Dread-ful Discrimination


Kerry Wilson, Opinion Editor

In the age of cultural diversity, it is hard to believe that miniscule factors, such as hairstyles can disqualify a person from earning an honest living. Sadly, however, discrimination against natural African-American hair is a reality in the professional world and entertainment business.

Take for instance the case of Chastity Jones, an applicant for Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS) in Mobile, Ala. During her interview process in 2010, a human resource manager took issue with Jones’ dreadlocks, commenting that they “tend to get messy.” Jones refused to change her hairstyle and was turned down from the job. She teamed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and took CMS to court in 2013. After being dismissed by the Alabama Federal Court and filing an appeal, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with CMS, stating that hairstyles are mutable characteristics (characteristics that can be changed) and therefore it did not count as racial discrimination. The court’s decision was, without a question, modern racial discrimination and should be struck down.

The court’s decision completely misses the point on which characteristics can be changed. Yes, dreadlocks are a particular style of natural African-American hair, but the hair is in its natural state, without chemicals or heat processing. Therefore, by stating dreadlocks are a mutable characteristic and can be changed on a whim, what is really being said is employers reserve the right to dictate the texture of someone’s hair. If the court is allowing employers to discriminate against this particular style of natural hair now, this could eventually spread to the discrimination of other popular black hairstyles such as braids, twists, afros, and eventually to simply having black hair in general. This is a scary thought considering how much our ancestors fought for us to have basic rights as other Americans, including the right to work. We are all American. Our country is made up of more than a mass of straight hair. America’s hair is straight, kinky, wavy, and every other texture of hair there is in the human race.

Even moving outside of the professional world and into the entertainment business, there is apparent discrimination of natural African-American hair, as well as a double standard. African- American actress Zendaya Coleman was the subject of criticism from Guiliana Rancic on the popular E! show Fashion Police because of her protective dreadlock style. While discussing what people were wearing on the red carpet, Rancic said that Coleman’s hair made her appear as if she smelled like marijuana. Rancic apologized for her comments, but the statements left a bitter taste of racism within an industry that claims to praise diversity. And, it doesn’t stop there. Cultural appropriation is the cause of double standards pertaining to natural African-American hair. Celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner, to name a few, sport hairstyles native to African-Americans and are praised for their “fashion sense.” The message America appears to be sending to African-Americans is “Your hair is fine, yet disqualifies you all from, well, everything.”

Natural African-American hair is not weird or unprofessional. It is unique, it is special, and it certainly should not keep someone from obtaining a job—regardless of the style it is in. With cultural appropriation coming from people of other races, one has to wonder why America will not stop discriminating and start appreciating the diversity of natural African-American hair.