Hair Discrimination

Saahithi Gaddipati, Copy Editor

When was the first time you styled your hair? For some, this might mean taking an iron to straighten out any bend in one’s hair, while to others it might mean putting in gel to enhance those same curls. Or maybe styling means wearing your hair a certain way — French braids, dutch braids, messy buns, pigtails, box braids, bubble braids, ponytails, half-up, straight, curled, natural — there are an abundance of ways to style one’s hair. Of course, according to the time and situation, one might choose a certain style over another. But what happens when this creative liberty turns into a cautious game of social presentation?

Newhaven writes, “The term ‘hair discrimination’ refers to unjust social and economic treatment given to a marginalized culture because of their hair. In the United States, Black Americans, and often other minorities with textured natural hair, without straightening or chemically changing, are often subject to hair discrimination in public spaces.” This becomes more intensified in professional spheres, where individuals’ performances are at first glance perceived as synonymous to their appearance. According to a study conducted by Dove, “Black women are: 1.5x more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair, 3.5% more likely to be perceived as ‘unprofessional’ because of their hair, and 30% more likely to change their natural hair to meet societal norms or expectations at work.” It is important to note here that Black women also have coiler, kinkier hair than the average white woman. Additionally, as a whole, on average, people of color often have more textured hair than their white counterparts, and have culturally different ways of styling their hair. Freshman Archit Gouda says, “I think that [especially for men], longer hair or unconventionally stylized hair is often seen as ‘unprofessional.’” 

JSTOR writes, “In 2010, Chastity Jones eagerly accepted a job offer from Catastrophe Management Solutions as a customer service representative. The offer, however, came with one caveat — she had to cut off her locs. Jones refused, and the company rescinded its job offer.” This toxic desire for ‘standard hair’ carries over in non-traditional workplaces. senior Rama Bah, who competes as a dancer, says, “[one of my coaches] told us to straighten our hair so it could be easier to braid. I had to go back and forth with her about doing it myself because I did not want other people touching my hair, because they did not know it as well as me.” Hair is oftentimes seen as an extension of clothing, something that can be changed at will. Bah comments “Hair is not clothing, you cannot take it on and off.” Bah also speaks on the difficulty of finding resources to take care of her hair, saying, “Materials from Ulta and Sephora do not do it for me, I have to drive to Renton and make sure I have everything. My mom and I call it a day trip because it takes the entire day to get the products.” Ultimately, the standard of ‘professional hair’ is something that not only comes at an emotional cost, but by enforcing stricter standards on what is ‘acceptable’ and what is not, it becomes increasingly difficult to access resources to fit in. Another result of these standards is, as sophomore Kamarrie Spencer puts it, “more [difficulty] in expressing [yourself].” The pressure to conform and lack of space to experiment with hair, simply because it is labeled as ‘unprofessional’ results in said difficulty expressing yourself, both stylistically, but also as a person. The New York Times says, “One day last spring, Jett Hawkins, 5, asked his mom to braid his hair for him. He loved the way it looked: ‘I was so proud and happy,’ says Jett, who lives in Chicago. But when he got to school, his mother says, an administrator called her and told her that his hairstyle had broken a school policy that banned students from wearing braids, locs and twists.” Jett was denied the pride that wearing his hair in the way he likes brings, and he is actively punished for simply going to school. 

Spencer says, “[A lot of times] people have their own internalized standards and they compare other people against these standards.” This results in judgements on individuals that may not be true. Junior Percy Colluru says, “I have dyed hair and I think often people with dyed hair like me are perceived as attention seekers and trouble makers.” Although making judgments is something necessary to daily life, through acknowledging biases that impact our judgments, we can reduce the amount of implicit bias in our actions. There have also been steps taken in recent years to ensure this bias is lessened. For example, the Crown Act, which, according to its website, seeks to “ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools.” Ultimately, hair discrimination is seen both in personal and professional life, and although steps are being taken to combat it, we can always strive for further improvement.