‘As a black woman you have to work harder to get a job’

This is the statement that was thrown at me when I went to the hairdresser’s this morning and it made me feel really uncomfortable, maybe even a little bit angry at the lady who made this statement.

Before I delve into a full fledged rant about how I do not agree with this statement, I feel that it is important you all know that my lifelong dream from watching classics such as Barbershop with Ice Cube  and Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah (!) … ( I think we will all agree these movies ARE classics) was to witness what I like to call ‘salon chatter.’ Well, today my ‘dream’ came true and it left me feeling rather unsettled.

This whole conversation only started because the ladies in the salon were praising me about my natural hair and recounting how rare it is for young black girls today to leave their hair in its natural state. As many people know ( or don’t know) there is a lot of debate surrounding the issue of  ‘natural hair’ vs ‘permed hair’ which I am not particularly interested in going into detail about.

The focal point of this article is the fact some people still believe that it is automatically harder to get a job as a black woman. Somehow, from talking about my natural hair, the conversation had transgressed into an advisory session. Modify. Rejection. Fit. are some of the words which stood out for me during this session.

You might have to modify your look in the future to fit into a corporate environment. I was outraged. How could this woman come in here and tell me that in order to get a job in certain sectors of the economy, I would have to strip a piece of my identity?

Whilst, I do realise that many people will believe my opposition to this statement suggests naivety and idealism, I refuse to believe that this statement is a reality. It will not be my reality nor does it have to be yours.

To give a bit of context to the lady’s statement, she works in Human Resources and has been in situations where it appears that a person who is qualified on paper but doesn’t fit the visual ‘criteria’ that the specific company/ organisation desires, ends up being cheated from getting the job. Cheated by someone who is more ‘appealing’ visually.

In my eyes, this has more to do with human beings judging books by their covers and is not specifically aimed at black women per se. As much as we would like to say we are riding on a moral high horse and do not judge people by the way they look, it is logical that we do. When you first meet someone, their appearance is all you have to go by at that point in time. Although, subjective, it can be said that the moral issue arises in this context when an employer has two candidates. Let’s call them Candidate X and Candidate Y. Candidate X is more qualified on paper and interviews very well. Candidate Y is less qualified on paper and does not interview well.

Candidate Y gets the job over Candidate X because the employer believes she is more visually appealing. Now, this is where the lady’s statement comes in.  What constitutes as visually appealing in today’s world? Here, I think the lady who addressed me would  assert that a woman with dread locks or an afro might not be considered to fit into this category and that is where she can justify the statement that ‘as a black woman you have to work harder to get a job’.

I will repeat what I said to the lady in response to her statement: in the same way that an employer doesn’t want to hire me based on my skin colour, background, religion, hair etc., vice versa, I do not want to work for such an employer. I think the matter is as simple as that. Yes, it sounds naive. Yes, it sounds idealistic but it is the stance I choose to take. I am not an unreasonable person and will conform when necessary but I do not see conforming in this context as necessary. I see it as cowardice and sincerely hope that people from all corners of the world after reading this article, even in the littlest ways, vow to maintain their identities and treasure their values in a world that can be unjust at times.