One morning I was walking down the street to my job at a NYC newspaper and I had to pass a construction site. I thought to myself, “be prepared for anything,” because I’d had an odd assortment of experiences just from passing build sites in the past. So looking straight ahead, I kept my focus on the tin can-looking mobile bagel stand in front of my office building where I stopped every single morning before going in to work. On my path there was a guy smoking on the left and on the right was another guy from the build site who was talking to Mr. Cigarette. I’m on the runway between them and their conversation stops just before I pass through them. I hear Mr. Cigarette say, “Hey Whoopie, how you doin’ today,” and I’m confused at first, until I realize that apparently a woman with twists is the same thing as a woman with dreads in their eyes and Tyra keeps her weave tight, Halle Berry doesn’t have a fro, Beyonce and Oprah like it straight, Eve keeps it short when not weaved, Alfre keep it short or wears a wig and no other major celebrity works the red carpet in dreads, never mind cornrows, boxbraids, or twists. Yes, Angela Bassett wore boxbraids in "Strange Days" but the movie did so poorly that no one’s tried it since (Yes, Kimberly Elise wore them in "Set It Off" but the character she portrayed was the weak link in the crew). Tyra Banks once had a swimsuit fashion photo shoot in Brazil where she wore cornrows but on TV for both her shows she keeps it straight. Now, I like Whoopie but we look nothing alike. Same race and gender but that’s it. Could this example be categorized as a very mild form of natural hair profiling?
Here’s another scenario. I had a job on the Upper East Side that was so far east that I had to take long walks to find any food variety for my lunches. Returning to work from one such lunch journey, bag of food in hand, I was stopped by two police officers who had quickly parked their police car and jumped out to stop me on East 75th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. The short one asked, “Where were you about twenty minutes ago?” I said, “At work.” He said, “Can you prove it? Show us your work ID.” Well I didn’t have my work ID because this was just supposed to be a quick food journey. I hadn’t even taken my purse with me. They said, “About twenty minutes ago someone robbed a jewelry store on 34th Street and you fit the profile of the person we’re looking for: braids, hoop earrings, green shirt.” With relief, I pointed to my hair and said, “These aren’t braids, they’re twists.” They just shrugged at me: what’s the difference? Well, to a hair obsessed woman it’s all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between hours and minutes combing your hair, thank you very much. It’s the difference between hairstyle flexibility and hair style commitment. I looked down at my shirt to confirm that it was green, but I didn’t have to tug at my ears to check for hoop earrings because those were my staple no-brainer fashion statement.
The two officers wouldn’t let me go back to work. They kept grilling me, not believing I worked on the Upper East Side. They just kept staring at me, kept asking me details about my job, waiting for me to crack, or something. Meanwhile, I wondered when was the last time they had actually tried to get from 34th Street to East 76th Street in under twenty minutes at midday, by subway, car or whatever: it’s no breeze let me tell you. Did they really think…? I had already asked to get their badge numbers. Do I look like....? They weren’t going to let me leave without some contact info. I was upset that my daily idle focus on food was disrupted by some negative representation of natural hair, a green shirt and hoop earrings. It took a month before I could wear those earrings again. But I wasn't giving up my hair.