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Published on Saturday April 23rd, 2016 by Afrocks

The Words We Use: What Google Can Teach You About Unprofessional Hairstyle and Self Love

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I don’t know if you have come across this little story that has been going around the internet lately. It started on Tumblr and then moved over to Twitter and claimed that Google Image Search is racist. The reason for this is that if you do an image search for “unprofessional hairstyles” it only returns images of black women but if you look for “professional hairstyles” it will return only images of white women.

You try it and see, you might get the same results as well. And you might have the same reaction I had when I read about this and feel angry and a little sick.

What I did find, however, was a whole bunch of articles written by black women, intended for an audience of black women and fiercely defending themselves against that preconceived idea that you can’t be a black woman in the workplace while also sporting your natural afro hair at the same time

How could it be? It made no sense. So I did a little bit of digging and noticed that, in the comment section of most of the articles reporting this story, some people were making a lot of sense. They were the minority but what they were basically saying was that the pictures of black women that came up were usually attached to articles that said things like “Who said our natural hair was unprofessional?” or “You can no longer say your hair doesn’t fit the workplace with these easy styles” (I am paraphrasing, of course but that’s the gist of it). I looked for articles that actually said black women’s hair were unprofessional and found none of them. Zero. Not even an ironic one or one written by a very racist person. Nothing of the sort. What I did find, however, was a whole bunch of articles written by black women, intended for an audience of black women and fiercely defending themselves against that preconceived idea that you can’t be a black woman in the workplace while also sporting your natural afro hair at the same time. So they were going to teach you how to make your hair look acceptable to society because you need to show them all that they are wrong. And I love that these articles exist, of course. And I hate that there is a need for them to begin with, but something doesn’t sit well with me regarding the premise of this whole situation.

We couldn’t actually go and change the algorithm that was used to summon up those pictures but we have the power to change the words we feed into it.

Alright, I’m about to get a little spiritual on you now, and I do apologize if you find my train of thought a little difficult to follow, but do bear with me for a few more paragraph, I promise you, I have a point to make.

Screen shot 2016-04-22 at 21.44.21

In the Bible, John 1:1 goes “In the beginning was the Word”. Because words are the very first things that ever were and words are the origins of everything that ever was. The words you use define the universe in which you live and your world is shaped by the words you use to describe it. It might sound like some kind of New Age concept, maybe it reminds you of an NLP experiment or something like that, but imagine for a second that instead of writing articles defending the very existence of their hair, these black women had written articles celebrating their beauty? What if they had worded it differently, like “12 professional hairstyles for afro hair” or even “how to look fierce at work rocking your natural hair”. Google Image Search wouldn’t have been able to link any pictures associated with these articles to the word “unprofessional”, no matter how hard it tried. We couldn’t actually go and change the algorithm that was used to summon up those pictures but we have the power to change the words we feed into it.

toni-morrison quote

The thing is, how others treat us should not depend on how “the others” are being treated. By that I mean that our value should not be relative to the value of others. We matter and deserve respect irrespective of how much respect others are getting and we need to live our life with this idea in mind. What This means is we should not be spending any time defending our hair against the people who believe they don’t belong at work. We should just brazenly bring them with us at work as normally as we should.

The issue with the idea that “if others are being treated well I should be treated well, too” is that if “the others” suddenly started to be treated badly, we should become content with our condition all of a sudden, no matter how unfair it would be.

The issue with the idea that “if others are being treated well I should be treated well, too” is that if “the others” suddenly started to be treated badly, we should become content with our condition all of a sudden, no matter how unfair it would be. That’s not the way it should work. We should be treated well regardless of how others are being treated because that’s what we deserve as human beings, end of. And the words we use to talk about ourselves need to reflect our worth, which is independent from the worth of others.

Jessy Mullings,
Writer at Afrocks

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  • hi

    i have reported this to google as of now, lets see if they will do something…i have beautiful gals and i m really dreaded of the time when they will need to cross the platform in order to be seen as more beautiful.

    i had trouble convincing their mother of being comfortable in styling her own hair and now final she keeps beautiful dreads that when she styles it, it make me want to place her in my lap everywhere i go and look at her. and just to make a point i happens to also have another partner with mix race background meaning her hair is natural long and easy to work on, but i tell u that she is kept busy by her work by colleagues and i always tell her u have one of the most beautiful hair and u seriously don t need any enhances.( just to clear the waters “the ladies know each and are cool at that through my honesty”)

    regards
    Sandile

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