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Being Black in America, whether you’re a man, woman or non-binary, is a complex experience. While our culture is imitated, our styles are exploited, our communities are gentrified and our bodies are not respected, we are supposed to smile and be the bigger person. If we confront the blatant or subtle disrespect we’re experiencing, that (in the eyes of America) is a bigger issue than the actual crimes against us. We have to go the extra mile just to get the same common respect everyone else receives, and to be honest, it can be tiring.
As Black people or people of color, we sometimes turn to our community for solace. We have a natural bond amongst us and unspoken rules that we follow and joke about amongst ourselves. You would think everyone would know and abide by the unspoken rule, but even amongst our community, you will find people who treat us no differently than the people who oppress us. It can be extremely tiring to deal with the same oppression actions towards our bodies from people who look like you. Ask any Black person about having your hair touched and they will assure you they not only hate it but would advise you to never do it.
I’ve been on the job hunt for a consistent, full-time position. Whether it’s in my desired field or not, I’m just looking for something to help pay the bills at the moment. I’ve applied online, in person and even went to job fairs in my city. I also asked for the help of my social circle when it came to my search. Someone within my circle referred me to a business owner they knew, and long story short, they helped me set up an interview with the company. The person who set up the interview wasn’t able to attend due to unfortunate circumstances, so I went to the interview by myself.
When I arrived, I waited outside for a good 15 to 20 minutes in the cold, even after I contacted the employer. After someone let me in, I spent another 10 to 15 minutes searching for the office. After randomly running into the friend of the employer, I was let into the office where I waited. While the employer was finishing with her client, they had me look over their social media accounts. (I was up for a social media manager position for a hair care company.) After the employer was done with her client, the interview began.
I was asked about my work experience briefly and showed the employer my resume. The employer asked about my hair cut and complimented it, and then she proceeds to touch my hair.
Yes, she touched my damn hair.
When the employer first did it, I was in a state of shock and disbelief. I sat there thinking, “Did she really just touch my hair? Nah, maybe she just wanted to feel the texture.” As much as I tried to suppress it, I couldn’t ignore it and that was the first strike.
As the interview continued, she brought up things that she needed help within her business and what I would be doing with the company’s page and the images she wanted to be used. During this part of the interview, she randomly asked me questions about my personal life that wasn’t any of her business, to be honest. In the back of my mind I really want to tell her, “That’s not what I’m here for,” but again, I wanted to remain professional and not block any blessings.
So after talking for another five minutes about the position, she asked about my haircut and wanted to see the back of my head. She then asked me who cut it and I told her the name of the business. (Deep down I was really thinking to myself, “It’s not like I’m going to help you get your products in his shops.”)
As the interview wrapped, the employer gave me some products to try at home. Again, she touch my hair and even gave me some unnecessary tips on how to improve it, which can be insulting to say to anyone even if you are a hair professional. She also proceeded to spray some of her products in my hair, and that’s when I was officially done. I pretended to sneeze to act as if it the product she was spraying was too much for me, but honestly, I was over it.
After the “interview” ended, I grabbed my coat, told the employer thank you for the opportunity and told her I would be in contact with her soon, a usual interview ending.
As I was leaving, walking down the street, something just didn’t sit right with me. I knew I was frustrated at the employer touching my hair. I ran into the mother of one of my friends and she gave me a ride to my train stop. As I was in her car, I told her about the incident, and the look on her face said everything without her saying anything verbally. After my mom’s friend dropped me off at my train stop, my anger grew. I thought talking about it with a few friends and family members would help me get over the feelings, but it didn’t (especially since everyone had the same “what the f**k” reaction when I told them). I honestly felt disrespected. My personal space and body were disrespected.
I woke up the next morning and texted the employer, letting them know I was no longer interested in the position. I was too angry; the fact that I woke up the next morning still thinking about it let me know that it affected me more than I thought it did. Even now, thinking back and writing this article, I sometimes regret not cussing out the employee at the time. I know some people will probably read this and think, “Well, why didn’t you cuss her out?! I would of!” A part of me wanted to, but at that time, I was just shocked. There’s a long history of African Americans having their hair touched without permission, I knew about it, but I would have never thought I would experience this in a job interview.
Today, I’m still on my job hunt. Since the incident, I’ve had other incidents where people have touched my hair, but I’ve been more assertive and I haven’t hidden my facial expressions due to the incident. While I’m more assertive, I must admit, the stress of job hunting has become more stressful for me. Every job I apply to, every interview I go on, I constantly worry about whether or not someone will touch my hair during the interview or on the job. This incident has made me walk into job interviews or even applying in person with distrust; I feel like I constantly have to have a wall up.
Whether you or someone you know has experienced this, witnessed this or are even concerned about this, I advise you to be proactive. If someone does something inappropriate to someone’s hair, speak up. Don’t be afraid to tell everyone, even employers, to not touch you. If it continues, don’t be afraid to get loud and report it to anyone — human resources or even your friends. I would even go as far as to put it on social media.
As we live our best lives during this hot girl/boy summer and continue to make moves in the second half of 2019, I want to remind everyone to respect Black hair and respect Black bodies all 2019 and beyond. Your ignorance can lead to the demise of your business and the absence of the talent your brand and company might desperately need.