Blah Blah Blog
By Wendy Weinstein
The Politics of Business.
When I went to Wilfred Academy hair school in September 1980, I remember sitting in the classroom with 60 other students during our orientation listening to the principal, Mr. Vincent. There was one thing he said that’s stayed with me: “To be truly successful in this business, you should never discuss religion, sex, or politics.”
Forty years later, that quote is pretty funny to me. I know I’ve discussed all of those topics in my salon chair — many, many times. They’re part of our life stories. How can we not talk about important things in our life?
But now, when it seems like the world has gone crazy, these topics are much more polarizing. But that makes it even harder to avoid them in daily conversation, especially religion and politics.
Let’s start with religion. My last name is Weinstein, and I’ve gone through the traditional ladder of schooling — Hebrew school, bat mitzvah, confirmation. I grew up in a neighborhood where there were only five Jewish families and I felt like we were the odd family out. My mom was such a Zionist, and being Jewish meant everything to her. Me, not so much. I learned at an early age that lots of people didn’t like Jewish people. Lots of people still don’t. And I didn’t want anyone not to like me because I was Jewish. I still don’t!
Everyone knows I’m Jewish, but I kind of thought I could hide it under the radar in my professional life. (Anyone who met my mom would laugh at that). In a business where you meet new people everyday, the first question is usually not, What’s your religion or political affiliation? So I thought it would be easy.
Early in my career, I was working by myself and I was cutting a business student’s hair in Powelton Village. I had cut his hair a couple of times before. We started small talking, and he was very well spoken and smart. The conversation shifted to politics, and he told me he was in a conservative white power club. I still remember the sinking feeling I got when he said those words. I don’t know why, but in that moment I decided to tell him I was Jewish. It was one of the first times I really felt it — not the feeling of being Jewish, but the feeling of being hated for it.
The resulting threatening phone calls on my answering machine calling me offensive names was unsettling to say the least. They stopped eventually, but it made an indelible mark in my brain to heed Mr. Vincent’s advice. I stopped talking about religion at my salon then and there.
And now onto politics.
Everyday, for the past fours years, almost every single client is talking politics.
As stylists, we’re not supposed tell clients how we really feel because well, back to what Mr. Vincent said: no talking politics. Our loyalties to a party or a movement, no matter how strong, must be put on the back burner for fear of the divide that it could create between us and our clients. But when I looked up the actual definition of political, it said, relating to the government or public affairs of a country. So here goes.
I’m a Democrat, and I’ve voted Democrat in every election that I could. For so long, I felt like I never knew anything, which is why I never engaged in conversations. Now I question everything. And I talk politics.
I’ve never considered myself extremely politically driven, but as a person who lives in the United States and directly feels the effects of this government, I express my politics now more than ever. So I guess I am political.
I also looked up the definition of Democrat because it seems that when the opposing party speaks about us, it’s usually with derogatory remarks. I’ve been called “you people” many times. Google said, a person who believes in the political or social equality of all people. Well, that doesn’t seem so bad, right?
I think all people have a right to their opinion. And for the most part, the people that have walked in my salon door for the past 35 years have similar opinions to mine. As they say, like attracts like.
But recently, I had two clients “break up” with me over my political views. The fact that I stand for equality, compassion, integrity, intelligence and the truth was too much for them to bear. They left right after I gave them really great haircuts. So it’s going to be a bummer in six weeks when they need another cut, but also hopefully for another reason: six weeks is one day after the election.
For 35 years, nothing made me really want to talk about MY politics — again, for fear that if you didn’t like what I stood for, you wouldn’t come back to my business.
Now I realize it’s okay if they don’t come back.
During times like these, it’s more difficult than ever to steer clear of expressing our politics and beliefs — the things that make us who we are and what we stand for cannot be avoided, even in the salon chair. And as for the sex part of Mr. Vincent’s motto — I’m no prude or anything, but at this point in my career, I’d rather talk about anything else with my clients — even politics!