was my own! When the weather eventually began to warm up slightly, I decided it was time for a change and I went from my kinky straight wig to a curly 12-inch wig.
Now in hindsight, perhaps this was too much of a drastic change for people who didn’t really know me, perhaps I should have been a little bit more considerate about the confusion I would cause them, but honestly I had never had any negative experiences in the workplace in regards to my hair, so at that time, these things didn’t even cross my mind.
The day I went in with my curly wig was one I shall not forget for quite some time. I work in a small office of just 6 (all women by the way) of which I am the only black woman. Not only am I the only black woman, I am the only woman of color to have worked at the company in all of its 12 year history. So here I am on an April morning working, when the first of my 5 co-workers walks in, closes the front door, then says,“Oh my god – what happened to all of your hair?”
I explained that the my previous wig had run its course and that I get bored easily with my look so I decided to change it up. She (we’ll call her Lucy) proceeded to then call the other 4 members of the office to let them know I had gone through a “drastic change”. Then one by one they all came in, looked at me, and then asked the same questions as Lucy. Now I can understand that in life not everyone is exposed to different cultures, but in London, it’s pretty hard not to be, unless you choose to be.
I received questions and comments such as:
“Gosh – your hairdresser must make a fortune”
“Do you not like your natural hair?”
“Why don’t you just have your afro out? – I love how soft they feel”
“So is this plastic hair or human because if its human that doesn’t sit well with me?”
I could go on. Now I appreciate that sometimes people say things and don’t realize how offensive or downright rude they can be, but in such a sensitive time both in the UK and US surrounding people of color you would think questions and debates like this would not still be going on in 2016, but they are.
Let’s fast forward to last week. I had decided that I didn’t like the curly wig as much as I had liked it on the Instagram model I had originally seen it on (that ever happen to you too?!), so decided to put in some box braids for a few weeks. Having learnt that my new work colleagues do not like surprises when it comes to my hair, I gave them a whole weeks warning.
When I arrived on Monday morning with my 20 inch braids, I thought there would probably be questions but nothing like before. Well just like clock work, Lucy arrived shortly after me and repeated her same antics, texting and calling the other 4 colleagues yet to arrive so that as soon as they walked through the door they were looking at what I had done to my hair.
I was as patient as I could stand to be until I realized that I couldn’t deal with the same conversations over and over again, like I was some sort of spokesperson for all black women and our hair.
I simply logged onto YouTube and sent an office email with the link to a girl putting in braids, of course this then led to another 30 minutes of questions but it seemed to have ended there. Now, instead of being excited about my next hair switch up (summer is coming after all!) I’m anxious and already irritated at the thought of having to answer questions for hours and days on end.
Have you dealt with a situation similar to this one, where co-workers of different races made you feel uncomfortable about your hair or choie of hairstyle? If so share your experience in the comment section below.