What If I Am Not Enough?
Every morning I pick out a crown. A piece of fabric to shield my tresses. A cloth that will represent my being. A headwrap to compliment my attire.
Typically, it takes me 30 minutes to finalize my decision. A decision that some will assume took less than 5. However, for me, I need the full half hour; particularly because I am extremely indecisive and analytical. I contemplate everything --- the rejection, the rebuttal, the support, the fear, the doubt, the comfort, the admiration, the meaning, the repercussions, and the empowerment.
The random chattering in my brain mixed with the anxiety of leaving the house on time explains the necessity for the 30 minutes of “what ifs”. The ultimate question being -- what if I am not enough?
I remember the first time I wore a headwrap to work. My colleagues were confused and intrigued. I received several questions that day. Why do you wear a headwrap? Is this a new style? Are we allowed to wear head scarves to work? What is that thing called – “a hat”? Can you show me how you get your headwrap to do that? – All questions that are super inappropriate, but I anticipated prior to leaving the house. I acknowledge that if someone simply changes the color or length of their hair that it naturally welcomes comments, so surely me covering my entire head would start a revolt. As I gather my thoughts to proceed with an appropriate response; I take a deep breath, count to 3, and channel the calmness of my great grandmother. Q1. I wear a headwrap for several reasons. To practice my religious/spiritual beliefs. To protect my hair from damage and promote growth. To honor my culture and ancestors. Q2. No, it’s not a new style. Headwraps are a piece of dress originated in sub-Saharan Africa and once used as a symbol in America to identify enslaved African American women. Q3. I would advise seeking the correct response from HR. Q4. No, it’s called a headwrap. Although some may use terms like “turban”, “head tie”, “wrap”, “cloth”, or “head covering”. Q5. No.
The fabric feels soft in my hands. Long and rectangular, I move my fingers across the material. Checking for stains, lint, and wrinkles; I tie it firmly around my head. Lifting my right hand and placing it over my left, I guide the fabric into a loop to form a distinct knot on top of my forehead. Making sure to protect my edges, I grab both ends of the cloth and twist it into a single strand. This step is important. If it is too loose, it will not stay. If it is too tight, it will give me a headache. Finishing the strand, I take my right hand and lift the fabric up towards the direction of the sky. My left hand is placed on top of my head for support and stability. I wrap the material forming a circle until I feel that it is complete. I drop both hands alongside my body, glance in the mirror and ask myself -- what if I am not enough?
In front of an audience, I stood ready to present at my second national student affairs conference. Intentional about my dress, I decided to wear all black. I chose black, because it is my color of comfort. Whenever I am nervous, happy, sad, excited, miserable, or anxious – I wear black. On this day, I selected a flowy black short sleeve top with long black dress pants to compliment. I placed my feet in light brown high heel shoes as to provide myself with a pop of color. Then the ultimate decision came before me. Which crown do I select for the day? I chose a heavy, solid medium brown cloth covered in black spots – leopard print. I was confident that wearing a print fabric would not cause much of a distraction, because the rest of my wardrobe was plain. I wrapped my head; glanced in the mirror and adjusted the wrap to ensure that it was perfect. I took a deep breath and whispered --- what if I am not enough? The first time I presented at a national conference I decided against wearing a headwrap. I didn’t want to be a source of distraction. I didn’t want my co-presenters to feel as though my very being would dismiss our level of professionalism. But this time was different, I decided to take a chance and welcome rejection. As I stood in front of the audience to present, I felt confident. Most importantly, I felt beautiful. Who knew one piece of fabric added to my wardrobe would make me feel comfortable, whole, and fulfilled? I am enough.
Luckily for me, I am supported in my choice to wear headwraps at work. However, I realize that I cannot be employed at my current institution forever. I often think about the next phase of my career. The job interview process can be critical. Will they accept me and my cultural dress? I question my desire to work in an industry that celebrates diversity as long as it benefits the student body. If I want to continue wearing headwraps, am I limited to small private liberal arts colleges and HBCUs? I find myself processing ways on how to increase professional acceptance of business/business casual attire in student affairs. Until that day comes I will continue to ask myself --- what if I am not enough?
Nyambi Shannon is the Assistant Director of Residence Life at McDaniel College. A patron of “The Wrap Life”, you can find her modeling various headwraps and posting selfies using the hashtag #wrapqueen on Instagram. She is a previous participant of NASPA Center for Women programs.