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Discrimination based on hair texture

Discrimination based on hair texture is a form of injustice resulting in human beings being treated differently based on the stigma attached to hair texture in society.

Hair texture varies from straight hair to the curlier, coil and kinkier hair. Curly hair also has its own variation ranging from very loose curls to the very tightly packed afro textured hair. Straight hair enjoys a higher prestige and is more widely accepted in both professional settings and everyday settings. This social stigma attached to having curly hair has created an entire economy around hair care products and treatments to straighten hair.


Throughout history, Black African slaves were referred to as the "wool-haired race." "Wooly haired Race is also a metaphor for African physical traits which serve as a prima facie evidence of racial difference as a mental lack and as a social justification for slavery and racial discrimination"[1] Madame C.J. Walker rose to prominence by starting a business focusing on products that would straighten kinky hair. She came to popularize the straightening comb, which revolutionized the way women straightened their hair. The straightening comb could straighten hair temporarily without the harsh side effects of previous methods.

Madame Walker marketed her product to African American women. Soon, straightening one's hair became a symbol of African American identity and economic sustenance. Madame Walker would speak to groups African American women about topics such as beauty.

Natural Hair Community

The Natural hair trend is currently at a all time high. Therefore more groups, organizations and events have been developed for curly, kinky, and, coily hair. They get ladies to celebrate, embrace and boldly rock their natural hair, whether it be in the workplace or in general. The Curly Girl Collective is a online group that discusses ways to highlight natural hair. They have any annual “Curlfest” which is now on its fourth year, to bring the online community together in one place.[2]

Hair and the perception of beauty in the diaspora and the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic hair is seen as an important attribute of physical beauty. Many view straight hair as beautiful and appropriate for a professional setting while also seeing afro-textured hair as inappropriate and distracting. This mindset had stemmed from racial discrimination. This has changed over the years in the United States and abroad as the American Natural Hair Movement gains popularity.

In the Dominican Republic hair straightening is done for the same reasons it is done in the United States and the diaspora for convenience and of course influence from western beauty standards. For young black (and other non-white girls), hair is not just something to play with, it is something that is laden with messages, and it has the power to dictate how others treat you, and in turn, how you feel about yourself. As Rooks (1996) affirms, “Hair in 1976 spoke to racial identity politics as well as bonding between African American women. Its style could lead to acceptance or rejection from certain groups and social classes, and its styling could provide the possibility of a career” (p. 5-6).[3]

Straightened and more conservative styles are still the standard in the workplace, as it is in the United States and other countries with African descendants of the diaspora. The views expressed aren't exclusive to the Dominican Republic. Contrary to popular misconception many Dominican women do wear natural hair and it is becoming increasingly accepted in society.

Hair in the workplace

Employers can include in their employee handbooks what hairstyles are appropriate for their workspace. However, some hairstyles put some women at a disadvantage because it does not allow them to wear their hair in a more natural form. Additionally, it affects the hiring process too. Hair that is worn naturally is more likely to affect a qualified candidate's chances of being hired than their straight haired counterparts.[citation needed] Some researchers have found that "African Americans have been punished for asserting their racial identity through dress or hairstyle in the workplace"[4]

After being hired to a particular company, the employee is subject to the employee handbook dress code, which could include hairstyles. Since physical appearance is not a protected under federal law, an employer can terminate one if they feel the employee’s hairstyle is inappropriate for the work environment.[5] This has a greater effect on individuals whose natural hair has low positive regard towards it. This type of discrimination based on hairstyles has led to a number of different lawsuits by African American women towards their former employers. A famous case of discrimination based on a hairstyle associated with afro textured hair occurred in 1981, where Renee Rogers was terminated for wearing a braided, cornrow style while on the job.[6]

In September 2016 The Federal Court made a decision that businesses can legally fire employees or turn away job applicants simply for having dreadlocks. In the court view, anyone can make a choice to have dreadlocks and choosing to have them means accepting a decreased probability of getting hired for certain jobs[7]

Discrimination based on hair texture is common in the workplace. Recently there was a case that involved Shirley Bryant and her workplace. Shirley Bryant worked as an Orientation and Assessment Facilitator for a work study program. She worked under two Black women. Shirley was a lighter skinned toned curly haired black girl. She says she over herd one of her supervisors talking about how she was damaging her hair with the chemicals she used to dye her hair blonde. The supervisor implied that she "wannabe"  white girl.[8] Shirley felt she was terminated by her supervisor because she did not conform to her ideals of a blackness which she believes is wearing African hair wraps and having pure virgin natural hair. This case was able to be pursued and won by Shirley Bryant because she was the only person in the company that these specific dress and grooming standards applied to.

