I was working out at the gym early one morning when I realized someone was at the door knocking. I turned and looked at the person and ignored them. I thought to myself, he wouldn’t need to knock if he had a gym pass. Someone else in the gym that morning thought differently, and let him in. It just happened that he had left his bag by the lockers and his keys were in it. I felt so ashamed. I tried thinking of all the reasons I had not offer any assistance.
Many excuses were found, but the truth is I was prejudiced: prejudiced to the fault of his appearance. No possible way could this nappy head man be a member of this gym. I had adopted a behaviour I am a victim of. Young black men with hair length beyond an inch or two are presumed to be nothing less than delinquents.
Growing up I hated going to the barbershop. It was an uncomfortable feeling having someone standing over me with tools that could inflict serious and lethal harm. So naturally when high school had come to an end, I quickly part ways with the barbershop.
I had landed a job at a very prominent commercial bank. During the interview process members of the interviewing team spared no chance to make a joke or comment about my “unkempt” hair. I believe had it not been for my impressive test scores that opportunity would have been lost. I went on to face some rather nasty ridicule from staff members who thought it was a disgrace to have my hair like it was working at the bank. Nevertheless I was extremely defiant and confident in the fact that my performance at the bank was beyond reproach. I recall the operations manager confessing to me that she had a completely different opinion of my character before I started talking. While I sympathize with her sentiments, I was not amused.
Opportunities are scarce and many young men are judged first by their appearance, consequently denying them the chance to demonstrate their abilities. Society still considers black boys and men hair to be “unkempt” if it is beyond a certain length and dear to liken us to “cruffs”. Young men are still being sent home from school to get a haircut before returning. Young men are being profiled by police authorities for this same issue. And while it is not the most pressing of discriminatory matters it contributes significantly to the marginalization of young black men.
I have completely bought into this European standard of professionalism as a young professional demanding respect in the corporate world not missing my fortnightly appointments at the barber. I say it should not be so.
“Who I am and what I can do is not what I look like”.
The songwriter India Arie wrote “I am not my hair, I am not my skin, and I am not your expectations no no… I am a soul that lives within.
***Name withheld to protect identity