Kinky Locks – too Naughty for Corporate America

alexis chateau walking dreads scarf fashion dogwood festival

Even in the corporate world, many of us are forced to ditch our natural hair, because corporate thinks our kinky locks are too naughty for regular business operations…

We are taught from an early age through dolls, school rules, corporate expectations, and the media that our genetically gifted natural hair is not sufficient, fashionable, or appropriate…

And then imagine the overwhelming pressure to meet these expectations. We quite literally get chemical burns from relaxers and heat burns from press combs just trying to keep up.

If this quote sounds familiar to you, then you’ve likely read my post, Translating Becky with the Good Hair. In that article, I dissected the meaning of good or bad hair, and put it into cultural and historical context.

Having fully explored the topic from all angles over a series of posts, I laid it to rest with no intention of picking it up again. That was, however, until I learned of the ruling allowing employers to discriminate against Black workers for how they wear their hair, with no legal repercussions.

So… it’s time to drag my readers through the mud all over again. But all things considered – I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

Chastity’s Story

For those of you who didn’t hear of the ruling, let’s begin with the background story involving a Black woman by the name of Chastity Jones.

In 2010, Jones applied for a job at Catastrophe Management Solutions in Mobile, Alabama. During an interview for the position, a White human resources manager told her that her locks were against company policy, and she would have to get rid of them. She reportedly said:

…they tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.

When Jones refused to cut her locks, the company rescinded their offer. She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as she reasonably suspected the company chose not to hire her because of how she wore her hair.

In 2013, the EEOC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Chastity Jones. The suit claimed that terminating the job offer because of her hairstyle was a form of racial discrimination. Why? Because:

…dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent. 

The EEOC further argued that race is nothing but a ‘social construct’ of which physical and genetic characteristics are just pieces of the pie. Cultural traits, like how we dress and wear our hair, is also a part of our racial identity.

The federal court in Alabama dismissed the claims, so in 2015, the EEOC filed an appeal.

The final ruling issued in 2016, stated that race was based purely on unchangeable physical characteristics. Thus, those who wear dreads do so by choice, and can be discriminated against for jobs without any legal repercussions for the companies involved.

http://www.dailybusinessreview.com/image/EM/jordan_adalberto_01-Article-201407081702.jpg

U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan said of the ruling:

There have been some calls for courts to interpret Title VII more expansively by eliminating the biological conception of ‘race’ and encompassing cultural characteristics associated with race…

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.

Drawing Parameters

Jordan actually makes a good point. Yes, I know – it’s not the answer you thought I’d have. But if you interpret the rules literally, then of course race should be based on physical features.

But that’s not really the point of the law, is it?

Were anti-discrimination laws put in place to draw the parameters of race? Or were they put in place to protect racial and ethnic minorities from discrimination based on Eurocentric principles that have nothing to do with our qualifications and work ethic?

The Interpretation Bias

Let me digress for just a moment – I promise you, there’s a point to this.

When I was 17 years old, my biological father lost legal custody of me, and a restraining order was filed. At the hearing, the judge told me:

I don’t know who to believe – your father or your grandmother. But either way, this is about you. You’re only 17 years old, and technically it’s not legal for you to live on your own, but I’m granting you the right to do so anyway. 

The judge had carefully considered laws meant to protect minors, and granted me an exception. It did not matter that I was 10 months away from an 18th birthday. It mattered only that I was safe, because I now had the freedom to live as an adult, and protect my own interests.

Her decision spared me from a dysfunctional and abusive home, and from becoming another female statistic in a Third World country.

The Perks of Privilege 

In America, this rarely happens, unless of course, you’re a privileged member of society – like a Brock Turner of sorts.

For those of you who may have forgotten, Brock Turner sexually assaulted a 23-year-old woman behind a dumpster. For his crime, he faced up to 14 years in prison. The prosecution asked for six years. The result was a six month sentence, of which Turner served only three.

Why? Because the judge believed:

A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him… I think he will not be a danger to others.

The judge, along with Turner’s family, also believed that a long prison sentence would upset Turner’s training, and his ability to compete in the Olympics.

http://www.totpi.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/0202123-8.jpg

At this point, you’re likely wondering where I’m going with this. The answer is simple.

In America, when judges want to protect a privileged class, they have no problems bending the rules to make exceptions for personal ambitions and careers, no matter how heinous the crimes.

When it’s a whole minority’s job eligibility, and dignity, that’s in question, court ruling after court ruling stands by the convenient, literal interpretation of old laws. The actual purpose of the laws… be damned.

The Point

A lot of people may say, well the solution is simple: if you want the job, cut your dreadlocks. How is this any different from tattoos and piercings on an employee working the front desk at a bank?

But for many of us, there is more depth to why we wear dreadlocks that supersede any fashion trend. It is as the EEOC described: a big part of our racial identity, and the way many of us choose to embrace it.

My decision to lock my hair, for instance, came after decades of fighting a losing battle to make my kinky hair conform to Eurocentric ideals of what it means to be beautiful, professional, appropriate.  I thought by embracing my heritage, I had finally won – apparently I did not.

alexis chateau yoga ball exercise fitness

This isn’t just about dreadlocks, or even just an issue centered on Blacks. What other forms of ethnic discrimination will we allow next?

