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Going Natural: When LinkedIn Profiles Turns to Racial Profiling

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed a few weeks ago, I came across a status update that was upsetting, though sadly not surprising: “That awkward moment when your decision to wear your hair natural comes up in an interview… and not in a complimentary way…”

My friend Sonia had interviewed for a position as a Social Media Specialist for a marketing startup in New York City. The interview took place in the common area of WeWork, a coworking office space where the startup had put down temporary roots. As distracting commotion took place around them, she and the rather cold interviewer had the following exchange.

Interviewer: “Is that how your hair is in your LinkedIn picture?”

Sonia: “…Yea.”

Interviewer: “Not straight?”

Sonia: “Nope.”

Interviewer: “Oh… Interesting…”

He then made qualifying statements, such as, “So you say you’re good at SEO,” and “You claim to be a good writer.” I didn’t ask Sonia if she still hopes to get the position, but my guess is no. According to an HR specialist who wishes to remain anonymous, “the freedom for businesses to judge candidates on their appearance is supposed to be used in terms of disqualifying people for appearing unkempt, dirty, unwashed etc., but some shitty people use it as a way to get around hiring people of color.” Ironically, the marketing startup plans to represent law firms. Clearly this interviewer hasn’t been trained to avoid comments that could very easily, and rightfully, result in legal action.

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While Sonia doesn’t plan to sue, it’s well known to many in the PoC community that not only will businesses often discriminate against people of color, but they will also ascribe beauty standards that demand that employees follow Western ideals of what it means to be “well kempt” and professional. Sonia never hid the fact that she has curly hair. In fact, she displayed her hair quite clearly on the aforementioned LinkedIn profile. The interviewer made the “mistake” of admitting that his company screens its employees based on appearance, and an appearance that has everything to do with race. Could Sonia make the choice to go straight? Sure. But it would be costly, time consuming, and would ultimately damage her hair.

When Viola Davis’s character took off her wig at the end of the first episode of How to Get Away with Murder, it was one of the most magical moments I’d ever seen on television. That moment was followed a year later by her Emmy win, which she accepted while wearing her hair in a beautiful, natural afro.

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Not that women who do wear weaves, extensions, or wigs should be castigated for their choices. A few years ago, a black feminist friend of mine made the bold choice to confidently re-embrace weaves and extensions, despite any backlash she would receive from our feminist / academia circle. She said she decided to make the change because she realized no one should be able to decide her hair choices for her. The same was true for Viola at the Emmys, and the same should be true for Sonia when she interviews for a job.

Sonia’s curly hair does not need to be tamed, and ironically, many women with straight hair would love to have that volume. Young Amandla Stenberg, an emerging mouthpiece for black feminism, recently said, “Someone once told me that it’s a small revolution in itself just to be a person of color and be a woman and be yourself.” Sonia participated in a small revolution that day, just by staying true to who she is.

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Sonia on the day of her interview

 

 

 

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On Taye Diggs and Reckoning with the Changing Realities of Race in America

Published on For Harriet, November 24, 2015

My father was a proud paralegal for the NAACP back in the 80s and 90s. He marched in rallies for race equality and was actively involved in uplifting the Black community. When I was growing up, he often had me watch the PBS series “Eyes on the Prize,” which documented the events of the Civil Rights Movement. Nestled inside my baby book is an autograph from Black Panther leader Huey Newton.

When I was a little girl, my dad said, “People will want to label you as only black, but you’re biracial.” My dad wasn’t ashamed of his blackness. Just like many fathers, he loved that I resembled both of my parents. My dad knew the world would see me as more black than white, but he wanted me to identify in a way that honored both sides of my genealogy. This was true even after my parents split up when I was three-years-old…

Read the rest here.

 

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Taye Diggs Reads from His New Book “Mixed Me” at the Multiculti Mixer

Last Thursday I attended the Multiculti Mixer in Brentwood, California. The free event featured a reading by well-known actor Taye Diggs who read from his new children’s book Mixed Me, dedicated to his son Walker. This book follows on the heels of its predecessor “Chocolate Me,” Diggs’ children’s book about growing up black.

