Discrimination based on hair texture
Discrimination based on hair texture is a form of social injustice, found worldwide, that targets black people, specifically black people who have afro-textured hair that's not been chemically straightened. Universally, afro-textured hair has frequently been seen as being unprofessional, unattractive, and unclean.
In the Western world, afro-textured hair has historically been treated with disdain, by members of all ethnicities. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Atlantic slave trade saw black Africans forcibly transported from Sub-Saharan Africa to North America and, upon their arrival in the New World, their heads would be shaved in effort to not only prevent the spread of lice but to erase their culture, as many Africans used hairstyles to signify their tribal identity, marital status, age, and other personal characteristics. Early on, both men and women would wear headscarves in order to protect their scalps from sunburn and lice but, as time progressed, these hair wraps became more associated with women, who began to wear them in various fashions, based on their region and personal style. In the 19th century, when slaves were no longer being imported from Africa, quality of life increased for them somewhat as they became more valuable in their owners' eyes. Now enjoying Sundays off, black women would take the day to style their hair, uncovering it for church services but keeping it wrapped Monday through Saturday. As traditional styling tools weren't available to them, black women began to use butter, kerosene, and bacon grease and combs meant for livestock to style their hair.
The concept of good hair arose in the time leading up to the abolition of slavery in the United States. Slaves who worked in the home didn't wear headscarves as field laborers did and, as they were often children of a white man in the family that owned them, they were more likely to have straight hair than kinky or curly. To straighten their hair, black women would often use a mixture of lye, which could burn their skin. In New Orleans, Louisiana, in the 18th century, black and Louisiana Creole women were required by law to wear a tignon, to cover their hair, and, in an act of resistance, did so but adorned their wraps with fine fabrics and jewelry.
Natural hair communitiesEdit
Groups, organizations and events have been developed for people with curly, kinky, and coily hair. One group, the Curly Girl Collective, is an online group that discusses ways to highlight natural hair. They hold an annual “Curlfest”, a celebratory event designed to bring the online community together in one place.
Hair and the perception of beauty in the diaspora and the Dominican RepublicEdit
In the Dominican Republic hair is seen as an important attribute of physical beauty. Many view straight hair as beautiful and appropriate for a professional setting while also seeing afro-textured hair as inappropriate and distracting. This mindset had stemmed from racial discrimination. This has changed over the years in the United States and abroad as the American Natural Hair Movement gains popularity.
In the Dominican Republic hair straightening is done for the same reasons it is done in the United States and the diaspora for convenience and of course influence from western beauty standards. For young girls, hair is not just something to play with, it is something that is laden with messages, and it has the power to dictate how others treat you, and in turn, how you feel about yourself. As Rooks (1996) affirms, “Hair in 1976 spoke to racial identity politics as well as bonding between African American women. Its style could lead to acceptance or rejection from certain groups and social classes, and its styling could provide the possibility of a career” (p. 5-6).
Straightened and more conservative styles are still the standard in the workplace, as it is in the United States and other countries with African descendants of the diaspora. The views expressed aren't exclusive to the Dominican Republic. Contrary to popular misconception many Dominican women do wear natural hair and it is becoming increasingly accepted in society.
Hair in the workplaceEdit
Employers can include in their employee handbooks what hairstyles are appropriate for their workspace. However, some hairstyles put some women at a disadvantage because it does not allow them to wear their hair in a more natural form. Additionally, it affects the hiring process too. Hair that is worn naturally is more likely to affect a qualified candidate's chances of being hired than their straight haired counterparts. Some researchers have found that "African Americans have been punished for asserting their racial identity through dress or hairstyle in the workplace"
After being hired to a particular company, the employee is subject to the employee handbook dress code, which could include hairstyles. Since physical appearance is not a protected under federal law, an employer can terminate one if they feel the employee's hairstyle is inappropriate for the work environment. This has a greater effect on individuals whose natural hair has low positive regard towards it. This type of discrimination based on hairstyles has led to a number of different lawsuits by African American women towards their former employers. A famous case of discrimination based on a hairstyle associated with afro textured hair occurred in 1981, where Renee Rogers was terminated for wearing a braided, cornrow style while on the job.
In September 2016 The Federal Court made a decision that businesses can legally fire employees or turn away job applicants simply for having dreadlocks. In the court view, anyone can make a choice to have dreadlocks and choosing to have them means accepting a decreased probability of getting hired for certain jobs. Although the ACLU considered this to be "culturally very, very insensitive and possibly discrimination", there is legal precedent that "discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not."
While it's considered reasonable that some U.S. states, such as South Carolina, require that African hair braiders hold a license to braid hair, as improper techniques may cause damage to the scalp and hair follicle, resulting in pain and hair loss, some states have attempted to implement new legislation that placed undue burden on braiders. Notably, in 2013, Texas approved legislation that would've required braiders in the state to undergo 750 hours of training unrelated to braiding and become licensed barbers; Isis Brantley successfully sued the state to overturn the laws, with a United States federal judge ruling the laws unconstitutional. The following year, in 2014, Arkansas sought to require braiders to undergo 1,500 hours of training, which, as was the case with Texas, was unrelated to hair braiding, in order to become licensed cosmetologists; Nivea Earl and Christine McLean brought suit against the state and, in response, the Governor of Arkansas passed the Natural Hair Braiding Protection Act, to prevent future laws from unfairly targeting professional braiders. As of 2015, four U.S. states, Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, and Washington had removed regulations in regards to African hair braiding.