Although the ACLU considered this to be "culturally very, very insensitive and possibly discrimination",[9] there is legal precedent that "discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not."[10]

Natural Hair in School

Discrimination based on hair texture is common in the United States. Butler High School in Louisiana dress code says that natural hair is “Extreme and Distracting” and are not permitted. Therefore students with natural hair are limited to hairstyles because this ban includes dreadlocks, twists, Mohawks and cornrows. The outrage of classmates and parents displayed on social media got a temporary suspension placed on the policy. [11] On February 2018, a 14 year old boy was placed in a room isolated from his other classmates because his haircut broke the dress code and was distracting.[12] His mother was told by the school that it would remain this way until his hair got cut or until his hair grew back. After a lot of going back and forth the district agreed to change how it enforces the hair policy. The mother of the boy was refunded for the second haircut and the school removed the suspension from the 14 year old boy record.[13]

Hairstyles in other places

Views on hair exist outside of a professional context as well. In 2006 Kimberly Haines was not allowed to go into a nightclub because of her dreadlocks. The club had a policy that did not allow for braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks, which are hairstyles more typically worn by African Americans. Haines filed for a lawsuit against the owner of the nightclub.[14]

In the Costa Rican society, African people are frowned upon for who they are. But that alone is not enough they also think bad about their hair. Children are molded at a young age to dislike their hair or to hide it. They spend a lot of money for synthetic hair, scalp ill-treatments and other ethnic groups hair to cover up their kinks.[15]


Curlism, a term first used by Solange Knowles, refers to a movement to change negative views towards natural hair. Particularly the negative view that natural hair is unkempt. Proponents of curlism argue that one should not change their natural hair because it is part of their identity. Furthermore, it is unfair to those who have afro textured hair because they are expected to undergo damaging treatments to their hair to achieve the societal epitome of desired hair. There is a grading system where the kinkiest and coiliest of hair is graded as the lowest of the four categories; this system was devised by a popular black hairstylist that once berated natural hair.

Curly hair in the media

Actors in Hollywood face challenges when it comes to having curly hair and the roles that they play in particular films. Actors with curly hair tend to play roles that are sillier and less serious in nature. If they do play a role that is more serious, the curly hair is altered to have a straighter appearance or hidden altogether.[16] The less serious nature roles included “broke” , “ghetto” or “Less fortunate.” The actor/actress hair is usually hidden under straight hair wigs or their hair is chemically processed.[17] When actress have these hair styles they play roles like the boss, living a lavish lifestyle, have the better job or making more money.[8]

Approximately 50 million dollars a years is spent by Black women to chemical straighteners.[17]It is to be believed that keeping professional images, avoiding negative career consequences and fitting in with their colleagues will help black individuals stay preserved by conforming to these standards. People on television including talk show host Oprah Winfrey used to keep her hair in a straight style to maintain her professionalism.

The Black Panther was released February 16, 2018. In this new superhero movie whole cast showcased natural hair. It was decided to not use any hair chemicals or hair irons on the hair. People questioned them on this decision but the insisted on showing the beauty and versatility of black hair.[18]

Various pro-natural, pro-kinky and curly hair-care blogs and websites such as, for example, Black girl with long hair, are part of an online culture that seeks to work against the discrimination and exclusion of different hair textures in traditional media.

'Good Hair'

Good Hair: a film by Chris Rock that explores the accepted look of African American hair, the industry that arose to achieve this look, and cultural effects this styling industry has had.[citation needed] The following excerpt is taken from the film:

In the black hair business, the most profitable portion is the sale and maintenance of weaves. Women can expect to invest six to eight hours in the salon getting their hair braided into sections and then having tracks of hair attached to the braids. After women get their weave, they regularly come back into the salon for hair washing, conditioning, and tightening. In the documentary, Rock learned that some women will spend upwards to $1000 for a weave and if they cannot afford it, they can put it on layaway.

