Friday, May 7, 2010

Companies ban "extreme" blackness

I have a new post up at
My hair is a testament to my African heritage. It is naturally big, fluffy, kinky and curly. There is no hope of subduing my tresses into a sleek ponytail. And without spending considerable time and money and risking damage to my hair, I simply cannot achieve the styles most white women wear every day. And that is okay, yes?

What my highly-textured hair does lend itself to are chunky afros and twists and cornrows and dreadlocks. While these styles may be different from those worn by naturally straight-haired women, they are not deficient. Kinky hair gathered into an afro puff and worn with a well-appointed suit is no less professional than straight hair gathered into a bun. Or is it? Recently, it was reported that two black women were denied employment with a Maryland Six Flags amusement park because their dreadlocks, labeled an "extreme" hairstyle, violated the company's grooming policy.

And sadly, Six Flags' policy is not uncommon; nor is prejudice against black, natural hair — particularly for women. Read more...


msladydeborah said...

I am not surprised in the least bit by this. I have worn my hair in a natural style since the late sixties. I have had dreads, a close cropped natural, braids, puffs and twists.

There are times when I've been placed at sites where the classroom population is white. I've had managers remind me that my look is often a source of intimidation to these families. I have never been forced to relax my hair. But, I've also run into opposition from Black folks who firmly believe that straightened is the only way to go.

I think that eventually we will have to force the issue in the workplace and seek legal protection to be who we are.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

I am in the process of signing my son up for preschool, and was reading through the district manual. Dreadlocks are "outlawed" at the school district level! I am irate about it. I've been meaning to sit down and pen a letter, but perhaps I will print this out for them as well. To me, this is blatant discrimination and zenophobia.

mmmpossible said...

Wow...this is so true and very sad. What is one to do if what grows naturally from your head is deemed radical? It's such an injustice. In one respect I blame the media and the public at large. In another I point the finger squarely at us. We have in many respects put ourselves there. I only way to make natural hair acceptable is for us (black women) to accept it ourselves. There is much work to be done but we are hard pressed because there are so many of us who would not be caught dead with natural hair. There is a lot of self loathing and self hatred going on. We really have to deal with the true root and essence of the problem. Change really starts with the woman in the mirror. If we can get that part down we'll be invincible.

theolderepublicke said...

There is a lot I simply don't know about dreadlocks. My impression was that one gets them by not washing one's hair for a very long period of time (months on end). If so, might a ban against dreadlocks be a sanitary measure?

I really do mean this question respectfully, and stand to be corrected if I am ignorant about what dreadlocks are. (It wouldn't be the first time I'm mistaken about things.)

Tami said...

The Olde Republicke,

That is a common misconception about dread locks. Highly-textured hair, left on its own without manipulation (combing), generally will "lock," meaning the strands will wind around themselves. This has nothing to do with washing. People with locks wash their hair like everyone else.

Since dry combing or brushing natural hair can be damaging, dread locks are a neat, versatile and easy-to-maintain style.

I always wondered if the belief about dread locks requiring not washing hair came from white dread lock wearers. Straight hair does not naturally lock as textured hair does, so I would imagine that achieving what would be an unnatural style for a straight-haired person takes a lot of manipulation and strange stuff. (Sort of akin to what it takes for a naturally kinky-haired person to maintain a straight style.)

theolderepublicke said...

Thanks, Tami. I learn something new everyday!

Kit said...

I always wondered if the belief about dread locks requiring not washing hair came from white dread lock wearers. Straight hair does not naturally lock as textured hair does, so I would imagine that achieving what would be an unnatural style for a straight-haired person takes a lot of manipulation and strange stuff.

From what I understand, if you're white (which I am) and want dread locks, you need to have it professionally done, and it involves a lot of back-combing, some products and several hours. Nothing as simple as 'not washing': if I didn't wash my straight hair it'd just get greasy and tangled; nothing as nice as dread locks would result.

I have a younger cousin who has a white mother, Latino father and Syrian grandmother whose hair is curly by Caucasian standards but hangs long; when she was a little girl she went through a phase of refusing to have it brushed and it started growing a couple of very small locks where her pillow rubbed. But as you say, Tami, that was about not brushing rather than not washing; her hair got washed, it just didn't get combed.

I hadn't heard the idea that dread locks result from not washing, but I don't think even white-person dread locks are created that way. I'd guess at a 'black people are dirty' origin.

And shame, shame, shame on the companies that ban natural hair. If white customers are scared by it, that's their issue, not the employee's, and it's going to remain an issue all the longer for having their precious eyes sheltered from ever having to see someone with natural hair. Talk about working to keep a prejudice in place.

Inda Lauryn said...

So what exactly is EXTREME blackness and furthermore who determines what is TOO black?

Tami said...

Inda Lauryn,

In this case, companies are deeming black physicality as "extreme," which is unfair in my view. Obviously black folks have the right to adapt their looks in any way they choose. This shouldn't, though, be a requirement for employment.

cassdawn said...

tami - i acknowledge that i'm echoing your sentiment a bit with my comment but i don't think it is just a problem with *this* company or with hair in particular.

for me, the point of objection is the company said 'extreme hairstyle' which might well be a valid criticism if we are discussing what is extreme for white people. my SO (who is so white he is nearly transparent) had some dreads when we first met and for a white person with straight hair to get their hair into dreads is *extreme*; it's so much work that it could certainly be perceived as trying to "make a statement". further, white people almost *never* don't comb their hair. white women will say 'oh, i left the house without even brushing my hair' with that tinge of naughty embarrassment like 'i didn't take a shower today' and in that way, to most white people it's a hygiene issue. so the standard being applied of what is extreme is a white standard; whether it's due to ignorance or purposefully targeting is about a hair's breadth of a difference (pun kinda intended lol)

i have had this exact argument with men regarding women in the workplace. man says "well, she doesn't communicate appropriately for this industry" - - by what standard?? a standard that no woman helped developed and that made no consideration of women in its development?

and it isn't just the straight out bigots imo. we seem to have confused the idea that people are equal with people being the same.

i worked for a company once where i was the only white person - imagine if my boss had told me i had to have my hair curled?


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