On July 3, 2019, California became the first US state to prohibit discrimination over natural hair. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Crown Act into law, banning employers and schools from discriminating against hairstyles such as afros, braids, twists, and locks.
Many U.S. schools, both public and private in nature, have dress codes in place that specifically prohibit students from wearing dreadlocks, cornrows, afros, box braids, bantu knots, and other natural hairstyles commonly worn by individuals with afro-textured hair. While in the instance of public schools prohibiting certain hairstyles, especially those with cultural or religious significance, may violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, private schools generally have the authority to put in place whatever restrictions they please, so long as they do not receive government funding. Outside of schools, there have also been incidents of employers implementing dress codes that require employees with afro-textured hair to either wear their hair very short or chemically straightened in order to retain their position within the company.
Notable incidents of discrimination in U.S. schoolsEdit
Faith Christian Academy (2013)Edit
In 2013, Vanessa Van Dyke, a 12-year-old African American student at Faith Christian Academy, a private Christian school located in Orlando, Florida, complained to school administrators that several of her classmates were bullying her for having an afro. In response to her complaint, school administrators urged her to cut or chemically straighten her hair and when she refused to do so, she was threatened with expulsion and told her natural hair violated the school's dress code. Van Dyke's mother, Sabrina Kent, went to the media with the story and, in response to the public backlash, school administrator, Pastor Carl Stevens, withdrew the school's threat of expulsion but still urged Van Dyke to "consider the school's request to cut or straighten her hair. Several years later, in 2017, Van Dyke, then 15-years-old, and her mother discussed the ordeal during an appearance on the U.S. talk show, The Real.
Deborah Brown Community School (2013)Edit
In 2013, Tiana Parker, a 7-year-old African American student at Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was sent home from school for having dreadlocks, with school officials referencing that the official handbook banned the hairstyle. Additionally, the handbook banned afros, another natural hairstyle, and argued at the Parker's dreadlocks, maintained by her father Terrence Parker, a professional barber, did not look "presentable." Parker's father ultimately disenrolled her from Deborah Brown Community School and the elementary school was subject to online backlash.
Mystic Valley Regional Charter School (2017)Edit
In 2017, Maya and Deanna Cook, twin sisters and sophomores at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Massachusetts were banned from attending prom and from competing for their school's sports teams for refusing to remove the braids in their hair. Their mother, Colleen Cook, alleged that other biracial and black students had faced disciplinary action for wearing their hair in braided styles.
A Book's Christian Academy (2018)Edit
Clinton Stanley, Jr., a 6-year-old African American student at A Book's Christian Academy in Apopka, Florida, was forced to disenroll from the school, a private Fundamentalist Christian school, after school officials told his father, Clinton Stanley, Sr., he'd need to cut his son's hair before he'd be allowed to attend classes. Sue Book, the school administrator, said that school policy required all male students to have short hair.
New Jersey Athletics (2018)Edit
Andrew Johnson, a 16-year-old African American high school wrestler from New Jersey, was given the ultimatum by a referee to either cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a match. In order to compete, Johnson cut his hair just minutes before the match. As Johnson had previously wrestled without incident with dreadlocks and the officiating referee had a history of using racial slurs, there was public outrage for Johnson and his parents, Rosa and Charles Johnson, have sought legal representation for their son.
Lawsuits pertaining to African hair stylesEdit
In 2010, Chastity Jones, an African American woman with dreadlocks, was offered employment with Catastrophe Management Solutions in Mobile, Alabama on the condition that she removed or cut her dreadlocks and, in 2013, she, with the help of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, filed a lawsuit against the company. Ultimately, courts ruled that company's actions did not constitute racial discrimination and dismissed Jones' case.
In 2017, Destiny Tompkins, a 19-year-old employee of Banana Republic at its White Plains, New York location, was reportedly told by the store manager that she wouldn't be scheduled to work until she removed her waist-length box braids, saying that her braids didn't fit with the brand's image as they were "urban" and "unkempt." Banana Republic's representatives released a statement that they would not tolerate discrimination within their company and that they'd launched an investigation into Tompkins' claims; the store manager, an unnamed Caucasian male, was ultimately terminated. Tompkins left the company and subsequently filed suit against Banana Republic's parent company, Gap Inc., seeking US$1,000,000 in damages for racial discrimination.
In 2017, two 16-year-old sisters, Grace and Tahbisa, originally from South Sudan, were pulled from their classes at Bentleigh Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia and told they had until the end of the school week to remove their braids.
