Safe Spaces

By Kadi

Early Sunday morning, after my last house call was finished, and my final client of the 2019 Awards season complete, I sat in a moment of gratitude for all the wonderful opportunities that I was fortunate to be a part of during the past few months. Truth be told, I was also recovering from a lively reunion on Friday with some of my girlfriends from Spelman College, some of whom I hadn’t seen in well over a decade. It’s well known by my friends that my party and socializing days are mostly long behind me, and it takes a LOT for me to leave Venice (and actually wear high heels) and head to an industry event.

But Friday was special, as it was a birthday celebration for my friends Phylicia, who was just recently promoted to Co-head of urban music at Columbia records, and Joni- a respected doctor, wife and mother who was one of my very first friends in college. I convinced a friend to roll with me to West Hollywood, and lets just say it was a celebration for the ages. You see, my Spelman friends are fierce. They are confident, accomplished bosses who don’t suffer fools, and being around them always makes me feel enveloped in a shit ton of black girl magic. Being around them is one of my safe spaces. Whether in our opinions or our style, we can all be unabashedly ourselves. And though my laziness always wins in the end, every time I leave them, I ask myself repeatedly why I let so much time pass without being in their company. 

Which takes me back to Sunday morning. As I sat in bed with the Sunday NYTimes Style section, feeling content and uplifted (and still slightly hungover), I read a headline that made me sit straight up. It read, “Upper East Side Salon Under Investigation for Racial Discrimination”. The ensuing article was filled with allegations that frankly made my stomach turn. I won’t repeat the entire article here, but I’ll summarize. In short, former workers at a luxury Upper East aside hair salon, not unlike one where I worked 18 years ago, were told that “their hairstyles did not reflect the upscale image of the neighborhood”, and were forced to deal with a dress code that was put in place “that discouraged hairstyles associated with black culture.” Yeah, definitely no safe spaces here. 

This asinine way of thinking, and the fallout that occurred after an investigation, has resulted in a change in law in New York City, where discrimination based on hair would now be illegal. This law, which will be enforced by New York City’s human rights commission, “applies to anyone targeted at work, school or a public place, and is aimed in particular at remedying unfair treatment of black people.” 

Honestly, though I was disgusted by the article and the allegations (the text messages and emails recorded of the alleged offense was embarrassing to read), I wasn’t shocked, or surprised. I also couldn’t help but think, what kind of 19th century backwards world are these people living in?? Besides just being ignorant, these views that black hairstyles and natural black texture were “ugly” and “unprofessional” is not only archaic, but it’s dangerous. Beyond the irony that when traditional black hairstyles that have been mocked and deemed “ghetto” are co-opted by the Kardashians and renamed, suddenly becoming trendy and cool (since when did cornrows become “box braids”??), black women have also long suffered serious health complications such as increased risk for cancer and uterine fibroids because of the chemicals we are exposed to when relying on chemical relaxers to straighten our hair, so that we can be viewed in a more “professional” light. For a very long time, a safe space did not exist for us when it came to the workplace, or public perception of our natural hairstyles. 

Another point that is being missed by those stuck in the dark ages (and clearly only comfortable in that dark place with others that only look like them), is that it is a beautiful blessing to be a black woman. Though our hair requires extra gentle care, the things we can do is amazing. And the choice is, and will always be, ours. Whether we want to rock dreadlocks, twists, our natural texture, weaves, extensions, whatever, it’s a blessing to finally have the option to do whatever feels right for us. 

One glance at some of the hairstyles on some of Sunday’s Oscar winners and attendees showcased that black is not only beautiful, but it’s glorious. And I for one am grateful to have so many examples of black hairstyles to gain inspiration from, and for future generations of little black girls to see that there isn’t just one standard of beauty that they need to strive for. When Viola Davis chose to start experimenting with different natural hairstyles a few years ago, she looked more beautiful than ever. Since then, actresses such as Lupita Nyong’o, Zoe Kravitz, Danai Gurira, and Samira Wiley, and directors Ava Duvernay and Dee Rees, and model Naomi Campbell, and executive Bozoma St John, have all proudly rocked their locs and braids and weaves and beautiful natural texture on the grandest stage of all, the Academy Awards red carpet. I mean, seriously, was there a hotter, more chic couple in attendance than Lisa Bonet and Jason Mamoa?? I guess they’re not good enough for the upper east side? Give me a break. That’s actually laughable.  (Lets take a pause and take in all the glory of the natural hairstyles and textures rocked on this years red carpet shall we? Be patient, its going to take awhile;))

Beyond being disappointed by the goings on at that upper East Side salon, I feel really grateful that once I left the first company I started my career with, I found myself working for, and surrounded by mentors who always encouraged me to be myself, and in fact insisted on it. I will never forget one day when I was doubting my place in this industry, my greatest mentor Serge Normant empowered me and gave me the ultimate safe place by saying- what makes me different, is what is going to set me apart from the pack. Though I experiment with weaves and braids and extensions, among other hairstyles, I also started going natural with my own texture about 7 years ago. I was pleasantly surprised after decades of chemically straightening my hair that my natural texture was comprised of some pretty beautiful curls.

On days when I feel like doing nothing with my hair, I like to leave a heavy treatment in and slick my hair back ala Sade, and go about my business happily. Because you know what? Whether I come to work rocking a head scarf, braids, twists, a hat (for when my hair is really a hot mess) or long extensions, the one thing I can guarantee is that my clients don’t give a crap.  It’s my choice, and they are only concerned with getting beautiful hair color and great customer service. It is my work ethic and my actions that determine my professionalism, not my hair.   And in my eyes, what makes them a thousand times chicer than anyone stuck on the upper east side, is the fact that they allow me a safe space to express myself, be me, and just paint.


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