Try wearing very different clothes and dying your hair in unnatural colours

If you are white and want to begin to understand how ONE mere aspect of what you look like – such as skin colour – can dramatically change how people treat you, try changing your hair or clothing in a way that changes how people perceive you.

If, like me, you are one of those studious-looking types, dye your hair blue for example. I talked about this in the video that I will post at the bottom of this post.

You could also change the way you dress. I experimented with this in my late teens. I had just moved out of the region in which I had grown up and was now living in Leiden. What kind of coat I wore changed how staff in stores treated me. Cream-coloured casual jacket versus long grey coat.

When I was living in Baarn and working in Amsterdam a few years later, I spotted a coat in a shop window that I saved up for and later bought. I loved its design, the way the front of the coat turned into the collar. It was by “Lieverdje”.

I moved to the De Pijp neighbourhood in Amsterdam a little later. I was wearing this coat when one of my sisters was staying with me and we went into the Ferdinand Bolstraat. I remember we shopped at the HEMA store there. My sister said that she noticed people turning their heads to look at me (my coat) and said that she had not expected that that would happen in a place like Amsterdam.

In those days too, I dyed and henna’d my hair at times, but not as remarkably as I did later when I was in my late 40s and beyond. When I dyed my hair then, I noticed that very different people would sit next to me in public transport and that I was met with the occasional hesitation and disapproval.

I was the exact same person. Only my hair was different. Gone were my “trustworthiness” and “reliability” in the eyes of many.

I have also noticed that when I don’t dye my hair and allow it to be grey/white with remnants of dark-brown, particularly younger women like to sit next to me in public. They know that they will likely be free from any kind of harassment when they sit next to me, whereas sitting down next to another young woman may even increase the chance that both get hassled.

When I decided I was going to quit my job and enrol full-time at university again in my mid-20s, I prepared for the big drop in income I would experience by purchasing a bunch of cheap jeans as well as a stack of blouses and simple pullovers.

I had very idealistic expectations with regard to academia. I didn’t think that what I looked like would make a big difference, but I had seen in magazines that jeans and pullovers seemed to be the dress style of choice for the university environment. And when, before enrolling, I went to talk with the university mineralogist I had made an appointment with to discuss my intended career change, I felt highly overdressed.

I didn’t realise that I would end up looking very dull to lots of people, for years. This was not helped by the fact that I looked much younger than I actually was. Live and learn! I feel that it does not really matter what other people think of me, but it can certainly impact your opportunities and shape them this way or that way.