The natural hair movement among African Americans has experienced resurgence, as evidenced by the many YouTube videos, blogs, and products created to aid in grooming unprocessed hair, or what is at times called nappy or virgin hair.  Natural hair has been constructed as radical, extreme, and unkempt, despite the fact that a natural hairstyle simply means wearing our hair the way it grows out of our head, without the addition of harmful chemicals. This natural aesthetic should on its face be unproblematic, but because whiteness has an ongoing interest in policing our bodies, many have found the decision not to relax their hair, or cut it into a short style, has lead to negative results.  In a market in which all must sell their labor for profit, this decidedly limits the options of people of color, who at times must choose between being true to themselves or conforming to racist and other appearance standards.

A Six Flags theme park is under public scrutiny for the second time in two years for its policy of denying employment to women with dreadlocks. In 2010, 23-year-old Janet Bello and 60-year-old Jackie Sherrill were both denied employment because of their dreadlocks.

Blackvoices reported the following

Six Flags issued a statement to ABC News:

“Six Flags enforces a conservative grooming policy across all parks. The policy does not permit certain hairstyles such as variations in hair colors, dreadlocks, partially shaved heads, tails, and hairstyles that impair vision. Braided hair is allowed but must be in neat, even rows and without beads or other ornaments.”

In the most recent case, 21-year-old Markeese Warner, a senior at Pennsylvania State University, arrived for her interview dressed in appropriate business attire, when she was informed that she would not be eligible for employment due to her dreadlocks. For Six Flags, dreadlocks, along with Mohawks, fall under the category of “extreme hairstyles.”

Not content to let this obvious racist abuse go without attention, Warner spoke to family friend Kwasi Abahu about this incident. Abahu organized a petition, now being featured at Change. Org. The petition states in part:

“It is disparaging for Six Flags to accept substantial amounts of money every year at their parks across the United States, Mexico, and Canada from patrons who wear their hair as it grows naturally, but the company would refuse to hire any of those patrons with locks. We spend way too much money at places like Six Flags Theme Parks for them to discriminate against any members of our community. Let us also exercise our voice with our dollars.

There is no excuse in 2012 for such abhorrent employment policies. In a time when the “voice of the people” can be witnessed to move mountains, let us in one accord raise our voice. In a country that purports itself to be the greatest “melting pot” of social values and ideals, it’s time for Six Flags to stop its discriminatory policy by categorically refusing to employ people because of their natural hair.

To date, the petition has received 35,381 of the 50,000 signatures, which it is seeking.

Though Six Flags is currently in the news, it is not the only employer with a history of dismissing or otherwise disciplining employees because of dreadlocks. In May of this year, it was reported that Antonio Hegwood was suspended without pay from a St. Louis Petro Mart for refusing to cut his shoulder-length dreadlocks. Also in May of this year, Clutch reported about Aboubakar Traoré, a flight attendant for Air France, was forced to wear a wig to cover up his dreadlocks.   Nieland Bynoe didn’t even make it through orientation as a driver for UPS Freight in Harrisburg in 2007 before he was fired for refusing to shave his beard and dreadlocks, though Bynoe is a Rastafarian, which should have granted him a religious exception. “In 2001 Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton fired Officer Gina Mosley, a seven-year veteran, for not complying with the department’s hair policy.” In 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Darcel Walker sued his then-employer Safeway, claiming he was fired because of his dreadlocks. The EEOC filed suit against FedEx for firing employees who refused to cut their dreadlocks for religious reasons in 2001.

These are only the incidents we know about; however, given the fact that black hair continues to be exoticized and radicalized, it is fair to assume that being penalized for choosing to wear locs happens on a fairly regular basis. Even though some of these cases involve religious observance, locs were still considered in violation of appearance standards.

Locs are simply one way out of many of wearing natural hair.  There is no reason why they cannot be styled neatly in a ponytail or simply left to hang loosely from the head.  Locs are targeted specifically because the majority of the people wearing them are black.  Locs have only been deemed radical because whiteness has declared them to be so.  Wearing one’s hair in locs does not indicate a heightened political consciousness, or a desire to engage in social protest.  For many, locs simply represent a style they have chosen to wear.

