Sarah Grace Goolden
Workplace policies are meant to protect employees and create a professional and appropriate atmosphere to work in. Companies could not function without them. If employees did not come in at their assigned time, the business would lose money, and other people would have to pick up the slack. If employees did illegal substances or drank alcohol during work hours, they could endanger themselves or others. Black men and women having natural hair and hairstyles does not harm or inconvenience a business. Firing or not hiring someone based on having dreadlocks should be illegal but, surprisingly, in some places it is not.
Of course, companies need a dress code as to convey a clean and professional image. This is why a lot of businesses require employees to practice good hygiene. Not doing so makes the company look bad and might deter customers or investors.
This is reasonable to ensure an effective workplace. However, at many places, dreadlocks and other typically Black hairstyles are banned for being “excessive” or “unprofessional.” This mentality is inherently racist because it targets hairstyles worn by a specific race. Braids, dreads and natural hair are not distracting or dirty. There is no reason why they cannot be worn at work, as they do not interfere with productivity.
There is more to these hairstyles than just preference. Certain styles have cultural and historical significance. For a long time, Black people with naturally curly hair were pressured into chemically straightening their hair. The right to wear your hair as it comes out of your head is something that should be pretty obvious.
In December of last year, a high school wrestling referee in New Jersey forced 16-year-old Andrew Johnson to cut his dreadlocks at a game. A recent photo from 2016 has resurfaced of the NFL-sponsored organization, Crushers Club, cutting the dreads off a young man with the caption “And another Crusher let me cut his dreads off! It’s symbolic of change and their desire for a better life.”
This rhetoric is dangerous. It suggests that Black hairstyles are inherently unacceptable in professional settings, which is very untrue. Following the Crushers Club controversy, many individuals took to Twitter to prove that sentiment wrong. Men and women are getting their PhD with dreadlocks. There are lawyers and doctors with natural hair. Being successful does not mean sacrificing your culture, identity and Blackness.
Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of The Washington Post, says, “Few things in African American culture are more politicized than hair. Whether it’s chemically straightened, attached to a synthetic mane or left in its natural state, our hair takes on all sorts of meaning, often without intention. Much of this is rooted in the outsider status of our hair in a society that deems European standards of beauty inherently more valuable than any others.”
Messy buns are sported everywhere. Men and women clock in with wet, unstyled hair. Some companies even allow colored hair. How are those examples more professional than braids or dreads that require plenty of time and money?
Telling a Black person that the hair they grow is unacceptable in work settings is undeniably racist. The other way to then remedy this thought is to chemically straighten one’s hair. Why does this make people more comfortable? Why is straight hair considered more professional than curls?
It all boils down to the undeniable fact that whiteness is considered the norm. This is a misconception that needs to be destroyed through tangible workplace policy adaptations. Banning natural hair and protective styles hurts employers as well as the business itself. It is an outdated and ignorant rule that companies should be ashamed of.
Black hair is not unprofessional. Curly hair is not distracting or unkempt. It’s time to realize that racist workplace policies do not protect anyone; they only hurt and shame people of color.