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The Multiculti Mixer was a veritable utopia of mixed race belonging. A pretty even blend of adults and children, about 60 or 70 guests packed into Kidville Brentwood for a panel about raising mixed race children, a fashion show by some of the children themselves, and of course the celebrity reading and book signing. My (white) friend and I handed in our tickets — one general admission and one “blogger/influencer” — but once we stepped inside we realized everyone was on equal footing, and we loved it. Kids of all different hues and all different hairstyles ran in and out of rooms, including the arts and crafts room set up just for them. Parents appeared relaxed at not having to anticipate sideways glances or outright stares. Everyone smiled big, and often.

Taye Diggs walked through the front doors during the panel with absolutely no pretension. My friend and I had just taken a picture in front of the event backdrop, and as Diggs crossed the threshold, a little girl squealed and wrapped her arms around him. Diggs didn’t seem to mind. He stood around with everyone else during the fashion show, with his nearby bodyguard as the only visible indication of his status.

Diggs wasn’t the only celebrity present for the event. Biracial Grace Colbert, famous for the controversial Cheerios commercial (controversial merely for featuring interracial parents) attended with whom I assume to be her mother. “I liked your commercial,” I said to her as we stood in line for something or other. “Thank you,” she replied quietly, either tired of the statement or naturally reserved. Either one, of course, is completely valid in my opinion.

Photo courtesy of performinsider.com
Photo courtesy of performinsider.com

The Multiculti Mixer fashion show, featuring garments from Mixed Up Clothing, was the most positive and inspiring runway show I’ve ever seen. Family members and other onlookers snapped pictures, cheered, and clapped as children did spins and twirls down the tiny center of the room. The children pranced with confidence and jubilance that seemed to go beyond the attention they received. Instead, they seemed intimately aware that they were being praised for their appearance in a manner devoid of ogling or exoticizing. They were, in that moment, free.

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When it came time for Taye Diggs’ reading, the children gathered together on the carpet as if it were just another library story hour. Taye Diggs sat himself down on one of the little chairs and began reading from Mixed Me:

          They call me Mixed-up Mike

          but that name should be fixed

          I’m not mixed up,

         I just happen to be mixed.

As someone of Taye Diggs’ generation, I couldn’t help but be amazed by both his book and the event. Mixed race adults didn’t have children’s books that explained their biracial experiences. We weren’t in commercials or on the cover of cereal boxes. There were no mixed race events, and no one to speak on our behalf like Diggs has for his son. The event left me with no feeling of envy, however. Only a swell in my heart that this gathering is just one of many to emerge in our bourgeoning nation. It’s my hope that these children will grow into adults who don’t realize how lucky they have it because mixed race inclusion will be the norm. It may be a naive hope, but events like these prove we’re moving in the right direction.

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Being Biracial in “The Mysteries of Laura”

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youtube.com

Last week, the NBC primetime show The Mysteries of Laura did something I’ve been waiting for in media. The episode centered around solving the mystery of a biracial character, and this character’s ethnicity had absolutely nothing to do with the plot.

Each week, the lead character Laura Diamond (Debra Messing) catches the killer responsible for a recent murder. The premise of the show is largely nothing new, but it has a simple charm that makes for good Hulu entertainment while sipping morning coffee.

In this episode, titled “The Mystery of the Locked Box,” a billionaire tech genius named Zac Romero is found dead in his upscale apartment. Christopher Reed Brown, the young man who plays Zac, is of course not really part of the episode and has no lines, since he’s, well, dead. But the show does have Debra and her colleagues speak with Zac’s mother and father. The fact that Zac is biracial isn’t even known to the viewers until the entrance of his mother Rosalie, played by Linda Powell. Sure, we’d pretty well gathered that Zac wasn’t lily white, since his last name is Romero and his dead body has a slight olive tone. But Rosalie’s darker skin signals to viewers that this dead body belongs to a mixed race man.

