That Time My Client Cropped My Afro In My Headshot, And Why This Is Not Okay.

I haven’t stepped into a Starbucks since two African American men in Philadelphia were arrested for merely being black in Starbucks back in April. But Starbucks isn’t the only company with issues with insensitivity. Consider three of my recent experiences with companies.

Myra Golden, Author, Trainer & Keynote Speaker

It’s Not Okay to Crop My Afro In Your Corporate Images

Minutes before a workshop, I was seated stage-right as my client gave me an impressive introduction to the audience. As part of the opening, a slide with portraits of all of the conference speakers was featured on the big screen. There were five of us, and I was the only African American.

I do not attempt to tame my hair with chemicals or heat. Unapologetically I wear my hair big and out.

The slide with the conference speakers showed headshots of each speaker. My headshot was positioned so that at least two inches of my Afro was chopped off. The portrait was odd and unflattering. I noticed the hair chop at the rehearsal the night before, and I pointed this out to my client and asked that the photo be uncropped. My client said, “I’ll see what I can do.” Nothing was done. I took the stage, did my thing, then jumped on a plane headed back home.

Just Because I’m Dressed Like a Man Doesn’t Mean I Am a Man

Just a few hours after my “Chopped Afro” experience, I stopped in the airport restroom. While I was washing my hands, I heard someone call out, “Wrong one.” I recognized the voice from the airport employee I’d said hello to as I entered the restroom. I paused and listened. The next voice said, “This is the women’s restroom, right?” And the other voice said, “Never mind.”

A moment later a woman entered the restroom with a look on her face that precisely mirrored how I felt when my client featured the photo of my Afro cropped. Disappointed. Pissed the hell off. Dumbfounded at the insensitivity of others. I smiled an I’m so sorry smile at her.

She was very clearly a woman. The woman wore slacks and a simple golf shirt, and she carried a briefcase. She wore her hair short, and she appeared not to be wearing makeup. But, she was indeed a woman. Her face was beautifully feminine, as was her voice and her breasts.

The voice outside the restroom showed a lack of sensitivity in assuming this was not a woman. I dried my hands and stood in front of the mirror and said a prayer for the woman. I apologized to God for what just happened. I prayed that she wouldn’t let this ruin her day or attitude going forward. And then I walked out.

What Are We Going To Do With Your Hair?

Before flying out for an engagement, this is the conversation I had with a client.

Client: We’ll start with hair and makeup at 8:15 am.

Me: Hair? What do you plan to do to my hair?

Client: We have blow dryers, curling irons, flat irons, hairspray. We can do amazing things with your hair.

Me: I’m particular about my hair. I don’t use heat and certainly don’t need a flat iron.

Client: I’ll just make a note here not to do your hair.

Me: Yeah, that’ll be good.

This client actually handled my response well. She just let it go. And on the big day, I had fantastic makeup that complimented my Afro. It was perfect. I share this example to caution companies not to assume being made up means hair must be straightened.

Racial and gender insensitivity is hurtful, unfair, and unacceptable. Take a moment to think about how your decisions, words, and actions will affect someone who looks and lives differently from you. Think, and respond with the same sensitivity you’d want someone to show you.

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myragolden

Myra is a favorite training partner to Fortune 500 companies with her customized, engaging, behavior-changing (and fun) customer service workshops, working with McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay, Michelin, Vera Bradley and other brands.

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