Some thoughts on hair, racism

Published 10:10 pm Saturday, February 11, 2012

To the editor:

For the past six years or so, my sister has worked as needed for a local auction company helping with the administrative side of the auctions.

It is a small, family-run company. Frequently, she is asked to bring additional help with her, and she usually brings her son. This week she was asked to work and was asked to bring someone to help out, the assumption being that she would bring her son, as he had worked the last few auctions with her.

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When she responded that he would be unable to work, but she had a substitute, the immediate response was, “Does he have ‘dreads’?” It just so happened that her friend did, indeed, have dreadlocks, which she was told was unacceptable. The reason given was that the owner “just wouldn’t like that.”

My sister said she was too shocked to respond at the time, so she just talked across the statement, saying she’d try to find someone else to bring. However, after she hung up the phone and thought about it for a while, she became quite upset.

She says the problem she has with what happened is how the issue was presented. Had the woman said, “Make sure it’s someone clean-cut and professional looking,” my sister wouldn’t have taken offense. As a matter of fact, her friend can be quite professional looking, not clean-cut but professional looking.

We both agree that everyone has the right to hire whoever they choose, but isn’t it a sign of prejudice, maybe even racism, to assume that a dreadlock-wearer would be unprofessional?

Also, she wasn’t told that the problem was unprofessionalism, but just that the owner wouldn’t like it. My sister is usually the only African-American employee at the auctions, and although she originally answered an ad for secretarial work, she has never been offered a position in the office, event though five different secretaries have come and gone during her time with them.

There also have been some questionable statements made over the years, but she gave the owners the benefit of the doubt regarding prejudice or racism and chalked it up to ignorance, instead. Now she feels uncomfortable working for them. She has come to see that ignorance often equals prejudice, and knowledge doesn’t often solve the problem.

I believe that just as afros, braids and other hairstyles once considered “extreme” or “unprofessional” have finally made their way into the mainstream workplace, so will dreadlocks. Unfortunately, that may take another generation or two.

Gia Sams