Back in April, someone noticed and tweeted about Google's offensive habit of returning uniformly white results for the search terms "professional hairstyles for work." The company has since expanded its criteria for work-appropriate to include women of color, but the rest of the world seems slower on the uptake, as Savion J. Wright recently experienced firsthand.
When applying for a job in Austin, Texas, Wright explained in a Facebook post, he was "floored" to hear that he'd have to cut his hair — which he's been growing out for nine years — to get the job.
"I went to a job interview. It went extremely well. I dressed in a nice black suit and tie. The lady who interviewed me tells me that she is, 'amazed by my great communication, wisdom and natural leadership abilities.' But then she looks up at my hair and says, 'But would you mind cutting your hair? We would like our partners to be professional, and I don't think your "look" would fly well. I mean, it looks like you have a lot of years in there. So, just consider it.'"
The perception that a black person's hair is somehow less professional than a white person's remains unfortunately widespread. On Thursday, an Alabama court ruled that it is not racial discrimination for a company to fire an employee simply for having dreadlocks. In April, Cree Ballah's story of workplace humiliation made headlines after she spoke up about her managers at fast fashion retailer Zara scolding her for wearing braids.
"They took me outside of the store and they said, 'We're not trying to offend you, but we're going for a clean, professional look... and the hairstyle you have now is not the look for Zara," Ballah told CBC News Toronto.
Wright wrote that he is an artist and clarified that the job for which he applied was not a professional one in the traditional sense. He also wrote that his interviewer was a white woman who has probably "never had a day in the life." Nevertheless, that his tidily groomed hairstyle could detract from his hiring potential sends a disheartening message.
"What is that telling our young men and women?" Wright wrote. "That they were born unprofessional and subordinate to their counterparts of other races?" he wrote. "My hair is not the colors of the rainbow. It was neatly done, pulled back, and not posing a security hazard to anyone."