Natural Hair in SchoolEdit
Some schools specify hair in their dress codes, prohibiting hair that they state is extreme or distracting. Some schools consider dreadlocks, twists, mohawks, and cornrows to violate dress code.[better source needed]
In February 2018, a 14 year old black honors student in the Fresno Unified School District was placed in a room isolated from his classmates due to his hairstyle, which had a series of lines shaved into his hair. The student's mother posted about the suspension on social media, also stating that her son's treatment would continue until his hair was cut or grew back. After the incident received notice in the media, the district agreed to change how it enforces the hair policy.
Hairstyles in other placesEdit
Views on hair exist outside of a professional context as well. In 2006 Kimberly Haines was not allowed to go into a nightclub because of her dreadlocks. The club had a policy that did not allow for braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks, which are hairstyles more typically worn by African Americans. Haines filed for a lawsuit against the owner of the nightclub.
Curlism, a term first used by Solange Knowles, refers to a movement to change negative views towards natural hair. Particularly the negative view that natural hair is unkempt. Proponents of curlism argue that one should not change their natural hair because it is part of their identity. Furthermore, it is unfair to those who have afro textured hair because they are expected to undergo damaging treatments to their hair to achieve the societal epitome of desired hair. There is a grading system where the kinkiest and coiliest of hair is graded as the lowest of the four categories; this system was devised by a popular black hairstylist that once berated natural hair.
Curly hair in the mediaEdit
Actors in Hollywood face challenges when it comes to having curly hair and the roles that they play in particular films. Actors with curly hair tend to play roles that are sillier and less serious in nature. If they do play a role that is more serious, the curly hair is altered to have a straighter appearance or hidden altogether. The less serious natured roles included “broke”, “ghetto” or “less fortunate” characters. The actor/actress' hair is usually hidden under straight hair wigs or is chemically processed. When actresses have these hair styles they play roles more confidently, living a lavish lifestyle, having a better job or making more money.
Approximately 50 million dollars a year is spent by curly-haired women on chemical straighteners. It is believed that keeping professional images, avoiding negative career consequences and fitting in with their colleagues will help black individuals stay preserved by conforming to these standards. People on television, including talk show host Oprah Winfrey, used to wear their hair in a straight style to maintain professionalism.
The superhero film Black Panther, released in 2018, featured a cast showcasing natural hair. It was decided to not use any hair chemicals or straighteners. The decision was questioned, but filmmakers insisted on showing the beauty and versatility of black hair.
Various pro-natural, pro-kinky and curly hair-care blogs and websites such as Black girl with long hair, are part of an online culture that seeks to work against the discrimination and exclusion of different hair textures in traditional media.
Good Hair: a film by Chris Rock that explores the accepted look of African American hair, the industry that arose to achieve this look, and cultural effects this styling industry has had. The following excerpt is taken from the film:
In the black hair business, the most profitable portion is the sale and maintenance of weaves. Women can expect to invest six to eight hours in the salon getting their hair braided into sections and then having tracks of hair attached to the braids. After women get their weave, they regularly come back into the salon for hair washing, conditioning, and tightening. In the documentary, Rock learned that some women will spend upwards to $1000 for a weave and if they cannot afford it, they can put it on layaway.
Derogatory words used to describe Afro Textured HairEdit
Afro-textured hair, historically, has often been viewed as less beautiful than what is considered as the standard for beauty and hair. In "Notes on the State of Virginia", Thomas Jefferson reflected on why it would be impossible to incorporate blacks into the body politic after emancipation. He concluded it was because of the differences "both physical and moral," chief among them the "absence of long, flowing hair." Two words that evoke negative connotations towards afro-textured hair are the words and racial slurs nappy and bushy. These words were originally used by slaveowners, as far back as the 1800s, to grotesquely describe the hair of their slaves.
Usage of the words meant that the hair was not beautiful and thought of as undesirable. Words such as "bushy" and "nappy" also denote that the afro-textured hair is less than, ugly or too ethnic. There is also a poignant racial discriminatory issue when individuals believe that afro-textured hair needs "taming" or "to be tamed." One would have to ascertain why afro-textured hair should be "tamed" when, in most cases, the hair naturally grows out of the head in kinky and tightly curled form. To state that afro-textured hair needs taming makes the point that the hair needs to be unraveled from its tightly curled appearance. "Taming" Afro hair would require heat straightening or use of chemical products to make it appear similar to the acceptable societal standard for hair. When Afro-textured hair is said to need "taming" the individual is stating that the original, natural afro texture is less than desirable.
Individuals who possess afro-textured hair are born with their hair type, therefore it is racially discriminating to state that their hair needs to be "tamed" especially in the case where they may wear their hair in an afro or freely uncontained without the use of hair product, chemical or heat straighteners. When words such as "nappy" and "bushy" are used to describe a person of African origin, it will be viewed as offensive and depictive of racial discrimination. Appropriate words that can be used to describe afro hair are "natural" "naturally curly" "curly" "afro kinky" "kinky" "kinky curly" or "tightly curled"
There are numerous historical records of instances where the word "bushy" was used by the slaveowner to describe their slave's hair, if they ran away. Former President Andrew Jackson was also known for placing cruel ads featuring the word "bushy" to describe slaves' hair.
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