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Hair Law: It's Illegal to Wear Your Natural Hair?

Hair Law: It's Illegal to Wear Your Natural Hair?

Imagine going to work or to an interview dressed in your professional best. Make-up is flawless and professionally appropriate. Credentials top-notch and not a flaw to be seen. Well, at least you didn’t see it. Now, my Caucasian sisters imagine if being blonde was NOT the thing to be. Not socially acceptable or considered beautiful. That having blonde hair was so undesirable that you did everything you could to change it. You had to chemically alter it (Not just hair dye) to make it different, more acceptable. Burn your scalp and hair follicles. Sit in beauty shops or chairs at home for hours on end weekly or bi-monthly JUST so you can have your hair live up to a social and beauty standard it could never achieve otherwise naturally. Because you were born blonde. Can’t help that right? I highly doubt that in the womb you sat in front of a sliding touch-screen picking out who you were going to look like you were creating a Bitmoji.

Imagine that not only is being blonde a problem, but the fact that your hair is straight and not curly or wavy is not desirable either. So here you are with straight blonde hair, attempting to break into the fashion industry as a model, trying to be a video girl, go to school, GET A JOB or promotion and they tell you that your hair is not acceptable according to societal standards. How you look naturally, how GOD himself (or whoever you believe) made you, is not good enough to fulfill a dream, participate in basic social activities, or make a living to Eat and live or go to school. Sounds crazy as hell right? Well, welcome to the life of your fellow black classmate, coworker, or associates. Particularly the ones who are brave enough to wear their hair in its natural God-given state.

Image Source: Yahoo: Student is suspended because of her hair.

Image Source: Yahoo: Student is suspended because of her hair.

Now, as for myself. I am NOT that black person. And it’s for a couple of reasons. This flawlessity. The make-up of my natural curls has been painfully altered since I was 6. First with hot combs (burnt ears). A waveneuvo/Jerri curl (burnt hair). Then with a relaxer at age 11 (burnt scalp). Which has continued ever since? Now I will say I had a stint of my natural hair and big kinky curls when I was between the ages of 9-10. My mother decided to have the Jerri curl cut out and I had an afro full of natural half curly (MY OWN CURLS NO CHEMICALS) half kinky hair.  It was beautiful, natural, and mine and I loved it. But I was a good 20 something years too early for that movement. I was a child/teen in the 80s-2001. And if it wasn’t straight, or “done”, it wasn’t accepted. Particularly during my early childhood when little girls had long hair, big curly ponytails, or “Shirley Temple Curls” as we called them. Or straight hair that went down their back. Not to mention the lighter the complexion the more attractive and accepted you were. At that age, I had NEITHER. And my self-esteem suffered. I didn’t have a gang of people telling me how attractive I was, especially men. I was raised by older country women whose focus wasn’t on appearances especially if you weren’t particularly attractive. I saw how other little girls who looked the exact opposite of me were treated. Or even girls close to my complexion but won in the “good- hair” lottery. Somehow, I was the only one in my family that was left out of both categories at this time. In my mind, I wasn’t good enough. I stopped loving my appearance and myself. Since then, until about 2 years ago, I have been straightening my hair; doing, wearing, and behaving like “society (mainly opinions driven by white males) thinks I should. I’m proud to say that I’ve conquered all but my hair. We will see if that ever changes... 

But if I have gone through that as a personal experience, I can only imagine what black women and some black men are going through now? I’m proud of their boldness and ability to wear their natural hair even if it’s because it is now “on trend”. In some ways, it’s easier for them now than it would have been in my younger years because now BLACK people accept it. And overall, even though we have MUCH to combat in black culture, we are at least celebrating different types of beauty. Whereas even 15 years ago, natural hair would not have been accepted by many in our culture. Unfortunately, others in our society have some catching up to do.  

It’s sad that this even must be discussed or written about. But here we are, six months before 2020, an entirely new decade and we are still dealing with practices, policies, and blatant racism against black people. Sigh… I’m tired and I’m only in my late 30s. I cannot IMAGINE how people who have lived through the Jim Crow, Civil Rights era feel. And I know I'm not the only one tired in my generation and the one after. I have the movies, Netflix shows, social media memes and post to prove it. But it still does not stop those who want to continue to hold on to these racist traditions and practices. The newest tactic is preventing people of color from wearing their hair in its natural state. How it got this far, I can’t tell you. Conform, conform, conform. That’s an entire blog post on its own. But to make people conform to the point that they have to hide or erase something that is apart of their genetic identity is absurd.  

It has come to a point laws have to be made and California is the first to come out with the law for people of color’s protection. In a recent Glamour Magazine article about the law change, a young lady describes her experiences and troubles with having natural hair in the workplace: 

 “I showed up to that interview in a glue-in weave, despite the fact that it was a black-owned company. After I got the job, I promised myself I'd never altered the way I look to get hired again. I later landed my dream job wearing box braids. 

Student wrestler told to cut hair to compete in a high school wrestling match.

Student wrestler told to cut hair to compete in a high school wrestling match.

It's a decision not unique to me, but solely unique to black women. We are routinely discriminated against for wearing our hair the way it grows out of our scalps or in styles endemic to our culture. There's no reason box braids or twists should be viewed any differently from a ponytail or bouncy blowout, and yet we're reprimanded by managers for looking too "urban" or "unkempt"—like Destiny Tompkins, who was pulled aside by her (white, female) district manager at a New York Banana Republic in 2017 for wearing box braids. She was so "uncomfortable" and "overwhelmed" she chose not to finish her shift.

The list goes on: In 2010, Chastity Jones said she was let go from an Alabama insurance-claims-processing company for wearing her hair in dreadlocks. The courts at the time ruled it wasn't racial discrimination because the hair wasn't an "immutable" (i.e., unchangeable) characteristic. Or take Rachel Sakabo, an experienced employee at New York City's prestigious St. Regis hotel who claimed she was let go in 2013 after being told she wasn’t a “good fit” with the brand's “culture," a decision she'd attributed to her locs. 

These are just viral stories. A recent study from Dove found that black women are 50 percent more likely to be sent home or to know a black woman who has been sent home from work because of her hair. And that's if she even gets the job. 

"During my first months at a major news network, one of the managers wanted to speak with the new hires to see where we saw ourselves growing within the company," says Blake, 23. "At the time my hair was in a perm rod set, so it was big and curly." She told the manager she eventually wanted to be on the air, to which the manager responded: "That comes with a lot of responsibility. Your hair always has to be done and always in the same style. If you've ever taken a look at our anchors, they keep their hair clean and sleek." 

Offended, yet brand-new to the company, Blake felt helpless. "I wanted to speak up. How dare she imply my natural hair was somehow the opposite of 'done' and 'clean'?" says Blake. But afraid she'd be painted as "the combative black woman," she felt silenced.” …. 

 

These are a few of MANY MANY examples of why this law has to be put into place. And hopefully, other states will have legislation to follow. But this still begs the question of WHY. WHY is our NATURAL state so disregarded? So threatening? And ultimately so disrespected??? They want our braids, fros, and kinks as props for products but we’re not allowed to join the company that sells the products with the same kind of hair. All we can continue to do is stand straight, proud and upright as our hair does the same. Naturally.  

 


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