Natural hair has long been a source of pride and cultural identity for many African Americans. However, it has also been the target of discrimination and prejudice in the workplace. Employers have often imposed strict grooming policies that required employees to straighten or alter their natural hair, citing concerns about professionalism and appearance.
These policies were often used to discriminate against people with naturally textured hair, and they often had a disproportionate impact on African Americans.
Hair discrimination is rooted in racism, with many people lacking education and understanding. Policies can prohibit natural hairstyles such as afros, braids, Bantu knots, and locs. These policies in extreme cases have resulted in removing Black children from classrooms and Black adults from jobs. With no nationwide legal protections against hair discrimination, Black people are frequently forced to choose between risking repercussions at school or work for their natural hair or investing time and money to conform to Eurocentric professionalism and beauty standards.
In instances of clear discrimination due to natural hair the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) steps in to help advocate and fight on behalf of those being discriminated against. Through advocacy and litigation, LDF has worked to end race-based hair discrimination.
Discrimination In The Workplace
African American women are the most likely to experience hair discrimination, according to a recent study conducted by Michigan State University. Eighty percent of African American women in the study said they felt pressure to alter their hairstyle so that it was more in line with conservative standards so that they would be accepted at work.
Discrimination In School
Many schools have policies in place regarding hairstyles that won’t allow for natural hairstyles. If students aren’t willing to face conformity they can face disciplinary action and even expulsion. In some sad instances, a student was forced to cut his locs in order ot participate in sports or in other instances were forced to miss their own graduation for not adhering to the grooming and dress code policies in place.
Legal Policies To Protect Natural Hair
The Crown Act is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that aims to combat discrimination against natural hair in the workplace. Passed in 2019 in California, the act prohibits employers from enforcing dress codes or grooming policies that disproportionately affect individuals with naturally textured hair, such as Afro-textured hair or braids. It also prohibits employers from disciplining or punishing employees who choose to wear their hair in a natural style.
This legislation is a long-overdue step towards combating the biases and prejudices that have historically disadvantaged African Americans in the corporate world.
While the act has not passed on a federal level yet, many states have adopted and passed something similar. The Crown Act continues to be introduced to the legislative branch but in each instance has failed to garner the support needed to pass and make a federal law. As recently as March 2022, the act passed the House of Representatives but did not have enough votes to pass in the Senate.
The Crown Act is crucial to combating discrimination and promoting inclusivity in the workplace. It sends a strong message that natural hair is not a liability, but rather a source of pride and cultural identity that should be celebrated and respected. By protecting the rights of individuals to wear their hair in a natural style, the Crown Act helps to create a more diverse and welcoming environment for all employees.
Despite its significance, the Crown Act is just one step towards addressing the systemic issues that have disadvantaged African Americans in the corporate world. There is still a long way to go in combating discrimination and promoting equality in the workplace. However, the Crown Act is an essential step towards creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all employees, regardless of their natural hair texture.
What can employers and schools do to avoid discriminating against natural hair?
Institutions should review their appearance policies and remove references to specifically-prohibited hairstyles, especially ones that refer to Black hairstyles.
Policies that may seem race-neutral can sometimes have a disproportionate impact on Black hair. For instance, a policy that bans dreadlocks could apply to all employees, but would disproportionately affect Black employees or students. Companies should also educate employees and managers on cultural sensitivity regarding natural hair.
At Phil’s Better, we know that natural hair is your crowning glory and should not only be accepted but celebrated as a part of your strength and beauty. Nurture your crown with products meant to ensure moisture and promote hair growth. If you find you are ready to broaden your natural hair approach, be sure ot check out our Phil It All-Better Hair Bundle.