While mixed race characters on TV have existed for quite awhile, what set this situation apart was the fact that Zac’s ethnicity had nothing to do with the plot, and that the film crew still felt it valid to let him exist, and to purposefully cast a black mother and a white father. Such planning is quite rare in the TV industry, especially if there is no takeaway in terms of story arc. Laura Diamond considers Zac and Rosalie completely representational of any other mother and son. She makes no reference to race, and she seems completely unfazed by this interracial family unit.

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Linda Powell

This episode also did interesting things to thwart stereotypical representations of minority characters. Zac gets to incorporate a space that is often not granted to black characters: He gets to be not a basketball player, or a musician, but a tech genius. If The Mysteries of Laura had followed standard representations, Zac would have been played by an Asian or Indian character, if they had used a minority at all. Normally if a black man plays a tech genius, it’s only because he has some ominous dark side, but Zac planned to give away a new invention instead of making an kind of capital on his product. Additionally, it’s Zac’s white father who plays the deadbeat. A selfish, lazy character who has recently reached out to Zac, only in an effort to acquire his wealth through their shared bloodline.

The media has a long way to go in its representation of mixed race characters, but this episode shows me that one of my biggest wishes may come true. While it may seem unfeasible, my dream is to see a novel about a biracial character that has absolutely nothing to do with race. Instead, this character would get to exist just like any other, and he or she would get to tell a story from a place of full agency, where race doesn’t have to be the fabric that holds the plot together. Perhaps I’ll write my own book someday and fulfill my own wish. In the meantime, I’m glad to see these seemingly small but significant strides.

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My Father Had Only a High School Education, But Here’s What He Wrote

“Powerful similarities exist between the forces of nature and a skilled craftsman of fine violins. Objectives or completion of final products are the goal of both, though methods may differ. The mechanisms of nature in seeking its goal can at times seem brutal.

“Imagine the harshness of the elements that must come into play to form a pure diamond, Yet, the finished product exemplifies the motto ‘a diamond is a diamond forever’. Conversely, the violin-maker, in pursuit of a perfect product, gently and gingerly hand tunes each part in his quest for a perfectly attuned instrument.

“The coming together of individuals, known in the behavioral sciences as ‘a process of accommodation’ is not unlike the dichotomies listed above. Few possess the faith and perseverance necessary to endure the frictions inherent in the tumultuous processes as in the case of a diamond formation. Relationships usually dissolve before completion where such constant frictions are a pattern. Relationships more closely akin to the smoothness of making the violin are most likely to succeed and to endure, -but at the expense of not having ‘weathered the storms’ which are necessary to truly and deeply know, understand, and to appreciate the depths of one another.”

Robert C. Manuel

April 14, 1989

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At the Rose Garden in San Jose, California, approx. 1987.
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10 Things *Men Would Do If They Had Periods

I thought I had a brilliant listicle and then found out Gloria Steinem had already covered the topic back in the 70s. Mine is much less political (okay, it has no politics whatsoever), and it’s filled with Google images so you don’t even have to think. Steinem would be so proud! Without further ado, here’s my very tongue in cheek take, which you can also view on Buzzfeed:

1. They’d brag about their cycles in the locker room.

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2.They’d take their super size pads to a cute cashier.

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3. They’d say, “Hey wife, Can you grab me a beer? I’m too crampy to get it myself.”

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4. Celebrating a teenager’s first menstrual cycle would be on par with a bar mitzvah.

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5. “I’m menstruating” would be a classic pick-up line.

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6. Men would use the deva cup to compare blood loos…

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7. … and the winner would be named homecoming king.

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8. Guys would wear tight pants to show off a “different” sort of bulge.

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9. Menopause would signal the beginning of a man’s midlife crisis.

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10. Women would have the last laugh.

