“I was told that my braids were unprofessional.”
“I was told to cut off my locs.”
“I was told that my hair doesn’t fit the ‘company culture.’”
Ladies and gentlemen, race-based hair discrimination is still alive and well in 2021, and Black employees are being told these very things.
As people of color, we can find ourselves struggling with many aspects of our appearance trying to fit into the world’s persona of us. As a Black woman, I know I’ve struggled with decisions related to my appearance throughout my career. I know other Black Women have similar struggles. This is particularly true when it comes to decisions about hairstyles and our workplace culture.
Straight hair can be accomplished, but that is not “traditional” hair for me or my culture. My hair does not grow out straight, never has, never will. I cannot achieve straight hair without harsh chemical relaxers or harsh heat from straightening combs and flat irons. If you’ve never used a straightening comb, or better yet been accidentally burned by one, you’ll never understand the pain and anxiety a person of color goes through when getting their hair done to achieve what the majority considers to be a “traditional” hair style. Now granted, I was burned because I moved when I should not have, but I’ve digressed.
The fact is that anyone of color feels the need to question whether they can wear their natural hair or culturally traditional hairstyles to work is the very reason why legislation such as the CROWN Act is important.
The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” “prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.” https://www.thecrownact.com/about
The 2019 Dove CROWN Research Study found that 80 percent of Black women feel the need to change their hair from its natural state just to fit in at the office, Black women are 50 percent more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair, and that Black women’s hair is 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional. Furthermore, the study found that 32 percent of non-Black women never actually received corporate grooming policies at work, while only 18 percent of Black women could say the same.
Studies, such as the one conducted by Dove, reveals the judgments passed and the discrimination faced when Black women wear their natural hairstyles. Yet, this discrimination extends to Black women and men alike, both who are increasingly choosing to wear natural and protective hairstyles traditionally found in our culture.
Federal and state laws may prohibit some forms of hair discrimination, as it relates to race or national origin discrimination, but those laws do not go far enough. Courts tend to narrowly construe these laws allowing discrimination to continue. This is where the CROWN Act fills the gap.
To date, several states have signed the CROWN Act or similar legislation into law, with California leading the way in 2019. Since then, states such as New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Nevada have joined.
Sadly, Texas is lagging, the United States also as a whole lags. Our hope is that Texas State Representative Rhetta Andrews Bowers, U.S. Senator Cory Booker continue, and other lawmakers continue to push for this important legislation where it has not yet passed. Studies and continued discrimination show that it is necessary for providing equal opportunities and equal protection.
When employers implement policies that require employees to maintain “traditional” haircuts and styles, what does that really mean? Whose traditions are they applying? Is the definition of traditional inclusive of all cultures?
It is important for employers to understand that what’s traditional for one person is not traditional for another. Employers should also know that implementing policies related to appearance and having rigid adherence to a set of standards found commonly in one culture but not in others is bound to be exclusionary and discriminatory.
If you have faced discriminated because of your race, national origin, or even religion because of your hair, contact our lawyers for a consultation to discuss your options. No one should be required to change who they are by abandoning their culture or religion to adhere to traditional standards that don’t belong to them simply for the sake of equal opportunity.