All companies have to be highly conscience of their public image in this competitive economic market, but when they create policies that specifically target or otherwise oppress people of color, the issue is no longer about the court of public opinion, but about enforcing standards, which directly police and negatively impact people of color.

  • http://tontonmichel.tumblr.com/ Tonton Michel

    A simple policy like tying your hair back in a bun could have prevented this, I hope they sue the heck out of these companies and win big.

  • Imjustsaying

    Hmm I think the issue is the lack of information on locs and the lack of initiative on these companies’ part to investigate the process. I think most people (white, Asian, Hispanic, Latino, and even black) think of dreadlocks as unwashed, just let it grow, knotted and nasty. When in reality most locs that people see in the everyday world are well maintained and washed regularly like any other hairstyle.
    Also in refrence to white people i would like to quote the great web series Awkward Black Girl “good friends are like good white dreads hard to come by”. White people associate white dreads with hippies and in reality those are seemingly the most unkempt I’ve seen. Along with blacks and others nationalities who just “let it grow” I think this is the image that comes to mind for people not familiar with locs. And honestly I wouldn’t want to hire someone with that type either.You can literally see the dirt and dust that has been caught in the unwashed hair. Well maintained locs don’t have those issues. I wash my hair every two weeks (which is normal for black people for those who don’t know) and twist it myself or if I’m feeling lazy I go to the salon for the same treatment. I have literally seen ONE white guy in my life who had the best locs I’ve ever seen on a white person. There is a lot of maintanence that goes into keeping white hair loc’d more than even black hair.
    To end my soapbox speech i want to say that people are not willing to go further than what they hear about locs abefore they make a decision on any hairstyle. Well maintained locs are just as clean as well maintained hair of any other style. Do some research before penalizing good people for their appearance.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Visually impairing hairstyles?! This company is a bit extra with it. I do not for the life of me understand how locs (which are my next step in this natural hair journey) are seen as being intimidating and or menacing. It’s just hair, that has been loc’d in place! Nothing more nothing less. It doesn’t bite, nor is every person that has locks walking around preaching about black power whilst holding their hand out in a fist to show solidarity with the pippoz!! C’mon, Six Flags!! Stop the madness.

  • CaramelLoo

    Boycott, people and take your dollars elsewhere!!!!!!

  • Laugh

    Yup, hope they sue and win. That’s the only way these stupid practices will stop. It’s just hair it doesn’t define anyone or make you a certain way. Just stupid!

  • http://twitter.com/gennatay RoGina (@gennatay)

    She can’t sue. Its not discrimination it’s their corporate policy. They don’t allow locs, braided hair styles, blue hair etc. It was against Disney’s corporate policy for years for me to have facial hair. Other company’s have policies against visible tattoos. This had nothing to do with her race, “it’s just hair” so can we please stop making this a racial issue.

  • Ravi

    actually, she can sue. she might not win, but she can certainly bring suit. it is, by definition, discrimination. Whether or not it is corporate policy is moot. The only legal question is whether or not this sort of discrimination is allowed. All discrimination isn’t impermissible.

    People have sued over discrimination concerning hair in the past. check out this case:

    http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=1981756527FSupp229_1728.xml&docbase=CSLWAR1-1950-1985

    it may not be a close and shut case, but she likely has a cause of action.

  • Nicole

    YES! YES! YES! I agree with every word you said.

  • http://twitter.com/gennatay RoGina (@gennatay)

    This is America, we can sue for any and every thing.

    If her locs are for religious reasons (which they are not) then she may have a case. Also, the very fact that it is their corporate policy is the reason she did not get the position In reference to the case above, her argument is “I’m a black woman so, I should be able to wear braids”. She wants special treatment concerning the grooming policy because she is Black, that’s not discrimination.

  • Mademoiselle

    Interesting read. The AA employee lost because even though she claimed cornrows as culturally significant to black people, hair doesn’t grow in rows–it’s manipulated (styled) to look that way and the style goes in and out of fashion. I wonder how far an argument that black people’s natural hair would in fact lock if it were never combed would go (a stretch).

  • http://gravatar.com/rastaman1967 rastaman

    “A barber went to Zion to shave natty dread, natty shave the barber instead”

  • http://gravatar.com/libpatriot libpatriot

    Actually no, if a white woman wore dreadlocks, and they do, she would experience the same result.

