Natural Hair Should Be Protected By Law & Don’t Ask (White) Men About It

There’s been a lot of talk about natural hairstyles lately. In fact, more than talk, there are major news stories revolving around cities ban natural hair discrimination in the workplace and even our children with natural hairstyles are being victimized and judged because their hair has been deemed unacceptable by white people.  California was the first state to ban discrimination against natural, New York was the second, New Jersey was the 3rd, and Cincinnati is one of the latest cities to ban discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles with many other counties and cities considering their own bans.

So, if you don’t know, here is a brief history of hair. The dominant majority in America, is white or causasian, which means they are used to seeing and managing straight hair – sometimes curly but never kinky. Kinky and knotty are not the same. People of color usually have kinky hair which means it is not straight. I need to say this, I am a black man who used to have hair – oh yeah, I had an afro, I had a shag (the black equivalent to a mullet), I had a Jeri-Curl – if you don’t know what any of that is, then that is a perfect reason as to why you should never judge or comment on natural hair, cultural hair, or anything to do with hair.  Have you ever heard of a hotcomb? Have you ever smelled hair burning from a hotcomb? If you have never woken up on a Saturday or Sunday morning to the sounds and smells of a hotcomb, then how can you ever comment on the natural hair discussion?

And look, I am a man – I grew up in a house full of black women, women who had to hotcomb their hair, or perm their hair and believe me the black woman’s perm and a white woman’s perm are different. Perming your hair or getting a Jeri-Curl is a chemical method that people of color with kinky hair use to relax their hair to straighten or curl it. It burns! Why do we do all of that? To try and fit in. Why? Because we’ve all been conditioned to think that, “white is right” and anything else is wrong/bad/ugly/unacceptable.

I took you on this brief journey of hair so you can understand how polarizing, important, and huge this issue is. People of Color do not do all these things to our hair for the sake of beauty or vanity, but to a assimilate. So, we try to fit in.  For far too long, far too many of our lives have been defined by hair – including career heights and opportunities (even marriages) – if your hairstyle did not/does not fit the majority narrative, straight or low cut, you don’t get that job or the promotion. Our earning potential and professionalism are affected and questioned all because of our hair.

For people of color with hair and hair options, it can be difficult because you want to be free to wear your afro, curly fro, locks, twists, braids, updos, and topknots without being pulled into the office and told, “You need to do something with your hair.”

This blog post/conversation was inspired by the young man in Texas, De’Andre Arnold who was not allowed to walk in his high school graduation because of his dread lock hairstyle – it’s not about looks for him, it’s cultural, his father is from Trinidad. But it could have also been inspired by the wrestler in New Jersey last year who had his hair cut right before a wrestling match because the head referee said he’s disqualify him if he didn’t cut it.  It could have inspired by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who recently shared that she is has alopecia.

A few months ago, Jon Hyman an Attorney in Ohio, who specializes in employment law and someone who I happen to follow, respect and learn a lot from, and is a new contributor to this website, PIC, was asked by a local news outlet, his opinion on hair discrimination. Here is a link to the news clip.

Jon basically said, he understands the issue and does not agree with discrimination but also feels like there are laws already in existence that cover discrimination in all its form but doesn’t support a law specifically making hair a protected class – again, because there are already laws that provide that protection.  (you can read Jon’s blog post here)  Jon recognized that asking a bald white guy about hair discrimination was a bit ironic – but he gave it shot.

This is where I would like to offer Jon and others a little advice – this is a very serious issue.  As a brother, uncle, boyfriend, and friend to women of color – hair is a multi-billion-dollar industry and it is no joke.

If you want to read the LinkedIn post for yourself, you can do that here!  There was a point where it seem like the issue was not being discussed seriously and a couple of his followers called him out on it…Kelly Charles-Collins, Esq (a women of color and lawyer) wrote.

“Hairstyle discrimination IS a problem. The fact that they tapped you for this interview is not only ironic but tone-deaf. “Hairstyle” discrimination has been directed a black people – people with natural hairstyles. And it is not protected by Title VII under race. In fact, courts have ruled that it is not discrimination because hair is not an immutable characteristic. Thus, the current laws are not enough to protect an aggrieved employee. That is why states are enacting their own laws.  When you have not nor will ever suffer such discrimination, perhaps deferring to someone who has or will, would be better in having a more well-rounded analysis of the situation. These laws are not unnecessary. They should be. However, we unfortunately don’t live in that society. Rather, we live in a society where the hair that naturally grows out of a black person’s head is deemed unprofessional or unclean.   So, the next time you are asked about whether these laws are necessary or unnecessary or “are more than enough to provide a remedy to aggrieved employees.,” perhaps have a conversation with one of those aggrieved employees or direct the person asking to one of those employees”

And Sarah Morgan, a Director of HR with more than 20 years of experience – someone who has been discriminated against and protected others from hair discrimination (and all other forms of discrimination) wrote.

“I’m so disappointed in this post that I have no words. At 23, I was told to straighten my waves and curls because my “kinky hair wasn’t going to get me taken seriously.” At 28, I was told my “vacation was over, and it was time to get back to reality” when I chose to keep my braids in after a trip to the Bahamas. At 31, I had to argue with a VP about why prohibiting braids, cornrows and locs in our appearance policy was disparate and discriminatory. Hair discrimination is real for Black people and many other POC. Anyone who says otherwise is out of touch with the realities of people in the margins and shouldn’t be tapped to advocate or speak for us.”

Here’s where I hope that I can offer some insight and information to Jon and any other person who doesn’t feel that there should be a law specifically banning hair discrimination.

First, as stated earlier – do not make light of it and don’t dismiss it. Laws are implemented to prohibit people from feeling marginalized, dejected, mistreated, judged negatively, and outcasted and that’s exactly what hair discrimination does.  Can you even imagine trying to make yourself look presentable and acceptable to someone else’s expectations? Men have no clue, most of us anyway – of course, there are outliers but predominately men can’t relate or phantom what it feels like, so course men would find a new law unnecessary – and to be honest, laws never stop discrimination but it sure feels good to have them on the books and able to cite in lawsuits against those that seek to discriminate.