Derogatory words used to describe Afro Textured Hair

Afro-textured hair, historically, has often been viewed as less beautiful than what is considered as the standard for beauty and hair. In "Notes on the State of Virginia", Thomas Jefferson reflected on why it would be impossible to incorporate blacks into the body politic after emancipation. He concluded it was because of the differences "both physical and moral," chief among them the absence of long, flowing hair." Two words that evoke negative connotations towards afro-textured hair are the words and racial slurs nappy and bushy. These words were originally used by slaveowners, as far back as the 1800s, to grotesquely describe the hair of their slaves.[19]

Usage of the words meant that the hair was not beautiful and thought of as undesirable. Words such as "bushy" and "nappy" also denote that the afro-textured hair is less than, ugly or too ethnic. There is also a poignant racial discriminatory issue when individuals believe that afro-textured hair needs "taming" or "to be tamed." One would have to ascertain why afro-textured hair should be "tamed" when, in most cases, the hair naturally grows out of the head in kinky and tightly curled form. To state that afro-textured hair needs taming makes the point that the hair needs to be unraveled from its tightly curled appearance. "Taming" Afro hair would require heat straightening or use of chemical products to make it appear similar to the acceptable societal standard for hair. When Afro-textured hair is said to need "taming" the individual is stating that the original, natural afro texture is less than desirable.

Individuals who possess afro-textured hair are born with their hair type, therefore it is racially discriminating to state that their hair needs to be "tamed" especially in the case where they may wear their hair in an afro or freely uncontained without the use of hair product, chemical or heat straighteners. When words such as "nappy" and "bushy" are used to describe a person of African origin, it will be viewed as offensive and depictive of racial discrimination. Appropriate words that can be used to describe afro hair are "natural" "naturally curly" "curly" "afro kinky" "kinky" "kinky curly" or "tightly curled"

There are numerous historical records of instances where the word "bushy" was used by the slaveowner to describe their slave's hair, if they ran away. Former President Andrew Jackson was also known for placing cruel ads featuring the word "bushy" to describe slaves' hair.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Rooks, Noliwe (1996). Hair Raising, Beauty, Culture, and African American Women. New Brunswick, NJ.: Rutgers University Press. p. 38. 
  2. ^ "At Curlfest, a Celebration of Natural Hair and Black Beauty". 
  3. ^ Thompson, Cheryl (2008–2009). "Black Women and Identity: What's hair got to do with it?". Michigan State University. 
  4. ^ Rosette, Asleigh Shelby; Dumas, Tracy (2007). "The hair dilemma: Conform to mainstream expectations or emphasize racial identity". The Duke Journal of Gender, Law & Policy. 14: 407–421. 
  5. ^ Gordon, Claire (2012-05-07). "Dreadlock Discrimination: Is There Such A Thing? - Careers Articles". Retrieved 2013-09-08. 
  6. ^ "For African-American women, a hairstyle can be a tricky decision". SaportaReport. 2013-03-04. Retrieved 2013-09-08. 
  7. ^ Wilkinson, A.B. [ "No Dreadlocks Allowed"]. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  8. ^ a b "Black women can't have blonde hair ... in the workplace". 
  9. ^ Thomas-Lester, Avis (17 June 2006). "At Six Flags, the Don'ts of Dos" – via 
  10. ^ []
  11. ^ "Natural Hair is "Extreme, Distracting" According to a Louisiana High School's Dress Code". 
  12. ^ "A Black Student Was Suspended Because of Shaved Head". 
  13. ^ "A Fresno honor student got popular haircut, but school officials didn't like it". 
  14. ^ "Racial Discrimination Based On A Hairstyle?". Archived from the original on 2012-03-12. Retrieved 2013-09-08. 
  15. ^ Miller, Carmen. "Uncovering the Kink Celebrating my Black Identity: Perceptions on Afro-Costa Ricans Natural Hair". 
  16. ^ "Oh No They Didn't! - curlyism: Hollywood's last taboo". 2010-09-17. Retrieved 2013-09-08. 
  17. ^ a b "The Hair Dilemma: Conform to Mainstream Expectations or Emphasize Racial Identity". 
  18. ^ "Black Panther Is a Beautiful Showcase for Natural Hair". 
  19. ^ West, Willis (1922). History of the American People. Boston, MA.: Allyn and Bacon. p. 1-819. 
  20. ^ "Hunting down runaway slaves: The cruel ads of andrew jackson and the master class". Retrieved 2017-04-11. 


  • "Black Women and Identity: What's Hair Got To Do With It?" vol. 22, no. 1, fall 2008–2009
  • "Dreadlock Discrimination: Is There Such A Thing?" AOL Jobs. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
  • ""Dreadlock Discrimination" Triggers Lawsuit." Racial Discrimination Based On A Hairstyle? N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
  • "For African-American Women, a Hairstyle Can Be a Tricky Decision." SaportaReport. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.
  • "Good Hair (film)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
  • "Willis Mason. History of the American People. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1922. Print.