Hairstyles of Black Women: Cases of Discrimination

Mainstream society still falters at the acceptance of natural hair and hairstyles of Black women, which has led to legal action against discrimination.

Photo by Shutterstock

By Sheryl Estrada


Photo by Shutterstock

It's 2015, yet the natural hair and hairstyles of Black women continues to be taboo in mainstream society in the U.S. and abroad. At the workplace, during travel and even at leisure, Black women face an additional layer of discrimination.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)  

When Malaika Singleton, Ph.D., a neuroscientist employed by the California State Senate at the time, began a 2013 trip to London as a U.S. delegate to the G8 Dementia Summit little did she know her "sisterlocks" hairstyle, a form of dreadlocks, would be an issue.

TSA agents at both the Los Angeles International Airport and the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport grabbed and squeezed her natural hair from top to bottom.

She contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California. In 2014 the ACLU filed an administrative complaint on her behalf to challenge TSA's discriminatory hair searches. Ironically, in 2012, a similar complaint was also filed on behalf of Novella Coleman, a Black woman and Staff Attorney with the nonprofit organization; she represented Singleton.

The ACLU announced March 26 that an agreement was reached with the TSA. The agency agreed to conduct trainings for TSA agents throughout the country, with special emphasis on hair pat-downs of Black female travelers. TSA will also monitor all the airports "for consistent implementation of TSA and DHS policies and to detect the existence of a racially discriminatory impact."

"I hope that this agreement and the proposed trainings will lead to a more equitable treatment of all travelers throughout the U.S., regardless of their ethnic or cultural background or how they wear their hair," Singleton said in a statement.

 Madisons New York Grill and Bar

In Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 19-year-old Lettia McNickle, who has worked as a hostess at a Canadian franchise of Madisons New York Grill and Bar on Drummond Street since October, said she came to work one day in March with a braided hairstyle on the side of her head, and has not received any shifts since.

According to CBCNews, McNickle said her manager reprimanded her in front of fellow employees saying her hairstyle was not acceptable.

"I obviously wanted to know what it was she didn't like specifically about the hairstyle, so the [next] day I asked her, 'What is it that's wrong with my hair?' And she said, 'We don't want that kind of look here at the restaurant,'" McNickle said on CBC Daybreak.

Her boss sent her home. McNickle filed a discrimination complaint against the restaurant with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, through the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a nonprofit also in Quebec.

"I think it's important for businesses to know that it's important to be aware of the fact that even with a grooming policy or even a policy about appearance, one can still discriminate against minorities or minority women if this policy has a negative effect based on their race or ethnicity," Fo Niemi of CRARR told DiversityInc.

He said CRARR looked at case precedents from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the U.S., as this is the first case of its kind in Canada.

In a statement, Madisons New York Grill and Bar said the incident did not involve race or discrimination and apologized if the situation caused harm to McNickle or her friends and family. However, it also states, "As in any organization, there is an internal protocol to follow and a dress code to respect to guarantee that our customers' experience is ideal."

CRARR stated that they also have yet to see a written standard grooming policy from the restaurant.

The brand vice-president for the Canadian franchises of the Madisons chain, Gilles Pépin, said because business is down McNickle has not been given any shifts, and she is not fired.

Niemi explained that if the Quebec Human Rights Commission concludes discrimination occurred the plaintiff must be compensated, including lost wages and moral damages, within 30 days. "[The fines] are meant to be remedial not punitive," he said.

If you are a Black woman who wears a natural hairstyle, please feel free to share your experiences in our comments section.  We will be posting a follow-up with our reader's feedback

 DiversityInc Staff Writer Michael Nam contributed to this article.

 

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