I’ve always found it puzzling why other people take offense at someone else’s hair. When I was a child, I was captivated by the diverse hairstyles chosen by my relatives. Some rocked dreadlocks, afros, cornrows, and braids. At one point, I even tried growing out my own hair in the hopes of getting braids. I saw it as a way to express my pride in my black heritage. Unfortunately, my hair never reached the desired length.
As a result, I settled for low-cut fades, and that became my signature look. People grew accustomed to seeing me with a low-cut fade. However, there were times when I could not get a haircut and had to sport a small afro. Surprisingly, some individuals joked about my hair being unprofessional. I had never considered the possibility of my hair being deemed unprofessional because I consistently applied oil, combed or brushed it with care.
As I matured, I embraced my culture even more. Witnessing successful black individuals unabashedly embrace their heritage inspired me to be my authentic self. Sadly, some individuals, especially black women, feel constrained and unable to fully express themselves due to concerns about judgment based on their appearance, hairstyle, or even their employability.
Hair discrimination in the workplace refers to the unfair treatment of individuals based on their natural or cultural hairstyles. It typically affects people with textured or traditionally non-European hair types, including Black people, people of African descent, and individuals from various cultural backgrounds.
Hair discrimination can manifest in several ways:
Dress code policies: Some employers enforce grooming or appearance policies that explicitly or implicitly target hairstyles associated with certain ethnicities or cultural backgrounds. These policies may ban natural hairstyles such as afros, dreadlocks, braids, twists, or cornrows, or require employees to alter their hair texture through straightening or chemical treatments to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards.
Unequal enforcement: Even if there are no explicit policies, hair discrimination can occur through the inconsistent enforcement of grooming standards. For example, an employer might allow employees of certain ethnic backgrounds to wear certain hairstyles while disciplining or reprimanding others for the same hairstyles.
Stereotyping and bias: Employees with natural or culturally significant hairstyles may face stereotypes or biased assumptions about their professionalism, competence, or suitability for certain roles. These biases can impact hiring decisions, promotions, and overall treatment in the workplace.
Microaggressions and comments: Co-workers or superiors may make insensitive or derogatory comments about an employee’s natural or culturally significant hairstyle, creating a hostile work environment and undermining the individual’s confidence and sense of belonging.
Despite an unsuccessful attempt to ban hair discrimination in 2021, the Texas Legislature has overwhelmingly passed HB567, known as the Texas CROWN Act. The CROWN Act, standing for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” prohibits race-based hair discrimination. This includes the denial of employment and educational opportunities due to hair texture or protective hairstyles like braids, dreadlocks, twists, or bantu knots in schools, workplaces, and housing. The Act acknowledges that natural hair and hairstyles are inherent aspects of an individual’s identity and should not serve as a basis for discrimination. The bill is now awaiting the Governor’s signature to become law.
The passage of the Texas Crown Act represents a significant stride in eradicating discrimination against individuals based on their hair texture and hairstyles. These discriminatory practices have disproportionately affected people of color, particularly Black women and girls. In recent years, the natural hair movement has gained momentum, with many individuals embracing their natural hair and rejecting societal norms that prioritize Eurocentric beauty standards.
Employers should promote diversity, inclusion, and put an end to discriminatory practices that disproportionately impact people of color. If you have encountered discrimination based on your hair due to your race, national origin, or even religion, please contact me for a consultation.