Discrimination based on hair texture
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Discrimination based on hair texture is a form of injustice resulting in human beings being treated differently based on the stigma attached to hair texture in society.
Hair texture varies from straight hair to the curlier, kinkier hair. Curly hair also has its own variation ranging from very loose curls to the very tightly packed afro textured hair. Straight hair enjoys a higher prestige and is more widely accepted in both professional settings and everyday settings. This social stigma attached to having curly hair has created an entire economy around hair care products and treatments to straighten hair.
Madame C.J. Walker rose to prominence by starting a business focusing on products that would straighten kinky hair. She came to popularize the straightening comb, which revolutionized the way women straightened their hair. The straightening comb could straighten hair temporarily without the harsh side effects of previous methods.
Madame C.J. Walker marketed her product to African American women. Soon, straightening one's hair became a symbol of African American identity and economic sustenance. Madame Walker would speak to groups African American women about topics such as beauty.
Hair and the perception of beauty in the Diaspora & the Dominican Republic
In the Dominican Republic, as in anywhere in the diaspora, hair is seen as an important attribute of physical beauty. Straight hair is viewed beautiful and appropriate for a professional setting and some people do hold negative views on wearing hair natural. The way it has had a very negative connotation in the United States, and the English speaking Caribbean as we can see from Madame C.J. Walker's success with straightening combs, and the billion dollar weave market. This has changed over the years in the United States and abroad as the American Natural Hair Movement gains popularity. Many natural hair bloggers are in fact Dominican, and can be found on YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media embracing their curls. Though there is increasing popularity, many women still wear their hair straightened, as they do here.
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. For young black [and other girls of color], hair is not just something to play with, it is something that is laden with messages, and it has the power to dictate how others treat you, and in turn, how you feel about yourself. 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).
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.
Hair in the workplace
Employers can include in their employee handbooks what hairstyles are appropriate for their work space. However, some hairstyles put some women at a disadvantage because it does not allow them to wear their hair in a more natural form. Additionally, it affects the hiring process too. Hair that is worn naturally is more likely to affect a qualified candidate's chances of being hired than their straight haired counterparts.
After being hired to particular company, the employee is subject to the employee handbook dress code, which could include hairstyles. Since physical appearance is not a protected under federal law, an employer can terminate one if they feel the employee’s hairstyle is inappropriate for the work environment. This has a greater effect on individuals whose natural hair has low positive regard towards it. This type of discrimination based on hairstyles has led to a number of different lawsuits by African American women towards their former employers. A famous case of discrimination based on a hairstyle associated with afro textured hair occurred in 1981, where Renee Rogers was terminated for wearing a braided, cornrow style while on the job.
Hairstyles in other places
Views on hair exist outside of a professional context as well. In 2006 Kimberly Haines was not allowed to go into a nightclub because of her dreadlocks. The club had a policy that did not allow for braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks, which are hairstyles more typically worn by African Americans. Haines filed for a lawsuit against the owner of the nightclub.
Curlism, a term first used by Solange Knowles, refers to a movement to change negative views towards natural hair. Particularly the negative view that natural hair is unkempt. Proponents of curlism argue that one should not change their natural hair because it is part of their identity. Furthermore, it is unfair to those who have afro textured hair because they are expected to undergo damaging treatments to their hair to achieve the societal epitome of desired hair. There is a grading system where the kinkiest and coiliest of hair is graded as the lowest or in the 4 category, this system was devised by a popular black hairstylist that once berated natural hair.
Curly hair in the media
Actors in Hollywood face challenges when it comes to having curly hair and the roles that they play in particular films. Actors with curly hair tend to play roles that are sillier and less serious in nature. If they do play a role that is more serious, the curly hair is altered to have a straighter appearance or hidden altogether.
Various pro-natural, pro-kinky and curly hair-care blogs and websites such as, for example, Black girl with long hair, are part of an online culture that seeks to work against the discrimination and exclusion of different hair textures in traditional media.
Good Hair: a film by Chris Rock that explores the accepted look of African American hair, the industry that arose to achieve this look, and cultural effects this styling industry has had. The following excerpt is taken from the film:
In the black hair business, the most profitable portion is the sale and maintenance of weaves. Women can expect to invest six to eight hours in the salon getting their hair braided into sections and then having tracks of hair attached onto the braids. After women get their weave, they regularly come back into the salon for hair washing, conditioning, and tightening. In the documentary, Rock learned that some women will spend upwards to $1000 for a weave and if they cannot afford it, they can put it on layaway.
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