  • Mr.TooCold

    Six flags has a history of Racist situations, they have had multiple law suites filed against them. When will they learn….I hope they get sued, again, and LOSE BIG

  • CurlySue

    Is it discrimination when hair styles, tattoos, piercings, etc are all elective? You can’t control what race, nationality, sex, etc you are. But if you elect to have tattoos in visible places or cornrows or a nose piercing or whatever, than you’re accepting the possibility that you may be limiting who will consider you hireable.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Ravi,

    I’m very tongue in cheek, but this deceleration is said in all seriousness, I have a crush on you. It began in late 2010, due to a comment you made on an article about cooking, women’s liberation. Blah,blah blah. Ever since, I’ve been googoo gaga over your comments. I call you the intellectual stimulant! Your avi has eh, reinforced this notion! *exits in a hurry*

  • Ravi

    @RoGina (@gennatay)

    First she can’t sue, now she can sue for anything because this is America? Neither is true. You can’t sue for anything, but you can sue for this. In general, there needs to be some sort of cause of action. You don’t literally have the right to sue for anything.

    The corporate policy is what is being discriminatory. It is discriminating on the basis of hair type. Hair type isn’t a protected classification, so she would have to show that this amounts to some sort of racial discrimination based on disparate impact. You don’t have to have facial racial discrimination in order to prevail on a discrimination claim. It’s not an easy argument to make, but she does have a case. If she gets a good enough lawyer then she will likely get a settlement.

    That wasn’t the argument for the case I pasted. Her primary claim was that the policy disparately impacted black women because a disproportionate amount of black women wore their hair in such a manner. It would be like making a policy that excluded women with long, stringy, blond hair. Given the vast majority of such women would be white, you could argue that such a policy has a disparate impact on white women and would constitute a form of racial discrimination. Similarly, if they were to create a policy regarding the hue of someone’s skin. A policy excluding anyone darker than a paper bag would disparately impact African-Americans.

    If you would have read the end you would have seen that they did find that there was discrimination — just not racial discrimination. You can discriminate on a lot more than just race.

  • Ravi

    Thank you African Mami! If I were a little lighter, then I would be blushing. Love you too!

  • Ravi

    It’s still discrimination. What you are talking about is immutability. Immutability is part of the calculus for determining whether or not you are a protected classification, but it isn’t the only factor. For example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Department_of_Agriculture_v._Moreno

    In this case, the court struck down discriminatory laws aimed at hippies. being a hippie is certainly something you can control.

  • http://tontonmichel.tumblr.com/ Tonton Michel

    “It was against Disney’s corporate policy for years for me to have facial hair.”

    Yeah I kind of see why…..

  • Right As Rain

    Now, ordinarily I agree with you, but you including cornrows on your list with tattoos and piercings tells me that you are ignorant about Black hairstyles.

  • http://twitter.com/gennatay RoGina (@gennatay)

    @ravi

    Your assumption that I didn’t read the end of the case was just that, an assumption. I was already familiar with the case before you posted it.

    And the point you tried to make further proved mine. Because Black Women predominantly wear their hair in cornrows, it should be accepted. If it is the corporate policy of a company that corn- rows are not accepted, and a black woman wears corn-rows then it is “discrimination”.

    Excluding women with long, blond stringy hair, curly hair, afro hair etc is discriminatory because, more than likely, that is how their hair grows from their head.

  • Mademoiselle

    I don’t think black women predominantly wear their hair in cornrows. I think the women who wear cornrows are predominantly black, but the reverse is not true. Cornrows are a hairstyle, not a characteristic of hair, and because black women have many other hairstyles at their disposal that fall in line with their policy, I can’t see the exclusion of that style preventing a large number of black women from being employed at AA. That’s no different, to me, than saying they don’t allow bright red lipstick. White women may be the majority of the people who wear it, but wearing that particular shade is personal choice.

  • Ravi

    well, considering you were stating that there was no discrimination despite the fact that the end of the case clearly states there was discrimination, it was a pretty natural assumption to make. I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. All assumptions aren’t bad. The only other logical explanation was that you read it, but didn’t comprehend what you read. Also, being familiar with the case does not mean reading the entire case.

