A white Banana Republic manager who informed Black employee Destiny Thompkins that her box braids hairstyle is too “urban” and “unkempt” for the clothing store and wouldn’t schedule the 19-year-old for shifts unless she removed them is now out of a job.
The incident took place Wednesday at a Banana Republic store in White Plains, N.Y. Thompkins, a native of Harlem who has worked there for about a month, used a Facebook post to describe her experience:
“Today I went into work at Banana Republic at the Westchester Mall and after the district manager (a white woman) popped in for a visit, I was told to go to the office to speak with my manager, Michael (Mike), who is a white man.
“I came in and he questioned me about the dress code and immediately, I thought there was something wrong with my outfit but he sat me down and questioned my hair instead.
“He told me that my braids were not Banana Republic appropriate and that they were too ‘urban’ and ‘unkempt’ for their image. He said that if I didn’t take them out then he couldn’t schedule me for shifts until I did.”
Thompkins said when she told her manager that the braids are a protective hairstyle to prevent brittle hair in cold weather, he recommended she instead use shea butter to protect her hair.
“I have never been so humiliated and degraded in my life by a white person,” she wrote.
Thompkins asked the Facebook community to help her make the incident public.
“They need to be exposed for their blatant racism and discrimination,” she added.
The post, which now has more than 50,000 views, went viral and prompted a response from the company on Friday announcing an investigation would take place.
Two days later, on Sunday, Banana Republic released a statement saying the manager, who was not named, had been terminated:
“This week, one of our store managers questioned an African American employee’s braided hair style,” a spokesperson said.
“Our team began an immediate investigation and the manager involved was promptly removed from the store. Today we concluded the investigation and can confirm that the manager has been terminated from the company.
“Banana Republic has zero tolerance for discrimination. This situation was completely unacceptable, counter to our policies, and in no way reflects our company’s beliefs and values.”
The company was founded in 1978. It was purchased by Gap Inc. in 1983, who then rebranded it as a mainstream luxury clothing retailer that now has more than 500 U.S. locations. Banana Republic’s President and CEO Mark Breitbard sits on Gap Inc.’s 14-member board of directors, which has no Black women or men.
In Thompkins’ Facebook post she said that the district manager, a white woman, seemingly prompted her male supervisor to discuss her hairstyle.
And in an interview with Eyewitness News, she repeated what her manager allegedly said.
Thompkins commented, “He said, ‘The district manager came in and she pointed out your hair. We were wondering if you could take [the braids] out.'”
Banana Republic has not yet indicated if the district manager has or will receive disciplinary action.
“The ‘Good Hair’ Study: Explicit And Implicit Attitudes Toward Black Women’s Hair,” released by the Perception Institute in February, measured implicit (unconscious) and explicit (conscious) bias toward the hairstyles of Black women, specifically natural hair.
Alexis McGill Johnson, co-founder and executive director of the institute, told DiversityInc that although the results showed that Black women themselves have biases, it was “very concerning” that white women had the strongest implicit attitudes.
White women “had the strongest explicit attitudes that were negative. The significant bias is a challenge for Black women that has to be acknowledged," Alexis McGill Johnson told DiversityInc.
Johnson added that white women “also had the strongest explicit attitudes that were negative.”
“They’re in positions that are really driving the look and feel of America,” she said. “The significant bias is a challenge for Black women that has to be acknowledged.
“I also see particularly in the business context, the role that this plays among HR professionals to the extent that your hair can trigger an unconscious bias or some kind of assumption.”