“You should really reflect how the client’s top executives look.” Say what?! I was taken aback by the comment because I was dressed beautifully in a tailored suit and donned a cute natural hair style. At the time, I was working as a management consultant on a work project in one of the largest private firms in the United States. The comment came from one of my project leaders. How do you react to such a comment? Perhaps she was referring to the fact that I was wearing a red suit? Or, was she talking about my hair? That is one of the challenges of being in a society where your beauty is often devalued: you don’t know if such comments were intended to be personal and related to immutable characteristics (e.g., YOU need to have straight, long hair) or general and related to things that you can change (e.g., NO ONE should ever wear a red suit). As our conversation continued, I picked my mouth up off of the floor and realized that her comments did in fact seem to be about my hair. Wow. I took a deep breath and weighed the thoughts whirling in my mind. Should I blast her? Should I say nothing? For those who know me in a professional setting, you know that I picked a diplomatic way, but direct way, to let her know that I thought her comments were ridiculous. I said, “Wow, that’s a…different perspective. What if we were working at Black Entertainment Television? Would you be willing to shave your head and wear a short hairstyle a la Robert Johnson?” A blank stare greeted my gaze. That was the end of that. Well, at least she didn't say anything else. But, I'm not so naive to think that her authentic beliefs were changed as a result of our exchange.
Was this a one-off situation? I think not. The article in this link suggests that other Black women have been and will be subjected to insensitive comments about their hair in the workplace: http://ybpguide.com/2007/09/02/natural-black-hair-not-glamorous/. The picture of the beautiful, professional Black woman was copied from the same article.
What do you think? How would you have responded to my situation? To what occurred in the article? Have you experienced such behavior in the workplace? How did you react? To those who are non-Black, how would you have responded if you witnessed this situation?