I’m not sure how I managed to coerce Culture Piece Magazine into giving me the platform to rant so candidly but here we go. Allow me to make a few things clear before the “colorblind” and the “post-racialist” begin the public crucifixion of this Black as Hell beauty column.
1. Unwarranted touching of folk’s hair will never be a good idea. You can’t invade someone’s space and expect to not get these hands…
2. Thoughts, ideas, and opinions pertaining to the present or future state of someone’s hair will remain unauthorized suggestions for eternities to come.
These principles will not be rectified by gender, race, ect. Take heed to them and adjust your impulsive tendencies accordingly. Now that we’ve covered the house rules, we can move on to introductions: My mother tells a story about me as braiding as early as the age of three, but my fondest memory of me braiding sets place in the 6th grade. I braided my hair with some generic ass 1b kanekalon hair (extensions) in somewhat straight back cornrows for picture day. It accompanied my black with pink stitching GUESS denim 2 piece so effortlessly. All I can remember is going over in my head how I thought braiding with extension hair should work. I tried it on myself, and got it right on the first try. T’was lit my friends! Fast forward to barely adulting Dre and it’s probably the only thing I’ve stuck with consistently. Of course I decided to ignore all intuition that told me I was supposed to be a hair stylist and I took the long route. But there’s no feeling like knowing you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Besides it’s made for quite the eclectic resume.
The conception of, Seriously, Don’t Touch My Hair came to me while processing Ava Duvernay’s new documentary “13th”. I’ve known of many accounts when laws and institutions were set in place to criminalize Black men and boys. But the documentary forced me to think about how not being able to control my narrative affected my livelihood. The beauty industry is fixed in this European standard of beauty. Other portrayals of beauty aren’t considered until appropriated. So as Solange so poetically puts it, “this shit is for us.” It’s time we take back out narratives. Apparently in Mobil, Ala. denying someone employment because they have locs is legal. This is reason #64,216,455 why I don’t fuck with the south. Chasity Jones applied for a customer service position at Catastrophic Management Solutions. She was initially hired, but the company requested that she cut her locs off to adhere to their grooming policy. Chasity wasn’t having it, so CMS refused to hire her. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tried to sue CMS for discrimination. The EEOC argued that the “prohibition of dreadlocks in the workplace constitutes race discrimination because dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.” They stressed the premise that the definition of race should be considered as a social construct without its biological preface. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court denied the lawsuit. The court assumed the EEOC argument meant that if a white person were to wear dreads as an act of support of their Black coworkers, they too could use file for a racial discrimination claim. Then the court goes and accuses the EEOC of using “novel theories” to support their arguments. I CAN'T! Now it is against Federal law for employers to discriminate based on race. But race is defined by skin color and immutable traits. There is so much wrong with this story. But I'm about to break it down for you. CMS grooming policy requires employees to dress in a professional, and businesslike manner. HR stated that dreadlocks tend to get messy. I don’t know what kind of loc CMS has seen but the only messy and untamed dreadlock I see are on top of white people’s heads. It’s insulting for HR to assume this lady's hair was going to be get “messy”. Black people spend hours to maintain locs, and majority of the process is sitting under a hot ass dryer, others who opt out of the dryer go through at least twice the time air drying. To ban something that you have no understanding of, the process of creating and maintaining locs, speaks to the fact that our narrative is still being undervalued and disrespected. Especially when Becky has been dry shampooing her oily hair for 2 weeks now!
CMS also has no idea how traumatic cutting all your hair can be for Black women. There is so much trauma with Black women and hair especially in corporate America. Black women have always had to assimilate to European standard of beauty to gain employment in the workplace. Causing heavy psychological weight that we’ve balanced. But now some are tired of balancing this weight and are embracing hair the way it naturally grow out of our head. And how we choose to embrace it is no one’s business but ours. But to assume it's messy and unprofessional is deep rooted bias based on ignorance and, or fear. Now I know little about the law. But I know we have the right to freedom of expression. The fact that this lawsuit was dismissed is a threat to our expression. And this is what scares me the most: the silencing of an alternative, non-European expression. We don’t know if Chasity wore locs to feel better connected to her culture, or if she it’s because it’s the easiest way to maintain her hair. But her reasoning is quite irrelevant, because she has a right to express herself any way she pleases. That should have nothing to do with her race, culture, etc. The court failed Chasity when they compared the experience of a white person to Chasity and her experience. Black people are not a dichotomy of White people. They abused the social definition of race to the extent that they assumed white support qualifies as trait to be black. In the end Chasity was failed by her potential employer, and the court.
They both looked passed her qualified resume and experience and were lock on her locs. See what I did there. There are a few things I want to make sure you take away from all this. The first, there needs to be a serious reform in corporations and education institutions on standards of professionalism and beauty. I include education because this negative portrayal of natural hair is affecting our babies too. I’ve read many articles of little girls being kicked out of school because their natural hair is “distracting”. Secondly, I want everyone to take the way you express yourself seriously, especially expression through the mystical events that takes place on top of your head. And when some attempts to place limits and restrictions on that, fight like hell to make sure they never try you again! Okk! Spread love, and don’t let nobody touch your crown!
Words by Dre Demry-Sanders
llustrations by Esther Luntadila @4everestherr