    That wasn’t the point you articulated concerning cornrows. you stated:
    “Also, the very fact that it is their corporate policy is the reason she did not get the position In reference to the case above, her argument is “I’m a black woman so, I should be able to wear braids”

    That was not her argument. The report I posted clearly stated what her argument was and this isn’t it.

    You also keep using discrimination incorrectly.

    “Discrimination refers to the treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.”

    it could be hair, skin, color, tattoos, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, height, or pretty much any characteristic other than individual merit. Saying a person can’t work for you because of any aspect of their appearance is discrimination. It may not be RACIAL discrimination, but there are many other types.

    excluding women based on their hair is discriminatory because you did it based on their hair as opposed to individual merit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tiffany.bonning Tiffany Bonning

    as long as your hair is beautiful, neat, clean and maintained, I don’t see the problem. Let people be themselves. That’s the problem with this country, someone is always trying to make someone else the way they want them to be.

  • http://chunkynappyfunky.wordpress.com/ Ms. Information

    Why would you as a woman have facial hair? I just..I don’t understand..

  • CurlySue

    @Right as Rain: I’m not sure why you’re offended. I was pointing out a myriad of elective looks people can achieve that some corporations may consider unacceptable. Since no one’s hair grows out of their head in cornrows, that would be considered elective. Further, I am not ignorant on black hairstyles. I make a point to educate myself on them, as I have a mixed-race niece and will likely one day have mixed race children. But way to assume!

  • Amber

    I don’t think the article is implying that she was fired because she was black with dreads. The point is that the ban on dreadlocks will more likely affect a black person that another. I personally don’t call that racism, but it’s still a policy that could use some review.

  • Pingback: Black hairstyles: Do women with natural hair still face employment discrimination? | theGrio

  • Pingback: Black hairstyles: Do women with natural hair still face employment discrimination?

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    well this is what happens when you decide to sell your soul to work for these stupid companies. 60 wanting to work at six flags? that’s ridiculous she should be retired!! : (

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    There is nothing ‘normal’ for all black people. I really wish ignorant people would stop commenting on what ‘black people’ do as if we all have the same hair needs, types, styles, lifestyles, desires etc. What you do for your hair is normal for you and only you.

    I think we have been so indoctrinated into seeing ourselves as a monolithic and having to explain all black people to non-blacks, we have suspended logic.

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    I can see you are still here spewing your casual racism and white privilege.

  • http://www.zenawynn.com Zena

    Corporate America has a look. The military and law enforcement have a look. Educators, be it lower or higher education, has a look. That’s one of the first things they teach you in college. If you want to get into these fields, you have to conform to their image. It’s not discrimination. It’s economics. He who has the money makes the rules. If it’s my company, I can set the standards of how I want my employees to look any way I want.

    I recently saw a case on television where a waitress was fired by her boss for gaining wait. The restaurant was a bikini bar and it stated the height and weight requirements right up front, and employees were told if they failed to meet those requirements they would lose their job. She gained weight, was warned, failed to lose the weight, and was fired. She sued based on discrimination and lost. The woman was white.

    The point is, if you want a job with a place, you investigate their hiring policies and do your best to conform. If you want to buck the system, wait until you get inside of it to try and change it. Doing so from the outside will leave you there — on the outside.

  • Beanie;)

    Please explain to me why is it that Blacks must always “explain, educate, give reason” to these white loose to why we do say are a certain way. Do we asktgem why they insect themselves with foreign matter to make larger breast lips asses hips ect? That crap does not make sense to me. I have to explain to a potential employer why I choose to wear my hair a certain way….No I will no give them that satisfaction. I am not their child nor pet nor inferior species……we don’t have educate them on shit they need to get their priorities together and stop the senseless racism!!!!!

  • Beanie;)

    Lol good one ;)

  • Darkchild

    Cant believe some people still live in the 80′s, this is discrimination… Now if we are going tooth and Nail as our brother malcolm said once, i guess as well the blonde haired should NOT be allowed to work in the white house. BLONDE HAIR IMPAIRES THE VISION!!! Nut jobs

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