I was sent home from work because of my afro. The UK is definitely still racist

I’m tired of being discriminated because of my natural, afro hair!

As I entered the staff room of where I work, my manager approached me abruptly before giving me a long, disdained look. He said that I could not work today because was my hairstyle was “unprofessional” and “unfit for work”. He asked me to leave.

I didn’t get paid that day. I desperately needed the money for an urgent personal issue, but I didn’t think he would understand.

Colleagues came up to me asking what had happened, why I looked so glum, but I simply couldn’t find the words to say. The fact that they were working shifts and I wasn’t because of my tight, kinky black coils baffled me, and the last thing I wanted was to be laughed at after I had been embarrassed by my boss.

This happened at a major fast food chain – last month. Prior to this incident, I had a vivid understanding of hair discrimination, but had never actually experienced it for myself. I had never actually been in the shoes of someone who had been judged purely because of the style of their hair and its appearance.

I felt completely alone. I didn’t know who to talk to. Even though it didn’t sound as if it was a big deal, it was a serious issue that affected me and deeply hurt my feelings. I wondered whether it was normal, or something that usually happened that people just didn’t talk about and ignored.

However, I stand confident to say that my natural, afro hair is part of who I am, and I am in no way ashamed of it. When a person rejects my hair, then they reject me, because my hair is part of who I am. Although I used to shy away and refuse to talk about this whenever it had been brought up, I now feel stronger and bolder to take pride in my hair. It’s length and thick, curly texture is unique, and I shouldn’t feel afraid to stand for it.

Although the whole matter seemed odd to me at first sight, I came to know that hair discrimination is a widespread issue in the black community, and in the UK, particularly with children with black backgrounds.

Black people across the UK have been barred from jobs, schools and public events because they choose to style their hair in locks, Afros and twists. I think it’s completely absurd and really doesn’t make sense. Why can’t people be accepted for who they are? Many black people face mounting pressure to wear their hair in a way that conforms to more European standards of beauty and spend huge amounts to chemically straighten and maintain their hair.

To me, this is an important problem that needs to be addressed. Black women should not feel like they need to change their hair to conform to anything! It’s who they are and should not feel pressure to become something that they’re not.

Even though more people have embraced natural hair in recent years, the stories of hair discrimination remain prevalent, echoing through the African American community and elsewhere.

As I was walking home from work that day (well, a shift that I was meant to do but eventually didn’t), I had so many thoughts running through my mind. “I’m being treated unfairly just because of my natural hair and it’s horrible. No employee should be made to feel this way. I can’t believe I got sent home because of this, and that I’m not getting paid.”

After the incident, I didn’t do any shifts at work for a while because I didn’t want to be sent back home again, and I felt upset because of what happened. I was hesitant to report it because I didn’t think people would understand. I did not want to be seen as someone who was just seeking attention or being unnecessarily loud about a small matter.

Going back to the work felt different. Even though I hadn’t changed my hair, I felt as if I had already taken so much, so anything that would happen didn’t really bother or impact me. My manager didn’t mention my hair when I came back – maybe he couldn’t be bothered anymore. I knew I needed the money because of personal responsibilities, and that was what I came to work for. In a way, I felt empty but I was prepared to work and face anything that came my way head on.

In the UK, workplace discrimination, on the basis or race, religion or gender, is illegal in the UK. However, hair discrimination sits on blurred lines, even though it is an issue that black women constantly worry about.

Black women should feel confident to stand for what they believe is right for not just their hair, but themselves. Rather than backing down and letting others have a say for them, they should feel empowered to take a stand and claim that they are in control over their hair, their wants and their lives. No one should decide or choose for them.

Photo (before edits) by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

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