Black hairstyles: Do women with natural hair still face employment discrimination?

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From Clutch Magazine: The natural hair movement among African Americans has experienced resurgence, as evidenced by the many YouTube videos, blogs, and products created to aid in grooming unprocessed hair, or what is at times called nappy or virgin hair.  Natural hair has been constructed as radical, extreme, and unkempt, despite the fact that a natural hairstyle simply means wearing our hair the way it grows out of our head, without the addition of harmful chemicals. This natural aesthetic should on its face be unproblematic, but because whiteness has an ongoing interest in policing our bodies, many have found the decision not to relax their hair, or cut it into a short style, has lead to negative results.  In a market in which all must sell their labor for profit, this decidedly limits the options of people of color, who at times must choose between being true to themselves or conforming to racist and other appearance standards.

A Six Flags theme park is under public scrutiny for the second time in two years for its policy of denying employment to women with dreadlocks. In 2010, 23-year-old Janet Bello and 60-year-old Jackie Sherrill were both denied employment because of their dreadlocks.

Blackvoices reported the following:

Six Flags issued a statement to ABC News:

“Six Flags enforces a conservative grooming policy across all parks. The policy does not permit certain hairstyles such as variations in hair colors, dreadlocks, partially shaved heads, tails, and hairstyles that impair vision. Braided hair is allowed but must be in neat, even rows and without beads or other ornaments.”

In the most recent case, 21-year-old Markeese Warner, a senior at Pennsylvania State University, arrived for her interview dressed in appropriate business attire, when she was informed that she would not be eligible for employment due to her dreadlocks. For Six Flags, dreadlocks, along with Mohawks, fall under the category of “extreme hairstyles.”

Not content to let this obvious racist abuse go without attention, Warner spoke to family friend Kwasi Abahu about this incident. Abahu organized a petition, now being featured at Change. Org. The petition states in part:

“It is disparaging for Six Flags to accept substantial amounts of money every year at their parks across the United States, Mexico, and Canada from patrons who wear their hair as it grows naturally, but the company would refuse to hire any of those patrons with locks. We spend way too much money at places like Six Flags Theme Parks for them to discriminate against any members of our community. Let us also exercise our voice with our dollars.

There is no excuse in 2012 for such abhorrent employment policies. In a time when the “voice of the people” can be witnessed to move mountains, let us in one accord raise our voice. In a country that purports itself to be the greatest “melting pot” of social values and ideals, it’s time for Six Flags to stop its discriminatory policy by categorically refusing to employ people because of their natural hair.

To date, the petition has received 35,381 of the 50,000 signatures, which it is seeking.

Though Six Flags is currently in the news, it is not the only employer with a history of dismissing or otherwise disciplining employees because of dreadlocks. In May of this year, it was reported that Antonio Hegwood was suspended without pay from a St. Louis Petro Mart for refusing to cut his shoulder-length dreadlocks. Also in May of this year, Clutch reported about Aboubakar Traoré, a flight attendant for Air France, was forced to wear a wig to cover up his dreadlocks.   Nieland Bynoe didn’t even make it through orientation as a driver for UPS Freight in Harrisburg in 2007 before he was fired for refusing to shave his beard and dreadlocks, though Bynoe is a Rastafarian, which should have granted him a religious exception. “In 2001 Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton fired Officer Gina Mosley, a seven-year veteran, for not complying with the department’s hair policy.” In 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Darcel Walker sued his then-employer Safeway, claiming he was fired because of his dreadlocks. The EEOC filed suit against FedEx for firing employees who refused to cut their dreadlocks for religious reasons in 2001.

These are only the incidents we know about; however, given the fact that black hair continues to be exoticized and radicalized, it is fair to assume that being penalized for choosing to wear locs happens on a fairly regular basis. Even though some of these cases involve religious observance, locs were still considered in violation of appearance standards.

Locs are simply one way out of many of wearing natural hair.  There is no reason why they cannot be styled neatly in a ponytail or simply left to hang loosely from the head.  Locs are targeted specifically because the majority of the people wearing them are black.  Locs have only been deemed radical because whiteness has declared them to be so.  Wearing one’s hair in locs does not indicate a heightened political consciousness, or a desire to engage in social protest.  For many, locs simply represent a style they have chosen to wear.

All companies have to be highly conscience of their public image in this competitive economic market, but when they create policies that specifically target or otherwise oppress people of color, the issue is no longer about the court of public opinion, but about enforcing standards, which directly police and negatively impact people of color.

Read more stories about African-American women at Clutch Magazine.