I complained about winning a hair “prize”

I won a “prize” two weeks ago for attending a College of Liberal Arts Career Fair. Beforehand I found out in an email that I had won a prize. To my dismay, the email listed my “prize” as “salon products”. I had intially held out a sliver of hope that they might not ascribe to the hegemonic ideal that all hair should or ought to be straight.

But, I knew there would be a problem, when later on in the email, an unmistakable gender order emerged. All gifts were centered around gendered artifacts for career and professionalism, including gender-appropriate suits, portfolios, resume paper, and gift certificates. According to the prize email, I and other women were receiving the necessary gender-appropriate tools to enhance our career development, including salon gifts and tanning packages. Comedy ensued when my suspicions were confirmed as my boyfriend, whose name they thought sounded like a female’s, 

dfreceived tanning minutes. Not surprisingly, my prize were salon products for “straight sexy hair”.

Of course, I felt like the CLA was failing to abide by its diversity initiative listed below:

Improve the academic climate so that it is increasingly civil, respectful, accessible, and free from harassment; Create and sustain an environment that supports intellectual inquiry, cultural enhancement, and awareness of broader issues.


I felt the need to issue a complaint immediately, which brought me to the office of the career development director across the hall.

I revealed to the director, a straight haired woman of European descent, that the gift I had been offered was problematic. It was bought under a taken-for-granted assumption that it would be desirable to someone with straight hair, and, more specifically, under the assumption that hair should be straight. I tried to explain that her prize was not, in fact, a prize for many of those that belong to the diverse Purdue student body. Instead, it was a reminder of being at an institution that has for so long failed to grasp this quality. With this, she laughed at me, stating it was ridiculous that I was complaining about a ‘gift’. I asked if there was anyone else I could talk to that would hear me out and at least consider my point of view.  There wasn’t.

I left feeling chastised by her continued laughter, which trivialized my feelings. I was treated, as if, I was just being ungrateful. She only perceived the situation as some hilarious event where a spoiled student tried to rip her off. She said out loud, holding up a stickie pad as I left, “Please write this down because I have to remember this.”

The CLA Diversity Initiative was not honored in this case. Gender and racial discrimination were, in fact, reinforced with these gifts. As a mixed race student at Purdue, my presence as someone who mattered was not considered.

To the Liberal Arts Career Development center, who promote that professional hair means straight and sexy, and the admin I spoke to, here, “I wrote it down.”


Amazing Nigerian Hairstylin’ Photos by J.D. Ojeikere

Images sourced from: http://www.citizenbrooklyn.com/topics/fashion/afro-hair-sculptures-for-a-day/

J.D. ‘Okai’ Ojeikere was raised in rural Southwestern Nigeria in a village where photography was an exotic luxury. In 1950, he bought a modest Brownie D camera, and a neighbour taught him the rudiments of photography. In 1951 he began to seek work from the Ministry of Information in Ibadan, repeatedly sending the same letter: “I would be very grateful if you would use me for any kind of work in your photographic department.” His persistence paid off in 1954, when he was offered a position as a darkroom assistant. Just as Nigeria was shedding colonial rule in 1961, he became a still photographer for Televison House Ibadan, a division of the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Services, the first television station in Africa. Jazz musician Steve Rhodes was director of programming and Ojeikere has recalled the spirit of the time: “Just after independence, we were full of ideas and energy. We were going to conquer the world.” In 1963 he moved to Lagos to work for West Africa Publicity.

In 1967 he joined the Nigerian Arts Council, and during their festival of the following year he began to take series of photographs dedicated to Nigerian culture. This body of work, now consisting of thousands of images, has become a unique anthropological, ethnographic, and documentary national treasure. Most African photographers of his generation only worked on commission; this project, unique in its genre, flourished without any commercial support. The Hairstyle series, which consists of close to a thousand photographs, is the largest and the most thorough segment of Ojeikere’s archive. “To watch a ‘hair artist’ going through his precise gestures, like an artist making a sculpture, is fascinating. Hairstyles are an art form,” Ojeikere has commented. He photographs hairstyles every day in the street, in offices, at parties. He records each subject systematically: from the rear, sometimes in profile, and occasionally head-on. Those from the rear are almost abstract and best reveal the sculptural aspect of the hairstyles. For Ojeikere, this is a never ending project as hairstyles evolve with fashion: “All these hairstyles are ephemeral. I want my photographs to be noteworthy traces of them. I always wanted to record moments of beauty, moments of knowledge. Art is life. Without art, life would be frozen.”

Text sourced from: .http://www.caacart.com/pigozzi-artist.php?i=Ojeikere-J-D-Okhai&bio=en&m=59

J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere: Moments of Beauty
Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland
and Center for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria

Sartorial Moments
Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria

Maison de France
Lagos – Nigeria
and Blaffer Gallery
Houston – USA

Wedge Gallery
Toronto – Canada