The Internet Thinks Only White Hairstyles Are Appropriate for the Office

Racism is at least stunning in its consistency.

Q: What’s the best way to appear professional?

A: Dye yourself white. And make sure your hair approximates whiteness as best it can, too.

That’s according to Google Images, at least. Twitter user ‏@BonKamona posted the results of a search via Google for “professional hairstyles.” She then repeated the experiment by image searching “unprofessional hairstyles” on the platform. The difference between the results? Race.

The former turned up white women, the latter turned up black women. And for the racists who will surely weigh in here with some endlessly dumb contribution, I’ll just proactively point out that there’s zero about the black women’s hair in the images returned that’s the least bit unprofessional—the pics all depict women with curly natural styles. That’s really the only dividing line.

It’s hard to fully, totally and completely fault Google for this. The Internet is plumb full of idiotic, racist nonsense and it’s likely they input metadata that expresses those racist ideas and aesthetics, resulting in search yields like the one above. As Boing Boing notes:

Google’s algorithm is a trade secret, so it’s hard to tell where the bias sits between engineering, traditional SEO efforts, link-tracking, etc. The top “professional” headshots link to pinterest boards and inane listicles, whereas the “unprofessional” shots are mostly to serious, aware discussion of the issue of ethnicity, hair and professional environments.

A Google spokesperson talked to the U.K.’s Metro and sort of said the same thing, only in more boilerplate-ish, communications-speak:

This is fundamentally a societal problem—there are persistent and problematic biases, and they’re quite pervasive in the media, on the web, etc.—meta-tagging their images with their own descriptions. Search engines in turn reflect what’s on the web. This is not unique to our search engine; Yahoo! and Bing show similar results. We welcome feedback and we’re always working to improve our search results. As a company we strongly value a diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures—these search results do not reflect Google’s view on the matter.

Sure. Although, another Twitter user pointed out that Bing actually doesn’t offer the same results. Do a search for professional hair images there and you’ll get a more diverse pool of returns. Just a thing to note!

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.