The title of this article might be a bit misleading. No, it’s not a tutorial on how to achieve a wavy natural hair style. It’s about finding the courage to speak up in the face of ignorance, discrimination and disrespect.
You may have read my recent article about the bad treatment I received at a retail store in my community. Some of you shared similar personal experiences, and I have to admit, they brought tears to my eyes.
After some reflection, I found some lessons in my experience that I’d like to share with you. If and when you find yourself being treated in a discriminatory or disrespectful manner, you might find some of these thoughts helpful.
Make waves. In other words, stand up for yourself. When I was being mistreated, I had a split-second decision to make: accept the bad treatment and walk away in silence, or stand up for myself. I chose to stand up for myself, and that has made all the difference in how I remember the encounter. Instead of looking back at the incident with a feeling of powerlessness and embarrassment, I look back with a sense of pride and dignity. It takes courage to speak up. And it’s not always easy, especially if you’re shy by nature. There’s a quote that says “the only courage you need is the courage to get from one moment to the next.” It only takes a moment to speak up, but the positive benefits can be long-lasting.
Take action: Consider pursuing all available avenues of recourse. It really does help with the healing process. If you’re mistreated in a store, speak directly to the person who has mistreated you. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, speak to the store manager. If the store is in a mall, go to the mall administration office and speak to someone there. Send a customer complaint to the store’s head office. If you’re at work, speak to your supervisor, or your union rep. There are also consumer protection agencies, human rights agencies, the media, and depending on the seriousness of the situation, the police. You may even decide to seek legal advice. Even if no resolution is reached after pursuing these options, you’ll still feel empowered knowing that you took steps to resolve the matter.
Talk about it: I actually considered not telling anyone about my experience because the embarrassment and humiliation were so overwhelming. It felt like a shameful secret that I wanted to forget ever happened. But I’ve learned that speaking about an incident like this reduces its power. It also empowers others to come forward and share their stories, so they can have their voices heard too.
Be careful about making allowances for bad behavior: Sometimes we make allowances for the bad behavior of others. “They’re just ignorant.” “They aren’t worth my time or energy.” “They’re just crazy.” “They must be having a bad day.” “I can spend my money somewhere else.” Although these things may be true, they still don’t excuse bad behavior. In some cases there may be good reason to make an allowance for someone’s bad behavior. Each individual must personally decide how they want to handle such a situation. At the same time, we need to be sure we’re not using these “allowances” as an excuse to not stand up for ourselves, just because we’re afraid to.
Don’t expect others to defend you: At first I was upset that the other customers didn’t speak up. In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t. If I had allowed them to speak for me, it wouldn’t have been as empowering an experience as it turned out to be. Standing up for one’s self is a personal responsibility, and it can’t be delegated. Yes, it would have been nice to have some support at the time. And in a perfect world we would all have each other’s backs, all the time. But I realize now that we can’t expect others to defend us, especially strangers.
Be aware of the example you can set. Standing up for yourself makes a bold statement to anyone who may be listening to and observing the incident. I feel very good knowing that, if and when the customers who witnessed the encounter relate it to their family or friends, they will talk about a confident Black woman who stood up for herself in a calm, dignified manner, not a crazy woman who had a meltdown and screamed obscenities. “Making waves” doesn’t have to involve being rude or offensive; it can be firm, direct and respectful.
One commenter to the previous article shared a powerful quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said,
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I believe this is true. I also believe that, when confronted with ignorance, discrimination and disrespect, we will mostly remember the silence from ourselves.
I always find it difficult to determine when to speak up and when not to. I had experiences in my life,when I was younger where I spoke up for myself and was chastised for it by family members and told to ignore it, so grew up with this mentality. Also been in situations where speaking up led me to being personally attacked even when doing it in a calm manner. I also have been in situations where I was criticised for not speaking up and condemned by the same family members coincidently. Which I believe gave me a complex. What I've learnt is to pick your battles and accept what decision you choose to make, it's the regret and reminiscing over the experience that will get you. If you feel disrespected speak up, and if you can't at that moment, still go back and say or do something else at a later date. If it can't be done for that situation, accept it, let it go and prepare yourself for the next time an experience like that happens. – This helped me.
I'm starting to have the courage to stand up for myself more. I'm usually very quiet & reserved, but some people take advantage of that. Thanks for the tips. I will def be putting them to use!
Thank you MsMellody for posting the steps to documenting and initiating a written complaint- this was very helpful for me.
Good luck with your decision, I hope things work out for you! Professional environments are notorious for suppressing dissent and challenges to the status quo, if it gets ugly don't hesitate to involve legal.