Will it be okay not to hire a Jewish man because he wore a Kippa to an interview? What about a Muslim woman who wears a hijab? Or an Indian woman who wears a bindi to symbolise her marriage, instead of a 10 carat diamond ring?

Are White people, and White cultural norms the only appropriate fit for corporate America? Where do we draw the line?

At the end of the day, this is always a tough decision to make. But where the line is drawn for now, only makes me more anxious to enter the world of work as a Black expatriate in America. I worry now that employers won’t care about my first class honours, or my ten years of content strategy experience.

Like Chastity Jones, the focus will be on my natural hair: an innocent and harmless expression of my cultural values as a Jamaican, and as a Mixed Black woman.

I thought this was the land of the free… but perhaps America calls for far more bravery than I originally surmised.

72 thoughts on “Kinky Locks – too Naughty for Corporate America

  1. You are so right about the letter of the law and leway on handing down punishment. I was thinking that she should have tried to sue on the grounds that they didn’t hire her because she was black, but that would have missed the point entirely.

    1. Yes, I thought of that too. But I guess they could have made the same point, and just openly admitted it was the dreadlocks. It’s ridiculous really that this passes for okay in the land of the free.

  2. I think it’s ridiculous for a person to be told to cut their hair but I will say if a man walked in with his hair like that, I would not like it. That’s cause I’m just old fashioned. No matter his race I think men look more professional with short hair. I guess it’s good I’m not an employer because if a guy (I don’t care his race) walked into my office with one of those man buns, I’d rip up his application immediately 😂😂😂

    1. Haha. Well in this case it was a woman. I can understand applying the standard to men, but personally I try not to apply double standards. If it’s okay for one, it’s okay for the other. Great point though!

  3. Is the most recent ruling being appealed? It seems obvious to me the corporate decision to disallow dreds is racist unless they could establish that it interferes with job performance — which should be all that matters. Of course, back in the 60s, there was employment discrimination against all men with long hair, regardless of its cleanliness or bondage (like a ponytail, not handcuffs and shackles 😉 ). Small minds fear the unknown and the different. We live in a very fearful time.

    1. Thanks Sue. I completely agree with you, and both forms of discrimination are definitely wrong. A company can’t claim to be diverse if it only accepts diversity under strict rules.

      We do indeed live in a fearful time and I hope America pulls through it sooner rather than later.

  4. I truly believe that the system is broken. In America we have too many people that think with a closed mind and are unwilling to respect a culture that’s different from their own. There are Too many old people with old ways of thinking that apart of Congress and the Government in this country

    My oldest sister has dreadlocks and she is an Elementary School Teacher. She hasn’t had a problem with anyone in regards to her hair. Not yet

    1. I think you may be right about the system. I just got here, so I’m still just observing. Definitely leaning to your side though.

      There is a tendency in America to not accept diversity. I can’t stand it when people are like we’re all one. No, we’re not. We’re all different. And we should be free to embrace those differences without being made to feel bad for it…

      1. Thanks Wanda, and thanks for sharing this as well. I just read it. I can’t believe they did that, but I guess when you have the law behind you, why not? What’s worse is they were in an African American community. Are they mad??

        Glad they finally changed the rules, but it should not have taken backlash for them to examine that ridiculous rule.

      2. You’re welcome. thanks for taking the time to read the article and to share your opinion. I couldn’t believe it either. It ticked me off when I read the part where she called her sister crying about her job letting her go because of her dreds.

  5. This resounded, loudly, within me. I know that when I have interviewed, I have spent hours straightening my thick, spiral-curly hair and yanking it smooth. I rarely wear my hair natural because it is considered “too sexy” for the workplace. Women have come so far, and yet there is still so far to go. Thank you for posting.

    1. I’m sorry to hear you feel pressured to do that. I did too when I had my hair loose. It’s definitely not comfortable being constantly measured against eurocentric values. And here we thought we were becoming more liberal as a people….

  6. You make an excellent point. For the privileged the law works as it should. There is the letter of the law and the heart of the law. When it comes to controlling the rest of us the privileged impose the letter of the law. They also use the letter of the law to protect their abuse of it. If Trump actually paid no Taxes since 1995 he broke no laws.
    That will be the refrain we will hear from their surrogates in the media.

    1. Good to see I’m not the only one who noticed that, Robert. And I’m glad you even found your own examples to support that. It’s definitely a problem, and at this point, I’m not even sure what the solution would be.

      1. This disparity in law is the result of 40 years of economic deregulation. Until we as a species are able to curb instinctive behavior as individuals we need laws to prevent us from regressing to our default form of social organization.

        We instinctively make feudal class systems ruled by men and women who hoard most of a communities resources for themselves.

        The period between the beginning of the New Deal up to the beginning of Reagan’s second term may have been one of the few moments in human history when a nation had a political system that actively sought to counteract our instinct toward feudal systems.

        In fact, those nations with the highest quality of life for its citizens are those nations who took the model of regulated Capitalism and held onto it.

      2. I don’t know much about that to comment. But I think you’re right. Canada, Australia, and a lot of European countries who kept a tight grip on their economy do seem to have done better than others.

      3. Regulated capitalism works. You take a profit motive, mix with socialist ideas by creating public access to essential services such as housing, medical care and education and fund with a progressive tax in which each person pays his fair share based on income.

        It works.

Share a comment with Alex!