Speak to the Black Dancers

If you are a stripper in New York City and you happen to be a Black woman, you’re going to need straight hair — that is, if you want to make the most money possible and since you’re a stripper I’m assuming that’s the case. Now, this straight hair can be your own after its been chemically or physically straightened. Or, it can be sewn into your scalp creating the appearance of luscious, free-flowing locks. Or, it can be purchased for a little over 50 dollars, placed upon your head during work hours and taken off after your job is done.

Make sure this hair is black, maybe off-black but certainly not brown and certainly not blond and most certainly not any “unnatural” (read: exciting) color. If you’re a lighter-skinned Black woman you may be able to get away with light brown or even (Black girl) blond hair — but I wouldn’t risk it. If you must forgo my advice, look at whatever hair color Beyoncé currently has or has had and for the sweet love of Jesus do not stray too far from the norm the redbone goddess has created. Now, if you have your straight hair, and you’re free of tattoos, and you have a trim body and a face full of makeup then congratulations (!) you are now eligible to work in Manhattan.

Some of you may say, Duh. Others will say, No, that’s not possible. My hair shouldn’t determine where I work and it is to you, I am speaking. Especially because, no manager will tell you what I’ve told you. That would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. White girls, or girls they assume are White, are generally told everything that is wrong with their personage and what they can do to correct it in order to work within a particular establishment. “Your hair is too bright, dye it a normal color/ You’re nails look awful, come back with a manicure/You need to lose about ten pounds and get a breast augmentation” — that sort of thing. This doesn’t happen for Black women, or Asian women, or the darker-skinned Latinas I’ve worked with. These strippers will tell you why you didn’t get hired at a certain establishment and you will not believe them.

It will seem ludicrous to you. If they don’t like my afro, why didn’t they just tell me? That your hair — that has been straight, combed into an afro, and braided in various styles throughout various periods of your life — is the one thing they won’t tolerate. You’ll think there has to be another reason, maybe that you’re not pretty enough or maybe you talk too much or maybe you said something off-putting before you auditioned. Maybe you’re just too Black — period — and no amount of makeup or hair straightener is going to change that. For some reason, you’ll ask your White co-workers and they’ll echo your sentiments. I went there and they told me to fix my hair or they didn’t like my tattoos but it always ends with I agree. It can’t be your hair…if they didn’t like something about you they would just tell you. Here’s the thing to remember, my dear: your friend is White and she has no idea what she’s talking about.

Speak to the Black dancers. They’ll say, I went there with my natural and my face natural too. And they told me, ‘No’. I came back, had my hair straightened and my face beat — they said, Yes. Your hair matters in Manhattan. The most upscale clubs are in Manhattan and as we all know and hate to admit, in our world upscale=White. If you’ve gotten to this point and you’ve had enough of this bullshit, you might think Fuck this. I refuse to work in any club that won’t hire me simply because they don’t like the way my hair grows out of my scalp. Then you have two options.

Work in a “hood” club or work within the less upscale clubs in the outer boroughs. A less upscale club follows basic logic: if the manager thinks you’re hot — or remotely able to make money — s/he’ll hire you. We all know that in our world hood=Black, so if you want to work at one of the more prominent hood clubs you won’t need straight hair. You’ll need a face full of makeup and likely 5,000 dollars’ worth of plastic surgery but, honestly, Hood clubs are not my area of expertise.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: changing yourself into mainstream standards of what is considered “acceptable” and “beautiful” will never guarantee your place beyond the closed doors. You can straighten your hair and lighten your skin and cut away pieces of your nose and your ass and you can still be too Black, too Brown, too Other for their liking. Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if this rule only applied to strip clubs. It’s a superficial industry based solely on appearance and money and I know absolutely no exotic dancers who strip for a deep sense of satisfaction — beyond the satisfaction earned from a lucrative night or, rarely, an abundance of attention.

But, this rule applies to many industries and professions that supposedly choose workers based on their merit and qualifications. To be a Black woman is a constant attempt to transcend your race and simultaneously justify your position — once you’ve earned a place beyond the closed doors you must now prove your application wasn’t solely a picture of your face.

The good news is, we can bunk the system while we’re inside. If you have dreads, braid them back, if you have braids, make sure they’re not mistaken for dreads. Keep your afro straight until you hear the words, “Yes, you’re hired” or “Your loan is approved, good luck with your new business!” Then let loose, baby girl. Wear that afro proudly, let those dreads fly, put some beads in those braids. It’s not like they can say anything after you’re hired — that would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Previously published on MCXV.com