What specifically accounts as the professional look? To many, it is common sense. But who “common” did we settle for. We hate for it to be true, but the world conditioned us to live by rules set by the oppressor. Don’t look this way. Don’t speak that way! Since we don’t want to grumble about every little piece the world throws at us, we decide to fit into the puzzle. Yet a puzzle it is! Do you know anyone that took the time to find out where, “never wear all white after labor day,” began? Instead of trying to find the root of every must do or must be, we blend in and go with the flow. This is no different in the workplace.
Perception of the Office World
Many love the saying that the grass isn’t greener on the other side.
I remember when I first started working at this workplace that seemed new for me in every which way. I started off “on the floor.” Or shall I say “the field.” We sweated daily from the heat and our hard work. Yet, I enjoyed the work and those I worked beside. My equals. The problem came with those in authority. I could never forget how the office people, that’s what we called them, would every now and then walk out on the floor.
The way they would look at us and sometimes look through us would make the biggest person seem so small. We got small remarks about our clothes, hair, and the way we spoke to each other. If we didn’t get the small remarks we got the looks that said they were much better and had it all together. No African Americans worked in the office setting but we considered those Caucasians, in the house, and us, definitely the field negros.
A lot of us had dreadlocks on the floor. Locks weren’t a problem until my husband started questioning if he should cut his. He wanted to move up in positions at work and he felt his hair could prevent that. Those in charge looked down on his long hair. I always kept my husband locks done nicely and I hated he felt that way.
So, I exhorted him daily so he wouldn’t give in to how the world thought a professional should look. I couldn’t quite relate to why he wanted to cut his locks. They were beautiful strong and I didn’t care what the oppressor or elite thought. Then life took a turn. Someone I barely knew nearly begged me to put in for an interview with an office position. I decided to do so.
Unlike my husband, I don’t like keeping my locks done all the time and love the look of my new growth and edges. Yet like many of us, I did my hair in order to get the job. In the office, my hair stayed on my mind. Did it look professional enough? Was it fit for the office environment? I pushed through and got the position. Though I am proud of my culture, my skin, and my hair, I still fell into the am I good enough for them mode.
On the inside: The House vs the Field Negros
I like the grass isn’t greener, but I also add that the people aren’t better either. I remember when I started getting a few clients from my job. Starting their lock journey I felt the joy as they went through their own experiences. I also witness their dismay. Still out on the floor, many managers would give them slack for their locks. They would tell them to cut it, it looks unprofessional, they look like women, or it looks like worms growing out their heads. The battle started within to be proud of ourselves vs to be what they called presentable.
They wanted us to feel unaccomplished, unwhole, and unwise. Yet I found it to be just an image. I discovered that behind the tie, suits, and nice cars disaster lie. No different then what the slave masters wanted the field negros to believe about themselves. In my transitioning from the field to the house I witness things about the Elite could never imagine. They were alcoholics, adulterers, liars, and very miserable behind their smiles. They hated each other and they hated themselves. Superficial complaints flooded me on a daily basis and backstabbing came easy for them as putting on a shirt in the morning.
I felt silly worrying about how my locks looked when it seemed an everyday thing to roll up to work with a bad hair day with them. On the other side, people got screamed at for making a hundred dollar mistakes when people were making million-dollar mistakes in the office. Being able to see what was hidden became beneficial.
Who gets to determine what is presentable? The elite if you allow it. How do you allow it? By conforming. My own people will look at my new growth and edges and ask how often do you do your locks? You don’t like them to look good? Good? My locks grow strong when untouched and shine boldly as I take care of it. When you are unwilling to learn and downright don’t care about anything but yourself, it wounds up being your way and no other way at all. What is professional, presentable, or beauty? Let no one else tell you, determine it for yourself.