In recent natural hair news, there have been some major victories in the fight to simply wear our hair natural, in professional settings. After all, there is nothing unprofessional about Afro textured hair. Here in the U.S, the Army were made to reconsider a dress code policy that banned braids, twists and many of the protective styles we rely on. Certain schools have also been challenged on their policies and made to change them, in order to incorporate young girls who wear their Afro-textured hair natural.
Worldwide, we felt the plight of the young protesters at Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa, they faced systematic racism. The school’s hair policy and how it was implemented was simply a reflection of that. Then in the UK, Fulston Manor High school was challenged to update a policy that hadn’t been changed since 1973, and banned braids and braided extensions. Such policies, whether intentional or not, caused some form of distress to women and young girls who were told their hair didn’t comply. This may have pressured many of them to go back to chemical relaxers, which would have automatically put them in compliance with such policies. This is why it is important to continue to speak up and challenge those who automatically view our hair as unprofessional, or not good enough.
Unfortunately, not all battles are won. In recent cases locs have been brought to the forefront. One such case went all the way to the US Court of Appeals. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit against a company that refused to hire a woman, because she wouldn’t cut her locs. The claimant: Chastity Jones; who had short locs, applied to work at Catastrophe Management Solutions in 2010. They offered her the position on the condition that she cut her locs. Her locs were believed to be non compliant with the company’s grooming policy which simply stated:
“All personnel are expected to be dressed and groomed in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image while adhering to company and industry standards and/or guidelines. . . . Hairstyle should reflect a business/professional image. No excessive hairstyles or unusual colors are acceptable[.]”
When Jones asked why she had to cut her locs, the Human Resource Manager, Miss Wilson replied: “they tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.” When Jones refused, the offer was revoked. A case against the company was brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that banning locs was racial discrimination stating:
“Prohibition of dreadlocks in the workplace constitutes race discrimination because dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent”.
The court pointed out the dismissal of similar cases in the past and reaffirmed the definition of race to be based on skin color and fixed traits. They acknowledged the number of previous cases that sought to define race beyond biological features, to include cultural characteristics associated with race. However, the court was reluctant take such an approach and not follow precedence.
“As far as we can tell, every court to have considered the issue has rejected the argument that Title VII protects hairstyles culturally associated with race,”
An EEOC spokeswoman stated, “We believe the court was incorrect when it held that the employer’s actions could not be proven to be race discrimination. We are reviewing our options.”
The ruling is disheartening for us with natural hair and especially those who wear their hair in locs. It’s a clear indication that our hair can directly interfere with job opportunities and career progression. It is for this reason many turn to relaxers and weaves in the first place, or are discouraged from going natural. If banning locs doesn’t constitute racial discrimination in a court of law, this could also apply to braids, twists, cornrows and any other hairstyles associated with Afro textured hair. After all, the policy at Catastrophe Management Solutions was said to be put in place simply because they considered locs to be “messy”. This may be the view of some towards Afro textured hair in general, not only the hairstyles associated with it. Past victories were on organizational levels only, but where it really counts is in court.
Afro textured hair is a fixed trait, but the hairstyles associated with it can be altered. Locs however, are typically considered permanent, and generally need to be cut off. This means a person would have to grow their hair out from the roots. So asking someone to get rid of their locs is not the same as telling someone to take their braids out. Demanding that a person straightened their hair for a job should constitute racial discrimination, but could this even be dismissed in court? What if a white person who permed their hair (curly) “in support of their black colleagues” could also argue discrimination against such a policy?
Banning Afro hairstyles makes it harder for many black women to wear their hair natural, whether the courts want to recognize this or not. Hence why the US Army changed their policy after this was brought to their attention. Protective styles are essential for most in managing their Afro textured hair. Some women wouldn’t even be natural if they didn’t have the option of wearing their hair in locs. There are also those who wear locs from childhood. A person of African descent is more likely to do this than people of other races, due to cultural and religious beliefs. It is for this reason the EEOC argued that culture and social considerations should be incorporated into the definition of race.
Hopefully racial discrimination laws will be amended to reflect social and cultural considerations, perhaps contacting our local politicians may help bring the matter to their attention. Many consider their locs apart of who they are. The employee in this case may have felt she had no choice but to turn down the position.
What do you think the implications of this ruling are? Would you cut your locs off for a job opportunity? Share your thoughts below.
Read the case report here.