For the Love of Work 

As some may or not may not already know, the 1st of May is International Workers’ Day and is celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa. The history of May Day is significant in commemorating past efforts to eradicate workers’ rights violations and poor working conditions. Yet, as we reflect on the importance of worker solidarity, it almost feels disingenuous to attempt to consider the state of ‘work’ as a concept without contextualising within the broader pop culture media discourse taking place online about work and where it fits into our everyday life. And so, we begin with the (alleged) generational divide.

The Inter-Generational Dilemma…or Opportunity?

Every other week, there seems to be a bombardment of articles about how Gen Z (those born between 1997 to 2013) is one of the worst things to have happened to the modern workplace. Established publications write lengthy explanations about how ‘quiet quitting’ and anti-work attitudes wreak havoc on job permanence. On TikTok, countless creators produce viral videos depicting the difference between Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace. Gen Z’s nonchalant attitudes are often the punchline due to the contrast in behaviour and mannerisms compared to their older colleagues. There seems to be some quietly agreed upon torrential dog-piling on Gen Z. This is not because they are young and naïve (although some would argue otherwise), but because they are choosing a path that many did not think was possible for them. But instead of anger being directed towards the systems that govern and dictate our access to fundamental rights to access a clean environment, housing, and food, the repeated cycle of anger is diverted to younger generations who hold little power compared to the 1% making decisions. Capitalism’s obsession with vilifying aspects of human nature that vigilantly centre on our well-being sets a precedent for how we are valued within the systems, institutions and organisations that we are tied to. Misplaced accountability sets a dangerous narrative on who deserves basic human rights based on “hard work”. But hard work is not determined by how much of ourselves we give to entities, nor is it predicated on tolerating substandard conditions to meet certain targets and objectives. This may sound like a fairy tale, but we all deserve to have jobs that value our time and efforts. We all deserve the right to prioritise our physical and mental well-being above unethical work expectations. We all deserve the right to choose how we show up for work, in whatever capacity that means for each of us. Kahlil Gibran puts it aptly in his book The Prophet by saying the following: 

“…to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.”

For many marginalised bodies and identities on the outskirts of what would be considered a “good worker”, now more than ever is it important to advocate for worker’s rights everywhere. In January this year, a few of the leading global tech companies laid off about 12,000-18,000 workers with no prior notice. Shareholder wealth since COVID-19 has increased tenfold, along with the salaries of top management executives across the board in various industries. According to an article written by Walter Matli (2020) on the insights of remote workers’ life situations in South Africa, the mixed reactions signalled the vastness in the experiences of workers for those in well or under-serviced communities. If we compare and contrast how we see ourselves and others within different work environments, then we need to consider how much more we have in common with each other than we think. The issues we think will never affect us may very well be the issues that affect us eventually (ditto to load-shedding being the new normal in South Africa).

International Workers’ Day is a crucial occasion to remind us of the significance of inter-generational solidarity and a humanistic perspective towards labour. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the persistent socioeconomic inequalities that afflict workers worldwide. If we are not aware of this crucial aspect of worker solidarity, it becomes a fictitious and non-committal fantasy through which we fail to understand the very essence of our being. 


One might ask, ‘is race-based hair discrimination a thing?’ Well, in her LinkedIn live on Bias Against Black Women with Natural Hair, Professor Ashleigh Rosette from Duke university’s Fuqua business school argues that hair discrimination is indeed a thing.

One might further ask whether this is not an isolated American or Western thing. In the University of Pretoria’s public lecture: At Crossroads: Reimaging Management Sciences and Inclusivity, Professor Stella Nkomo points out that with hair being a particular marker of a woman’s beauty, it is incredulous that race-based hair discrimination is a thing, particularly in Africa. The lecture was based on a 2020 Clicks advert for Tresemme haircare products which labelled black women’s hair as ‘dry and damaged’ and ‘frizzy and dull,While highlighting white women’s hair as ‘normal’ and ‘fine and flat.’ This certainly caused a nationwide outcry against the advert as this was not the first time that such disdain and classification was expressed towards black women’s hair in South Africa.

In 2016 black students at Pretoria girls high school recalled being told that their natural hair was ‘unladylike and ‘untidy’ among other things, which included writing exams if they did not ‘fix’ their hair. More recently, in 2021, black learners of Cornwall Hill College in Pretoria recalled a teacher saying, ‘your hair is unrepresentable, messy, and it is not the Cornwall way.’

I personally recall learning how to braid my hair in high school because a teacher told me to ‘make sure that your hair is neat when you come to school tomorrow’ all because I had gone with my small natural afro to school that day. I now don beautiful thick dreadlocks, but it took me some time to get confidence in how my hair naturally grows out of my scalp.

I imagine many others must negotiate between their ‘true self’ and what the mainstream deems ‘neat’, ‘tidy’, and even ‘professional’. Most of the scientific literature that examines race-based hair discrimination and hair bias against black women is conducted in the United States of America through empirical research, and increasingly in the United Kingdom through the lens of professional identity. Very few studies capture the lived experiences of black women to find out how this discrimination negatively impacts their perception of themselves and the strategies they use to overcome these deeply entrenched and persistent messages that their hair is not good enough. I wanted to fill this gap in my own research because when people share their experiences, they experience a sense of belonging which may lend a hand in what Dr Doyin Atewologun puts as ‘repairing and strengthening their stigmatized identities.’

Therefore, my PhD looks at black African women occupying professional positions in Corporate. The research examines their experiences of race-based hair discrimination, manifesting from the intersections of race, gender, and social class throughout their lives. The hair discrimination against them is attributed to the legacies of colonialism, apartheid, and patriarchy. The study uses a socio-political-historical lens to investigate Black African women’s professional and personal identities concerning their hair.

Similarly, my research in the U.S. builds on the CROWN Act. It explores hairstyle bias against Black women by looking at the connections between the societal forces which determine and sustain hair bias, work group dynamics which may act against black women and black women’s experiences of hairstyle bias on their identities.

This research lays the foundation for a path of study that responds to the negative impact on black women’s subjective view of their value in the world and the negative effect on how they navigate their schooling and, later, workplace systems and structures.