I think its important to stand up for yourself. Otherwise, you can become a doormat with some people. I had to do that had my job a few weeks ago.
I stand up for myself I am very outspoken I get that for my grandmother my mom says. I feel that I am strong and I have a voice of my own that cannot be run over. My voice is loud and expressive in my written works poetry and argumentive essays or any other essay I write. It is me and only me I use my voice for help to complain if I am mistreated, disrespected etc. Without it I will be run over everytime, I also use my voice to help others who cannot or do not have the courage to do so (e.g. kids who are bullied). I helped several people when I was in elementary and middle school. I like to help others thats just me.
This is a great example Nikki. I am new to the natural hair movement, but have read your blog and links for the past year or so. Today is the first time I am commenting.
And ironically I have experienced a time or two with a racially motivated exclusionary experience. In short terms – I have been treated very badly in a boutique-y type store and in a large metropolitan department store counter.
I was told by another blogger to -"always follow the money trail" in situations like the one you described.
In situations of BOTH life and business most unpleasant/rude encounters can and WILL be solved if you wisely follow the money trail.
Hence, when you received the disgusting treatment at this local store, you remained calm and stood your ground. Excellent. You also followed through on entering the store to make your point, you then decided to follow up with a complaint. A written complaint, explaining whom you encountered,what time of day, the number of encounters, who and what you saw inside the store, and your treatment once inside the store.
And here is the most important part – by filing this consumer complaint – this store owner will be contacted for follow-up by an agency representative. Now this is key – whether that follow up will be by phone, in writing or even an in-person review..this store owner will REMEMBER this incident so that the next time she feels so free to just out right discriminate that her future business license/review could be in jeopardy.
I dont know all the ins and outs of how Canada conducts business/consumer affairs..but I do know one thing "common sense". Common sense would dictate that this business owner will NOT want to have any more complaints about her business in the local business licensing bureau/consumer affairs division etc.,etc.
I do stand up for myself, but I try not to get rude.
A similar event happened to me in a Disney Store in Delaware. My children loved this store when they were smaller. I entered the store and was shadowed by a sales associate. When I declined his assistance, he continued to hover until I left the store. On another visit, I challenged an associate, "I don't need any help, but you can help those people over there". The associate left, but I was still watched. I stopped going to that store.
These policies are set by management and enforced by underlings. Weekly and monthly meetings outline the objectives (make money, stop theft). The only way to stop profiling is to do like Andrea stated, bring it to the management's attention and taking it up to the Mall administration or head office if necessary.
If one doesn't have solid evidence of sanctioned descriminatory practices, one could face libel/slander charges if it's posted on FaceBook YouTube.
I stopped patronizing the store, because their bottom line was more important to them than my satisfaction.
Yes, it takes courage to stand up for yourself, but I think once you do it once, you will find it easier to do it again and again. It takes that first time to make you less afraid.
Yes, it does take courage. I think if you start with making conscious efforts to address small things in a respectful manner you'll start to feel better about yourself and appreciate the change your actions will cause, which I believe will help develop your level of confidence.
Yes, I typically stand up for myself but I definitely access each situation to determine what level of action or response is necessary. I don't allow for too much bad behavior 'cause you never know if it's a one-time thing such as a 'bad day' or if the person is just plain ignorant and disrespectful all of the time but no one ever complains about it.
I 'make waves' because when I don't….I always feel guilty later and say to myself, "See, I should have done something". Woulda, shoulda, coulda, does not bring about change.
It's hard to rock the boat because it takes courage. When I feel like i'm being treated unfairly I usually don't stand up for myself unfortunately.
I've actually been thinking about this and wondering what's happened since. If you don't mind sharing, have you taken any formal steps? I just can't believe that happened. It's so unacceptable. I feel like starting a Facebook boycott or something.
My sister wanted to return an item to a store in the mall, but the store clerk refused cause of a store policy. My sister refused to leave the store without her refund, but instead of staying calm she acted completely disrespectful to the clerk causing a scene. My mom & I tried to calm my sister down so we could leave the store, she still wouldn't budge. The clerk called mall security which was even more embarrassing, so my mom & I left the store without my sister because we didn't want to be escorted out. For her to be my older sister I wish she had handled the situation differently, because she was/is someone Iook up to.
I'm so proud that you found the courage to stand up for yourself. As outspoken as I am I hate confrontation so I usually just shut up and put up. But you're right racism should never be overlooked
I am an outspoken person. Not in a rude way but if I dont like or agree with something, you will know it. It will be all over my face and body language before I say anything. I am making "waves" at my job right now because I dont agree with a few things. When you voice your opinion you are looked at like "the troublemaker." I'm seriously considering a transfer to another department.