“I Love Your Hair! It’s a Weave, Though, Right?”

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In this post, I wrote about my initial hair-related experiences in Corporate America as a Black woman. Sadly, after over a decade later, I still experience the unsolicited, often annoying commentary regarding my tresses. And I must say, I have still not gotten used to it. Even though I have come to expect it, I still find myself getting worked up. However, judging by the number of hair-related tweets that were featured in the #BlackWomenAtWork twitter eruption this week, I am not alone.

Recently I worked with an amazing, fast-paced, startup – unbelievable perks, flexible environment. The kind of place that has essential oil workshops, Wednesday in-office yoga and free vegan food at our fingertips. This is the company of my dreams…with one exception. I am the only Black woman that works there. The only raisin in the proverbial cookie. Let that sink in for a minute.

So I essentially have two jobs. One is the job I was hired for, a Supply Chain executive, while the other is the more tedious, unpaid responsibility of representing Blackness.

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into work on Monday, doing my usual route – walk in, head to kitchen to drop off lunch, fix my breakfast smoothie and eggs, before heading down to my desk. I should mention that this kitchen is unlike that in most offices. Equipped with a full range, pots and pans, a Vitamix and free food, our kitchen is often the office hangout, as someone is usually making breakfast or baking vegan goodies for everyone. Anyhoo, as I walk in, one of my White, female coworkers (let’s call her Becky) engages me in the following exchange:

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Air Travel : A Social Experiment

 

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Traveling is one of the greatest joys of my professional career. Below is a post I wrote a while back…

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After several weeks of work travel, I am finally back on the homefront, although I did return with a little present.   I caught a nasty stomach virus on my last trip to Detroit.  One minute I was feeling ok, resisting the urge to curse out the gate agent for rebooking me on a less than desired route and the next minute, I was feeling feverish and nauseous.

So anyway, I am taking a sick day, which still does not explain why I am sitting on my couch watching TV instead of demolishing this mountain called my work inbox.

While I sat at my gate awaiting the call for Zone 5, I realized how interesting the subject of air travel is.

When I was younger, the mere thought of boarding a plane was a big deal.  I remember as a child, my first air plane ride was a family trip from Lagos to Abuja, Nigeria.  Man, was that exciting! We got all dressed up for the occasion.  A few years later, my family went on our first intercontinental vacation to Europe, which was an even bigger event.  Although we were flying coach on both occasions, I distinctly remember the feeling of luxury, of being catered to.

Fast forward to last week when I asked for a blanket (what the heck was i thinking!) because I was freezing and was told it would cost $10, cash and exact change only!  Airlines have gone from offering a choice from a wide selection of beverages, to abrupt service offering just water or…water and ice lol.

Few other things that caught my attention:

 The glaring difference between Frequent Flyers and “The Others“.  You can typically spot the frequent flyer – characterized by speed as they navigate the self-check in kiosks (if they did not already print off boarding pass, or have it downloaded on their smartphones), expertly packed travel-size liquids and gels as they make it through security with shoes and belts already taken off, or even the seamless way they hoist compact carry-ons into overhead bin and swiftly  take their seats.  “The Others” tend to appear confused and lost which ultimately annoys their speedier counterparts.

Boarding by class zone.  I am sure the airlines were simply devising an efficient and easy way to board planes to avoid chaos and delays.  So why does it seem like a way to humiliate those of us who are not fortunate enough to fly first class? Has anyone ever noticed the look of smug superiority on the faces of the first class passengers as the rest of us make our way to the back of the plane?  Is it pure coincidence that we have to walk past them, drinking their “pre-flight” refreshments, legs comfortably stretched out on our way to our seats, knowing that our own experience way back there will be less than pleasant?  What about the almost see-through curtain that separates them from us? Transparent just enough to allow us imagine the sights and sounds, but solid enough to keep us away from using their bathroom. I remember once being shooed back to my seat when I attempted to use the bathroom in First Class, to avoid the long line in Coach. 😦

Black woman with natural hair = potential terrorist? Has anyone with natural hair ever had their pony tail searched when going through security? I don’t get it. Could I be hiding a gun or knife in there? Since when did my Shea Butter and coconut oil mix become chemical weapons of mass destruction?

I apologize if this is common knowledge, but as a newly natural sista, this was a new one for me; especially as I hate people touching my hair.

