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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" 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.
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).
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.
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. Some researchers have found that "African Americans have been punished for asserting their racial identity through dress or hairstyle in the workplace"
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. 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.
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
Although the ACLU considered this to be "culturally very, very insensitive and possibly discrimination", 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."
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.
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.
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.
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: 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. 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.
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.
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.