“Green hair,” my customer said.
“That man, he has green hair,” she repeated in a not quite whisper.
I followed her glance, which was fixed upon one of my younger co-workers.
“Yes,” I agreed, “he does.”
“But why?” she asked, her gaze still transfixed upon his spiky emerald locks.
“Personal style,” I ventured.
“I just don’t think I could take anyone with green hair seriously!”
She turned her attention back to me, and I just smiled and shrugged, hoping we could get back to work. I wondered, as we spoke, if my long hair cast doubt upon my words in her mind. She never said anything, but if she had, she wouldn’t have been to first to mention it.
I’ve been told more than once that my appearance is unprofessional.
Sometimes they just tell me that I need a haircut.
When, I wonder, did it become polite to offer grooming advice to someone you’ve only just been introduced to?
But, of course, I’m thinking about it all wrong. Because, we are the impolite ones, we men with long hair, or short hair dyed vibrant colors, or who sport large beards, and always there are the women, who show too much skin, or are veiled head to toe…,
It’s okay to point and scoff, because it is rude to stand out from the crowd.
To do so is to mark yourself as the ‘other’ and the ‘other’ is not to be trusted, the ‘other’ must be watched and guarded against, because the ‘other’ is either crazy or up to something.
Are you shaking your head as you read this?
Are you thinking how sad it must be for these people who have been trained to fear and distrust anyone different?
Well just stop, because, deny it all you like, but society has taught you the same lessons.
Not an hour after my customer left, the one with the hair-color fixation, I was approached by the subject of her dismay, my compatriot with the verdant hair.
“Hey,” he said, taking me aside “I was talking to this woman the other day and she started talking about, like really weird stuff, and I thought I really wanted to tell you about it.”
“Yeah…,” not really sure where this was going.
“Well, when I asked her to explain what she was talking about, she said she was a ‘white witch’, or something like that. I mean, that’s CRAZY right!”
And I just smiled and shrugged as I listened for the sirens of the irony police, approaching at a distance.
The truth is, no matter how much we stand out or blend in, we are all freaks of one sort or another, but this basic distrust of the different among us is hardwired into our brains.
Forty-thousand years ago, if you met someone who looked different than you, there was a good chance he’d be trying to eat you for dinner. But we’re not living in that world anymore and actual incidents of human cannibalism are surpassingly rare.
And I suppose that’s progress we ought to be proud of.
So what if the average citizen thinks people who dye their hair green, or who call themselves witches, are living just this side of the looney-bin. At least no one is being burned at the stake, or beheaded, or dragged behind a car, or disowned by their parents, or bullied by their classmates, or…,
We have made progress, but that progress is, I fear, just a shrug and a smile away from an angry mob, with their torches and pitchforks at the ready, crying out for the blood of whichever ‘monster’ has the misfortune to come lurching out of the hills. The progress we’ve made could be lost in a heartbeat, if we are not careful, if we do not learn to fight the desire to spot the ‘other’ moving through the crowd.
But, don’t take my word for it. I’m just another freak.