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Professionalism norms are stupid

As someone who has dyed their hair unnatural colors, gotten piercings and tattoos, and who considers themself an intelligent and hardworking individual, I hate the usual spiel I am expected to give when I discuss my future career plans. 

“Oh, I want to go to law school.”

“That’s so cool…” some people say suspiciously, eyeing my pinkish hair and uncovered tattoos. 

“Yeah it is, that’s why I am doing all this fun stuff now!” I say to ease their worry. No, you won’t have to be defended by a person with gauges, neck tattoos and blue hair in the future. Lawyers are still “professional”. 

But in actuality I don’t want to let my passion for the law and civil rights stop me from being perceived as who I actually am. The crossroads of talented workers and workers with body modifications and unique outward appearances does exist, and barring individuals from entire fields due to their lack of traditional “respectability” is a disgusting opinion that has been upheld in professional circles for far too long. 

It is important for me to note that modifications I have made to my body are a creative and personal choice rather than a natural occurrence. While obvious, it is necessary to distinguish between the minor type of discrimination I may face as a tattooed white individual with pink hair in professional fields, and the discrimination that many people of color, particularly black individuals, face due to their natural hair. 

A large portion, if not all, of modern professional standards are rooted in Eurocentric, anglo-protestant norms and traditions. Left over from the time before people of color were able to enter these fields and forms of education, these norms are a disgusting everyday reminder of how racism is rooted in everything. An example of this are dress codes in workplaces or schools that note hair requirements (i.e. straightened) in which styles worn by Black individuals—such as dreadlocks, braids and afros—are singled out. Not to mention the abhorrent professionalism standards that look down upon African American Vernacular English. While white popular culture continues to profit off of black individuals, they are barred from white spaces and called unprofessional for their language style. 

Additionally, professionalism standards in America often ignore different cultural practices when it comes to professional attire. Even outside of the world of professionalism, religious garments such as burqas, hijabs and turbans are scrutinized by white America—so it is no question that they are still heavily judged within the competitive professional scene. 

The position of those who believe that individuals cannot take people seriously who look or act a certain way that they are not used to is ludicrous. This is carved from a basic face-value judgement of an individual rather than their ability to do their job well. As well as just generalized racism. We all were taught not to judge someone based on how they look; Why are facial piercings, tattoos and—most importantly—different religious, racial and ethnic practices any different? 

The bottom line is, they’re not. As the world continues moving forward with becoming more accepting of everyone and more knowledgeable of how racism is woven within every part of society,  the professional world eventually has to as well. 

 So far, eight states have banned the discrimination of hairstyles in the workplace since the creation of the CROWN Act in 2019. The majority of young people I know agree, none of these things affect intelligence, work ethic, responsibility or the made up notion of “professionalism.”

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