In-flight speed dating. Most times when I board, I just want to sleep, read or work in peace! If this is the case, my headphones are slipped on as soon as my butt touches the seat. I may as well have a Do Not Disturb sign on my forehead.  Of course, once in a while the Chatty Cathy next to me will keep talking to me anyway.

Sometimes, however,  you are lucky enough to sit next to someone whom you connect with and you both stay in touch after you arrive at your final destinations.  Other times, the  interaction lasts only as long as the flight.  I’ve always been amazed at how much personal information is shared in a relatively short time. People will talk about their families, jobs, hobbies, likes, dislikes, past relationships, fears, opinions, etc within minutes of sitting next to a person on the plane.  One key piece of info is typically withheld though.  Can you guess?  Name!  In my experience, people will have these personal and intense discussions without an actual introduction!

Have you observed any of these? Are there any interesting tidbits you have noticed about flying? Please follow and share your thoughts.

“Your hair! It’s so…interesting.”

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I remember my first day in the Corporate American work place.  I had graduated with Honors a month prior with a degree in Accounting and had accepted a position as a First-Year Associate at a “Big” Accounting firm.  I recall the feeling of nervous excitement as I walked through the shiny sliding doors, eager to start my new life. The day before, I had micro-braided my hair.  Having just moved to a new city, I opted for a low-maintenance hair style until I figured things out.

The HR coordinator met me in the lobby to welcome me and begin the New Hire Orientation.  She was blonde, petite and dressed impeccably in a grey skirt suit.  Her black heels clacked as she strode confidently across the room towards me. As she approached, she introduced herself, firmly shaking my hand, subtly eyeing me up and down.  And then, there it was…the dreaded double take.  She looked twice at my hair and said, “I like your hair.  It’s so…interesting.”

As I mumbled my thanks, I recall thinking that I had never seen my hair as different before.  I wondered if ‘interesting’ was a euphemism for something less…pleasant.  Would I be considered “less-capable” or “less professional”? Would I fit into this ultra-conservative work environment being the only Black woman on my team?  I pondered some of these questions within my first few weeks as I met my other team mates.

This was only the beginning of my hair journey in the Corporate space.  Throughout my career, as I have moved departments, offices, jobs, I have had a plethora of adjectives used to describe my hair- whimsical, cool, unique, fickle, ‘out-there’.  I would often wonder if they ascribed these same descriptions to me as a person and not just my hair.  Someone, a middle-aged, White male colleague once said to me, “It’s like a Chia pet.  It can grow from nothing to several inches in like 2 weeks!!”

The biggest change was when I transitioned from relaxed, straightened hair to my natural, more kinky texture.  Although I knew it was the right move for me personally and health-wise, my biggest  concern, believe it or not, was how my work colleagues would view me.  After my ‘big-chop’, it was as if I was no longer the same person.  Some thought it was cool and wanted to touch it, while others just stared as if I had been deceiving them all along with my ‘fake’ hair.  I have even had the discussion with other Black female colleagues about whether or not my short twist-out was considered “professional” and appropriate for our work culture.

I consider overcoming my hair struggles in the corporate world as a badge of honor.  I could very easily have continued to wear my weave at work just to fit in.  I could have continued to apply perms to my hair just to avoid the stares and questions.   However today, I choose to embrace my hair in and out of work. I choose to maintain confidence even through the stares.   I know deep down that I have become a better professional woman for it!

Dual Citizenship: The Chronicles of a Black & Corporate-American Woman

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Have you ever felt like you were constantly ping-ponging between 2 worlds? You spend 40 or more hours weekly in one; and the remains of your life are spent in the other? You wake up each morning, don your mask and enter the corporate world, doing your best to blend in. You tuck away your essence and try not to be too “different”, too obvious.  You don’t want to upset the apple cart.  You are in “their” space. When they grudgingly decide to set you free, you remove your mask and enter into another world.  Where you are free to be yourself.  Where you can let your hair down figuratively…maybe even literally.  Where your name isn’t too difficult to pronounce and your music isn’t too ethnic.  A place where you do not have to explain yourself.  It doesn’t matter if you are alone or surrounded by friends and family.  The point is, this is your space.   You cling on to the sacred moments spent in this world because you know it won’t last forever.  You will have to return to their space…sooner rather than later. You, my friend, are like me.   A dual-citizen.