According to the EEOC:
“We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that, in the last several decades, there have been some calls for courts to interpret Title VII more expansively by eliminating the biological conception of ‘race’ and encompassing cultural characteristics associated with race.” Adding, “As far as we can tell, every court to have considered the issue has rejected the argument that Title VII protects hairstyles culturally associated with race.”
Traditional black hairstyles are not just under fire at workplaces but also in schools across the country. The most recent attempt to do so was in a high school in Kentucky. Attica Scott, the mother of a student at Butler Traditional High and a state House candidate, questioned the policy after her daughter brought back a paper from the school outlining the school’s dress code for the year.
Included in the dress code were policies regarding hairstyles:
- Hairstyles that are extreme, distracting or attention-getting will not be permitted. This includes unnatural hair colors or obvious intentions to draw attention to oneself.
Reasonable length for males means hair no longer than the top of the shirt collar, above the eyebrows and afros no more than 2 inches in length.
There must be no designs, names or lines cut into the hair and no tails or buns on males.
No dreadlocks, cornrows, twists, mohawks, no jewelry will be worn in the hair.
Of course, the absurdity of focusing on hair styles in schools instead of addressing the academic issues was not missed by the Butler High mom who challenged the school’s recent ban on the traditional African American hairstyles. Scott remarked:
“I don’t understand why we’re going to focus on something like natural hair styles when we should be focused on education. They specifically outlined hairstyles that are worn most by black kids. To me, this stinks of institutional racism.”
Even the US military revised its former restrictions on hairstyles as Attica Scott noted in her letter to the Jefferson County School Board, saying:
In 2014, the U.S. military rolled back restrictions on certain hairstyles popular among black members in its ranks, deciding to include styles such as dreadlocks or twists among authorized hairstyles. The decision to roll back those restrictions came after community backlash against the policies, including in a “Daily Show” bit dubbed “Operation Black Hair.”
After the blowback from the controversial policy, the Butler High ban was suspended and other schools in the same district asked their school board decision-making councils to reevaluate their dress code policies “through the lens of embracing diversity,” JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens told local newspaper, the Courier-Journal.
What is most interesting about this rush to ban hairstyles, traditionally worn by African Americans, is that the response is completely different when someone white wears that same style.
Fashion designer, Marc Jacobs, had all of his models outfitted in stylized dreadlocks at a recent New York City fashion show. He was roundly criticized; not for the reasons given by schools and workplaces across the country state. Instead, he was accused of cultural appropriation (the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture).
Long before the term “cultural appropriation” was coined, Bo Derek made a splash among mainstream Americans by wearing cornrows in her 1979 movie, 10.
Of course, cornrows have been a mainstay style for black girls for years. More recently, Kim Kardashian wore cornrows and mainstream media quickly labeled them “Boxer Braids” in order to rebrand them and make them acceptable as white culture. It seems black hairstyles are only legitimized by the larger society when worn by whites. I wonder if the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals will also be adding “Boxer Braids” to their list now.