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*cis men

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Advice to Fathers of Biracial Daughters

27948_1452647037279_4977731_nOne of the most personally satisfying results of my For Harriet article going viral was being contacted by two strangers for advice. They are both fathers of biracial daughters. One father is black and the other is white. While they each had their own questions, three were the same: “How can I make sure my daughter has a positive self-identity,” “How can I help her connect to her black heritage,” and “How can I keep my daughter from being a black or white man’s exotic arm piece?”

How Can I Help My Daughter Develop a Positive Self-Identity?

For this question, I told each father that there is power behind how they want their daughters to identify, and that it is important to fully embrace whatever identifiers their daughters choose, because in doing so they embrace their daughters’ own agency. I recently learned from my mom that while even though in high school my dad said, “Mixed isn’t whole,” he most likely had more of a problem with the terminology than with the concept. At the time, my rebuttal was in the form of a food analogy: “Mixed is like being a root beer float. You have the ice cream, and you have the root beer, and they’re both whole things. Together they make a new whole thing” (and the best dessert I could ever imagine!) However, just a few days ago my mom corrected me about my father’s position. As a little girl, she says, my father told me that people would label me as mono-racially black, but that I was really biracial. My dad was full of black pride, was very politically active in his community, and acted as a paralegal for the NAACP. So I stand corrected… even though my dad may have later feared that I grew up “too white,” his initial stance was that I should embrace both sides of my heritage.

How Can I Keep My Daughter from Being a Black or White Man’s Exotic Arm Piece?

The fathers were a little bashful in asking this question of a complete stranger, but I was neither put off nor surprised by the question. It’s something I’ve had to wrestle with myself. I let each of the fathers know that I have developed my own strategies for determining a potential suitor’s intentions. If a guy compliments aspects of my body, especially ones that are highly racialized, I can pretty well determine that he is interested in my “exoticness.” If he compliments my character, then I know he is interested in me as a person. It’s not a foolproof strategy, but it pretty well does the job.

How Can I Help My Daughter Connect to Her Black Heritage?

I told the fathers that in my case, both my parents were active in helping me learn about black history. As a child I poured over the picture book my mom gave me about Martin Luther King and his influence on the Civil Rights Movement. My father had me watch “Eyes on the Prize” like it was our religion. As I grew up, I saw myself between the pages of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and I befriended Richard Wright’s fictional characters — boys and men who attempted to make sense of the world in which they lived. In grad school, I told one of the fathers, I naturally gravitated toward the few other black students in the program. We collectively normalized our race-based concerns and observations, and these women never questioned my blackness but accepted me as one of their own.

I of course don’t have all the answers, but I’m honored to help fathers navigate the sometimes tricky waters of parenting a biracial daughter. Fathers play a crucial and undeniable role in helping their children develop a sense of self. It’s this inherent power that has led me to write a memoir about my relationship with my own, now deceased, father.

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Shannon Meets WordPress

I’ve decided to abandon Blogspot. My old trusty blog will still exist in the Internet universe, but I’ll write all new posts on lovely WordPress. I hate change. I’m fiercely stuck in my ways. But WordPress has finally won me over.

Much has been happening in Shannon-land. (Okay, I’m no Shonda, but I can still have a land, right?) I had my first viral article, which you can view here.

So far this year I’ve fulfilled my lifelong dream of working entirely from home. I’m an SEO content writer, SAT curriculum writer, tutor, and now have made that elusive rank of writing a random article in the middle of the night and watching it go viral like a kid at Christmas. Except in this scenario, Christmas keeps coming for an entire week until all the presents have finally been opened. Okay, weak metaphor, but I swear, article shares are way better than any Christmas present I could ever imagine. And not because I’m self-centered, but because shares means I’m connecting with others who read my work and say, “Me too!”

So what now? Now I keep telling my truth, despite the haters and because of those who see my truth as theirs. Don’t know what these WordPress pages will hold, but I promise they’ll hold… something.