Navigating Hard Times & Blackness in the Workplace

Another child shot by police. An innocent woman killed in her home. The election of a bigoted, hateful candidate.

When White America tells us that they don’t value our lives or view us as equals, but we still have to face them at work, how do we cope? We still have to support our families and provide for ourselves, but there is an emotional cost to account for.

In many work environments, I have been the only Black woman, and those around me were either vocal about their opposing views, or remained silent regarding police brutality, discriminating legislation, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and blatant misogyny. The silence is more menacing because it is tacit approval .

How do we navigate the minefield of workplace aggressions and microaggressions ?

First, and most important, take care of yourself.

Next, decide if it is worth it to you to spend time and energy educating your co-workers. Consult company guidelines or HR first! You are not responsible for educating your peers and you do not bear the responsibility of being the spokesperson for all people of color, LGBT or women. However, if you choose, you can share your unique perspective and experiences on current events. For many of your co-workers, you might be their only access to someone who is “different”. Use these water cooler conversations to put a human face on your struggles. Offer concrete tasks to draw them into allyship, such as organizing a vigil after a police shooting or an open forum to engage with the communities affected.  Discuss what steps your organization can take to support marginalized communities.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to engage in conversation about current events with your coworkers, you can deflect and redirect. If someone asks “How does this make you feel?” because you identify with a marginalized community, you can deflect. Make it about them instead, “I’m actually interested in your views on the matter. How do you feel?”. If someone  makes an offensive comment, hold them accountable by asking, “What did you mean by that”. Most people don’t expect to have to explain their ill-intended jokes, and explaining it forces them, and those listening, to interrogate their meaning.

Finally, be the change you want to see in the world. The daily aggressions and microaggressions can really take a toll on your psyche. You have the power to take a negative experience and let it propel you in a positive direction: volunteer, organize and advocate. Speak with your actions, showing everyone around you that these causes are worth time and attention. Even if it doesn’t persuade anyone, you have the satisfaction of making a difference in the world.

Looking for a new hair stylist? Here are five tips to find your perfect match

{Photo Credit:] - Madu Salon, SF

{Photo Credit:] - Madu Salon, SF

At the beginning of this summer, I was going to be working long days for two straight weeks and I needed a quick hair fix. My hair regimen had already been on the struggle bus for quite some time so I just needed someone to deal with it for me so I wouldn’t have to worry about it during those two weeks. My go-to salons were all booked up for my last minute appointment so I went to StyleSeat. I was careful to search for natural hair stylists and made sure to read all the reviews. My stylist seemed professional and seemed to be doing all the right things to straighten my hair. But three weeks later, I was in my usual stylist’s chair sobbing as she let me know that my texture had changed -- heat damage. It’s possible it wasn’t the other stylist’s fault -- I had tried a protein treatment days before, my hair had been getting more brittle and dry lately and I had my hair in the same bun for 2 weeks. However, as Sashana said in her last post, my usual stylist would have caught that something was off. She had to cut off 6 inches in order to begin getting my hair back to a healthy state.

March 2016, feeling myself heavy! Stretched Wash and Go

March 2016, feeling myself heavy! Stretched Wash and Go

August 2016, Finally felt comfortable enough to take a selfie with my short hair. You can see some heat damage in the back. 

August 2016, Finally felt comfortable enough to take a selfie with my short hair. You can see some heat damage in the back. 

How did I get here ladies? Unfortunately, I didn’t follow my own rules out of desperation. To spare yourself the trauma of what I went through, here are some tips to help you choose a new stylist that works for you!

  1. Yelp, Yelp, Yelp (and other unbiased review platforms). I couldn’t find concrete evidence to back this up, but I’ve noticed that reviews on platforms like StyleSeat seem to be all positive. A page with 100 reviews, only showed me about 35 reviews, all with 4 & 5 stars. This leads me to side eye this site a bit because it’s hard to believe that there is not a single piece of constructive criticism or not one client ever had a bad experience. Stylists are human and not for everyone so, statistically, it’s not possible to please everyone all the time. I like to see the whole picture- the good, bad, the ugly - before making an appointment so that I can decide what I can or can’t deal with. I also like to look at reviews with pictures to see if there are real life examples of the stylist in question working with hair like mine. This is crucial. There are quite a few curly salons that specialize in 3c hair and looser curl patterns, but don’t have much experience with type 4 hair. Knowing this ahead of time can save some pain and anguish later on. Make sure when you go to salons, you pay it forward by leaving an honest review with a picture for others to include in their research.
  2. First Hand Recommendations. Whenever possible, it’s always best to get a recommendation from someone you know or see in person. Although Yelp is a great resource, it’s hard to verify if all the reviews are authentic. With a personal source, be it a friend or a fellow natural on the street, you can see the results and ask the nitty gritty questions a business might not answer truthfully.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Natural girls are so vocal when determining if their products have parabens or sulfates, but most of us have also grown up too scared to question the stylist. Not saying you should be grilling them about everything but it’s ok to ask about steps in your visit that seem amiss. Again, they are human, after all, and being a licensed beautician doesn’t always mean they know what’s best for your unique curls. Feel free to ask what products they plan to use and their technique (especially for heat styles and detangling). Don’t be afraid to bring your own products and alert them to any sensitivities or discomfort with their method. You don’t have to stick around for any stylist that doesn’t want to answer your questions, use your products or acknowledge your concerns (within reason).
  4. You might have to do some of the work or educate your stylist. Even with all the available blogs, videos and workshops on how to care for textured hair, it’s impossible for a stylist to know what your individual hair requires. I went to a blowout specializing salon (Basically a high-end version of the Dominican salons) and my stylists had a hard time figuring out the best technique to detangle and blow out my hair, but she was determined to learn. After our visit, she went home and found YouTube videos for type 4 hair straightening to improve her craft. Not every stylist will take such initiative (although they should) but letting a stylist know how you like your hair to be detangled, what products don’t work for you or heatless alternatives to stretching your hair will only benefit you in the long run. A stylist who is not willing to do your hair the way you want it is not someone whose chair you want to be in. That being said, you should still be open to alternative ways of doing your hair. I’m consistently amazed when I’m judging how much heat or mechanical wear and tear a stylist seems to be inflicting on my hair, only to have no sign of damage when it’s all said and done. Like all relationships, mutual communication, flexibility, and trust are the keys to making it work.
  5. Don’t have too many hands in the pot. Finally, do your best to stay faithful to no more than 1-3 stylists that know your hair well. These stylists get to know you and your hair and can detect if something is amiss. They know what will and won’t work for your hair and when your ends actually need a trim and when they don’t. If you know you have a function, book in advance. However, if you have an emergency and none of your go to stylists are available, ask them for a recommendation. Some may be reluctant and fearful of losing your business, but a good stylist will want to see you flourish in your time of need no matter what. When your stylist provides you with a recommendation, she knows you’ll be in good hands and can relay any pertinent information to the other stylists. Going to new stylists under duress and limited time can make us lower our standards and the results may end up disastrous.  

Those are my golden rules to meeting your hair stylist soulmate. Share any tips I may have left out and your favorite salons below!