Discrimination based on hair texture

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Discrimination based on hair texture is a form of social injustice, found worldwide, that targets black people, specifically black people who have afro-textured hair that's not been chemically straightened. Afro-textured hair has frequently been seen as being unprofessional, unattractive, and unclean.

History[edit]

In the Western world, afro-textured hair has historically been treated with disdain, by members of all ethnicities. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Atlantic slave trade saw black Africans forcibly transported from Sub-Saharan Africa to North America and, upon their arrival in the New World, their heads would be shaved in effort to erase their culture, as many Africans used hairstyles to signify their tribal identity, marital status, age, and other personal characteristics.[1] Early on, both men and women would wear headscarves in order to protect their scalps from sunburn and lice but, as time progressed, these hair wraps became more associated with women, who began to wear them in various fashions, based on their region and personal style. In the 19th century, when slaves were no longer being imported from Africa, quality of life increased for them somewhat as they became more valuable in their owners' eyes. Now enjoying Sundays off, black women would take the day to style their hair, uncovering it for church services but keeping it wrapped Monday through Saturday. As traditional styling tools weren't available to them, black women began to use butter, kerosene, and bacon grease and combs meant for livestock to style their hair.

The concept of good hair arose in the time leading up to the abolition of slavery in the United States. Slaves who worked in the home didn't wear headscarves as field laborers did and, as they were often children of a white man in the family that owned them, they were more likely to have straight hair than kinky or curly. To straighten their hair, black women would often use a mixture of lye, which could burn their skin. In New Orleans, Louisiana, in the 18th century, black and Louisiana Creole women were required by law to wear a tignon, to cover their hair, and, in an act of resistance, did so but adorned their wraps with fine fabrics and jewelry.[2]

Madam C. J. Walker, an African American businesswoman, achieved great fortune and recognition for widening the teeth of the hot comb, which would straighten afro-textured hair.[3][4]

Discrimination by country[edit]

Australia[edit]

In 2017, two 16-year-old sisters, Grace and Tahbisa, originally from South Sudan, were pulled from their classes at Bentleigh Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia and told they had until the end of the school week to remove their braids.[5]

Dominican Republic[edit]

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. 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).[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.

Jamaica[edit]

In 2018, a 5-year-old girl was banned from attending classes at her primary school in Kingston, Jamaica for having dreadlocks.[7]

United States[edit]

In the United States, discrimination based on hair texture is a form of social injustice that has been predominantly experienced by African Americans and predates the existence of the country. There is no existing federal law that prohibits this form of discrimination, but there have been legislative proposals to do so. In the 21st century, multiple states and local governments have passed laws that prohibit such discrimination, California being the first state to do so in 2019 with the Crown Act.

Canada[edit]

Similar to many countries around the world, Black and First Nations Canadians have experienced discrimination in educational and professional environments. One type of discrimination has been based on their hair textures and styles.  The cause of this type of discrimination is based on long standing Eurocentric views of beauty that were established during early colonization. Setting this standard was used as a tool to suppress both African[8] and First nations culture.[9] Though, Canada has made an commitment to support anti-racism and reconciliation[10] there has been no specific protections put in place (such as the United States crown act) to protect against this form of discrimination.  

In Canada, there has been notable cases of discrimination that made national news sites about Black Canadian women being discriminated against at their work place, do to her hair being deemed unprofessional. In 2016, a Bi-racial black woman in Scarborough, Ontario, who was working at the retail chain ZARA, was asked to remove her box braids because her hair style was unprofessional.[11] In another case, an African-American woman living in Montreal,s Quebec, was sent home from a restaurant and denied shifts, because her hair was in cornrows. The woman gained representation through the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), and filed a case with the Quebec Human Rights Commission based racial and gender discrimination. She won her case and was rewarded $14,500 in damages.[12][13]

First Nations people in Canada have also experienced discrimination and harm due to wearing hair styles that do not conform to Eurocentric view. During the time of residential schools, First Nations children braids were cut from their heads to force assimilation.[14] Similar incidents of racism have happened recently in Canada. In 2009, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a First Nations boy’s hair was cut by a teachers aide.[15]  In 2018, a boy in Calgary, Alberta came from school with his hair cut after another student bullied him and then cut out his braid.[16] In both cultures, braids hold significant ties to the past before colonization and have important culture meaning.[17][18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "You Can't Take Our Crowns: The Impact Of Slavery On Black Women's Hair | Black Then". blackthen.com. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  2. ^ "When Black Women Were Required By Law to Cover Their Hair". Broadly. 2018-04-10. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  3. ^ "Madam C.J. Walker". DEV: National Women's History Museum. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  4. ^ "History Of Natural Hair". Monday, July 20, 2020
  5. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (2017-03-31). "School will allow black students to keep hair braids after 'ban' furore". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  6. ^ Thompson, Cheryl (2008–2009). "Black Women and Identity: What's hair got to do with it?". Michigan State University.
  7. ^ Kingston, Kate Chappell in (2018-08-28). "Jamaican schoolgirl banned for her dreadlocks can go to class, court rules". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  8. ^ "View of Altered Beauty: African-Caribbean Women Decolonizing Racialized Aesthetics in Toronto, Canada | Revue YOUR Review (York Online Undergraduate Research)". yourreview.journals.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  9. ^ "'Assault' on residential school students' identities began the moment they stepped inside". National Post. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  10. ^ Office, Privy Council (2020-09-23). "2020 Speech from the Throne". gcnws. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  11. ^ "Zara employee humiliated after managers try to 'fix' her hair | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  12. ^ "Young black Montrealer claims she's losing work over her hair". Global News. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  13. ^ "Montreal woman wins case after losing job at Madisons because of her hair". Global News. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  14. ^ "'Assault' on residential school students' identities began the moment they stepped inside". National Post. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  15. ^ "Thunder Bay mom wants answers after teacher's aide chops off son's hair | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  16. ^ "Son's braid cut at Calgary school: Indigenous mother hopes for teaching moment | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  17. ^ "View of Altered Beauty: African-Caribbean Women Decolonizing Racialized Aesthetics in Toronto, Canada | Revue YOUR Review (York Online Undergraduate Research)". yourreview.journals.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  18. ^ "'Assault' on residential school students' identities began the moment they stepped inside". National Post. Retrieved 2020-10-21.

Bibliography[edit]

  • "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.