Being Corporate and Looking “Cool”

Sometime in May last year, I decided to boycott the sharp blades of barbers. It was not a political stand against some injustice meted out to kids working in sweatshops producing blades or rubbing alcohol. Neither was it in observance of a religious duty. It was simply an action of a boy trying to look cool. You know, the J Cole/Kendrick Lamar nappy hair with side fades type of cool.

My mom was strongly against it. With the spate of weed smokers in my neighborhood locking their hair in dreads, she was strongly against her son looking like in her words “one of those ruffians”. Mothers always get their way so locking my hair was out of question. But an afro wasn’t. I had to live that dream an unkempt nappy afro which made me simultaneously look urbane and Woke Soyinkaish.

For the best part of 8 months, I had it going. Even though my hair is the type which takes eons to grow a nanometer longer, it grew eventually. In December, I was beginning to have the look I was gunning for. If you had met me for the first time and I happened to be wearing a Dashiki, you would have mistaken me for a remnant of Huey P. Newton’s Black Panthers. I was so feeling it. The steadily growing afro was complemented by a burgeoning goatee and sideburn.

Right in the middle of this youthful bliss of mine, I had a call from a job recruiting and placement company I had submitted my CV to sometime back. An interview had been scheduled and I was to report in about a week looking “formal”. For as long as I can remember, looking formal meant wearing a three piece (or two piece depending on how hot it was), black shoes and having a handkerchief to prevent you from looking like a sweating pig. So I went with this template on the day of the interview.

I love to blabber, so sweet talking my way through the interview was a walk in the park for me. I belabored the achievements on my interview which I was forced to cram onto a single page. I yapped about basketball and how cool I was arguing about basketball on TV every other Sunday.

For the most part, I did the talking while the panel did the listening completely enthralled. Or so I thought. Until it got to the latter point of the interview when they dropped the hammer on me. The wrecking ball question thrown my way was “on a scale of one to ten, how do you look for this interview”. I was bamboozled!!! Admittedly, I am not an Adonis. The acne from my teenage years continues to bedeck my face. But this was no casting for a movie or a modelling agency and I do appear on TV so the question had nothing to do with my look. It took a second for it to occur to me that the question had to do with my hair.

In addition to the struggles my hair goes growing an inch, it happens to be the “brenya” type of hair which cannot look combed even if you run through it with a hot comb. I carried a comb with me to the interview venue and subjected myself to excruciating pain seconds before I walked in. The hair still sold out on a brother.

Answering the question thrown at me threw me back to an earlier episode in my life when my mom queried me whether or not I had taken meat from my father’s plate. It was a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation. With my mother, spanking awaited me no matter the answer I gave. With this panel, I knew I was going to strike out regardless of the answer I gave. So immediately my debater instincts kicked in and I laid principles arguing myself out of it.

7. Any serious company should place premium on the output of its workers and not how they look. I do understand this is a job position that demands a corporate look but I am very qualified for this job, my CV is testament to that fact.”

That was my answer. There was a silent moment and a follow up question on the tradeoff between securing the job opening and keeping my hair as it is. All in all, I felt like I had flunked the interview after that.

For consolation, I applauded myself for not being a “corporate sellout”. Sometimes, all you need to do is justify your silliness and you feel alright.

So my “boycott the barber” streak continued. Well not entirely. Occasionally I went in for a fade and shaping of my hairline. The beard was also streaky and the sideburns kept doing something funny. One side was flourishing and the other saw no strand of hair. So “boycott the barber” streak continued. Well not entirely. Occasionally I went in for a fade and shaping of my hairline. The beard was also streaky and the sideburns kept doing something funny. One side was flourishing and the other saw no strand of hair. So I always cropped the other side off to avoid having a “one sided burn”.

A couple of weeks later, I opened my yahoo for my weekly newsletter from Manchester United to find out whether Van Gaal was finally getting the sack. At the top of my inbox list was an email from the recruiting company. I figured it was going to state the obvious so I decided to not read it. But the proverbial “something” told me to open the mail and to my astonishment, I made it to the next round. Boy was I surprised! Was my cheeky answer good enough or did the interviewer secretly dig my failed attempt to copy one of those afros from the 80s?

Making it to the final stage meant not giving the next interviewer any chance to disqualify me. Maybe my quick tongue was able to get me through the first stage but when you meet industry gurus at the final stage of the interviews, you either play the part or fall in the cut. So I quickly became the corporate sellout I applauded myself for not being. The blades and scissors of the barber finally laid destruction onto months of hard work. The hair fell and nothing was the same again.




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