If you’ve ever experienced racial profiling, then you know how humiliating it can be. Knowing that you have done nothing to warrant being pulled over and then being harassed by an officer is as unpleasant of an experience as a black man or woman may feel. But what happens when you are profiled at work? You may be qualified, experienced and certified to hold the position that you do, but if someone else that lacks melanin feels “threatened” by you; intimidated or just doesn’t like you, they may chart a course to remove you from that workplace. If you cannot be reprimanded for conduct or attendance, they may dig deeper. While an employer may not discriminate against someone because of their race, they may choose to discriminate because of someone’s hairstyle.
During slavery, African hair was policed. Slaves were either denied the right to groom their hair or it was completely shaved off. Those who could not groom their hair, grew a matted mess called “dreadful” by white masters and others whose hair was shaved, lost their tribal identity. Once in America, they were forced to conform to the beauty standards set by the master’s wives. Those slaves whose skin and hair resembled that of a white woman, they could be house slaves; but for those who were darker and had more coarse hair, they were considered field slaves. Although times have changed, the mentality of the white master, now employers, have not progressed much.
In 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was established, there was a portion dedicated to discrimination. It reads, “ Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. “ This Title VII was a victory for blacks and other minorities seeking employment in those days. Many corporations have adopted the practice of non discrimination since then, however, there is a new practice of policing taking place today.
In 2010, Chastity Jones of Mobile, Alabama, was an applicant at the Mobile Catastrophic Insurance Claims Company. She was selected to take part in a group interview. During that time, her hair was in blond colored coils. She was offered a position as a customer service representative. In that same day, Ms. Jones met with her new employer to discuss the training schedule when the human resources staff noticed that her hair was in dreadlocks instead of curls. The manager in charge told Jones that the company did not allow dreadlocks and that she would have to cut them off in order to obtain employment. Jones declined to cut her hair, and the manager immediately rescinded the job offer. This incident was recorded by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Jones. The EEOC argued that the company’s ban on dreadlocks was an act of discrimination based on physical and/or cultural characteristics. According to the office of the U.S. EEOC, C. Emanuel Smith, regional attorney for the Birmingham District Office, stated “This litigation is not about policies that require employees to maintain their hair in a professional, neat, clean or conservative manner, it focuses on the racial bias that may occur when specific hair constructs and styles are singled out for different treatment because they do not conform to normative standards for other races.”
The result of the lawsuit filed in 2013 ended in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the Mobile Catastrophic Insurance Claims Company, specifically stating that CMS’s “race-neutral grooming policy” was not discriminatory as hairstyles, while “culturally associated with race,” are not “immutable physical characteristics.” This ruling, however, does not apply to the state of Ohio.
This issue is being argued in schools from elementary to college as well. Ms. Jones isn’t the first and will not be the last black person who will be told that their hairstyle isn’t acceptable for the workplace. On January 28, 2017 at the Westerville, Ohio Public Library, Michele George MS, MHA, CRC, author of The Knotty Truth Book series, hosted a panel discussion to address the issues of natural hair, locs more specifically, in the workplace. Among the panelists were Lorina Wise, JD Healthcare Lawyer; Tiffany Scott, PSM, PSPO IT Business Analyst; Melody Bogan, PhDc Patient Care Advocate; Jennifer Adams, owner of J. Adams Photography and Megan Davis owner of The Kitchen Salon.
For these black, female business professionals with locked hair, the discussion was open to talk about how each individual’s workplace supports diversity and inclusion. Fortunately for all on the panel, no one has faced discrimination, demotions, terminations or any reprimand because of their choice in the locked hairstyle. Each woman described ways to ensure fair treatment among their colleagues and peers: Lorina Wise stated that it is important for everyone to read their employee handbook, including the policy on dress code and appearance. Tiffany Scott, who works in a field dominated by white males, said that she is a double minority but her work and experience in the IT field speaks for itself, her employers are not as concerned with her hairstyle as they are her performance. Melody Bogan shared that while having new locs was something she had to get used to, her colleagues have not questioned her professionalism because of them and her boss even said her style is beautiful. Both Jennifer Adams and Megan Davis stated that being business owners afford them the opportunity to be themselves, and Megan added that being confident with yourself can draw the attention away from your hairstyle to focus on your skills. “When people are unsure, their potential employer may also be unsure.” she continued.
As natural hair continues to be locked up in litigation throughout the world shows that we have come only so far from being almost criminalized over something that is naturally our own. There have been arguments to amend the language in Title VII, to no avail, yet change will come is if the language of the law and those it affects, are brought to the table to review and revise each term and point, and bridge the divide.
The Knotty Truth book series includes: Managing Tightly Coiled Hair at Home, Creating Healthy Locs on a Dime, and I Want Locks! What Should I Do Now? The Starter Guide To Finding The Best Locks for You! All can be found on Amazon.com or by visiting Theknottytruth.com.
Photo Credit: Desmond E Storm Jones
This article is available in the February 23, 2017 issue of The Sojourner’s Truth, a FREE publication available at 1811 Adams St. Toledo, OH 543604