Style

Laws preventing dreadlocks at work suppresses black culture

Chastity Jones was ordered to cut hair by her employer in 2013, saying she was in violation of the company’s grooming policy. The Alabama native wore her hair in dreadlocks. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also known as the EEOC, filed a lawsuit against the insurance company, Catastrophe Management Solutions, alleging that this was racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Charles R. Butler Jr., the federal judge assigned to the case, ruled against the claim, stating the law only refers to unchangeable characteristics such as skin color or sex. The EEOC appealed this decision, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of the Alabama judge. So, the bottom line that came out of the ruling was, you can fire someone due to his or her hairstyle, even if it is tied to cultural heritage.

When I hear about cases like this, I think, “when will African Americans be able to embrace their heritage fully and openly in this country?”

I believe this is systematic violence against blacks in both the political and cultural arenas through something as minimal, yet significant as hair. It remains ironic that while some whites are concerned with policing and rejecting black culture, others continue to appropriate it. This ruling came only days after the public placed Marc Jacobs under fire for sending white models with dreads down the runway in his spring 2017 show.

On his official Instagram page, Jacobs said, “all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race of skin color wearing their hair in a particular style or manner — funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair.”

The fault in such an ignorant comment is that straight hair is not tied to a specific nation, identity, or religion — but dreadlocks are.

During the Chasity Jones case, a representative from the EEOC questioned whether a Muslim woman wearing a hijab would get the same treatment. While not centered around a deity, Rastafarianism is sometimes considered a religion. Rastafarians believe in the liberation of blacks from oppressors and follow Haile Selassie I as Emperor of Ethiopia. They also commonly wear dreadlocks.

Although Jacobs has since issued an apology for his words, his negligence and insensitivity are only examples of how black identity is belittled in the fashion industry.

In light of several police brutality cases, blacks already feel unprotected in this racially divided America. This recent court ruling shows that as African-Americans, our values, beliefs, and opinions are not prioritized. It sometimes feels as if the country is digressing and neglecting racial matters.

In a supposedly progressive country, social matters are still being finely combed and dissected. Can blacks be free to be who we are? Can we be free to let our style shine without being told we are any less for it or without someone outside our demographic stealing it?

This is another way to oppress the black community and take our rights away. While not the only marker of identity, dreadlocks are a symbol of African culture. Rastafarians and those who chose to wear dreads have formed a community based around their image, and taking this away is jeopardizing tradition. Future generations may be rejected for job opportunities and success because of their hair. But is that really just?

Similar to how clothing distinguishes a person from others, hair is just as distinctive. While it may be changeable, it is integrated in identity and culture. And culture is one aspect of a community that should not be negotiated. Dare I refer to a time when tattoos and piercings were overseas and taboo? Now, in America they more common and embedded in lifestyles today. How long will it take dreads to be met with the same acceptance?

Dreadlocks are perceived to be ghastly and unsightly, but some dread wearers put much time, effort, and energy to construct masterpieces of different colors, lengths, and styles. To Rastafarians, this isn’t a stylish fad, but a way of life.

Firing or harassing an employee for their culture or heritage is very well racial discrimination. This is plain and simple.

I understand that black people are the innovators of serious style, music, art, and culture, but we are not here for entertainment. Let us be. Instead of picking apart the black lifestyle, comparing us to “the norm” and terrorizing us for not conforming, why not let us live? We’re citizens of the world trying to enjoy life in the same way.

Imagine all you could be focused on instead: the amount of food wasted by Americans daily, how to address national issues of sexual assault and gun violence or exploring alternative ways besides test scores to measure retention of knowledge? Those are only a few of the places we can start.

Darriea Clark is a junior magazine journalism major. You can reach her at dbclark@syr.edu and follow her for more stylish updates on Instagram and Twitter @babefromthesun

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