I’d be lying if I told you that my hair did not determine my everyday mood. Growing up, I was so enamored with making sure my curls were curled perfectly—not too loose to be mistaken for a beach wave, yet not too tight so that my hair wouldn’t get easily tangled. My mom always stressed the importance of keeping my 3c curls moisturized and detangled as much as possible, no matter how much my arms hurt after dealing with my thick crown.
You see, many people are not aware of how much work goes into curly hair, especially for those who deal with type 3 and type 4 curls. Moisturizing, detangling and making sure your hair is in protective styles are just some of the numerous things people with these hair types deal with. In other words, people with type 3 or 4 hair are known to make sure their hair is healthy by making it a daily priority. Whether that entails purchasing hair products, wearing protective wraps, or paying to have their hair done in a protective style varies for every individual.
All in all, textured hair is high-maintenance when you want it to appear healthy. So if it’s just hair that requires a little extra attention compared to untextured hair, why is it such an issue in the workplace?
Samaria Terry, weekend sports reporter for the WREG News Channel 3, caught the attention of many people on Twitter last month when she tweeted a picture of herself at the studio. As anticlimactic as that may sound, the reason why her picture caught so much attention was that she decided to wear her hair in braids on the air. With over 30,000 retweets and 613,000 likes, she received much positive attention for doing so. However, many users were confused as to why it was a big deal in the first place.
Hair discrimination in the workplace
On July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed. Its intention was to outlaw discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, enforce the desegregation of schools and the right to vote, and require equal access to public places and employment. However, more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, the U.S. courts are still divided on the subject of an African American’s right to wear their natural hair in the workplace. In 2010, Chastity Jones was offered a job as a customer service representative at a call center. When she accepted the job offer, the only requirement that was asked of her was to cut off her natural locs since they tended “to get messy.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a suit on her behalf but unfortunately lost. In 2016, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals supported the district court’s ruling and dismissed the case.
Unfortunately, Jones’ case isn’t the only one that’s been dismissed. Cases filed by black workers alleging discrimination against their natural hair in the workplace have filled courthouses for more than forty years, yielding mixed results. Although the times are progressively getting better, the way society still views a Black person’s natural hair as “unprofessional” or “messy” is disheartening.
“As a woman of color, I think it’s vital to stay true to who you are even if other people might not like it,” says Ashanti Brown, a third-year student at UF. “As far as people discriminating with natural hair in the workforce, I feel like as long as someone looks put together [and] looks professional, then it matters more about the job they do and not exactly how their hair looks or the standards of beauty that one person might have. Someone’s standards of beauty are not better than someone else’s, and we should aspire to be what we feel is beautiful, not what others say is beautiful.”
As far as resolving the ongoing issue of hair discrimination at the workplace, there have been multiple efforts to diminish the trend. However, the most effective one has been the CROWN Act, created by Dove.
The CROWN Act
Did you know that a Black woman is 1.5x more likely to be sent home or to know someone being sent home from the workplace because of her hair? The CROWN Act plans to diminish that statistic as soon as possible.
An acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” the CROWN Act prohibits discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyle. Created in 2019, Dove and the CROWN Coalition protect against discrimination due to race-based hairstyles by extending statuary protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids and locs in the workplace and public schools.
Knowing that diversity positively impacts a workplace and that companies fire and refuse to hire or promote Black women because of their protective hairstyles destabilizes individuals, households and the broader economy. To this day, Black women remain pressured to adhere to Eurocentric standards of beauty and feel that is the only way to keep their workplace position. When it comes to professional appearance, natural hairstyles inherent to Black women, such as knots, locs and braids, are ranked the least professional.
Slowly but surely, change is continually evolving, and significant progress has been made this past year. California was the first state to sign the CROWN Act into law on July 3, 2019. With support from the CROWN Coalition, the bill is now law in six other states (Colorado, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington). On Sept. 21, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act (H.R. 5309), just nine months after it was introduced by Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA). Their next step is to advocate for the U.S. Senate to pass the CROWN Act under Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). Once signed into law, these bills will ensure that traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective hairstyles, are protected from discrimination in the workplace and in K-12 public and charter schools.
The overall goal is to have the CROWN Act passed in all states and ensure there is no more hair discrimination in the workplace. If you are interested in helping the cause, sign and share the petition!