By Emma Gilham
Last month, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when an article by ACLU Missouri caught my eye. It was titled “Claiming My Crown: Justice Gatson” by Justice Gatson. In her narrative, she describes how aware she was, as a young Black child, of society’s preference for straight hair. While I knew that the Eurocentric beauty standards portrayed in media could reinforce numerous body image issues for women and men outside of those standards, I had not truly considered the real-world impact of these societal preferences. Once I realized this, I believed my privilege was behind my ignorance, and so I did a bit more research. What I found was eye opening.
A study cited in the CNN article “Black women with natural hairstyles are less likely to get job interviews” by Jack Guy, found that Black women with natural hairstyles were less likely to be considered for an interview in the job-hiring process compared to Black women with straight hair, white women with straight hair, and white women with curly hair. In another study, a gauge of professionalism also became dependent on whether a Black woman wore her hair straight or natural. As one may guess, when she wore her hair straight, she was considered more professional.
Gatson discusses how legislation to protect against hair-based discrimination is long overdue, “It wasn’t until 2017 that the U.S. military decreed that dreadlocks and locks were acceptable hairstyles.” A national campaign to end legal hair discrimination in the workplace known as the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) act has passed in seven states so far, shown in The Official Campaign for the CROWN Act’s map. Missouri filed the CROWN Act in 2019, but it did not pass.
Finally, Gatson said it best, “Black hair is politicized, and Black people pay a price for being who we are.” It is biased and inappropriate of workplaces and schools to expect Black people to pay for and acquire potentially damaging hair alterations so that they can fit into some box labeled “acceptable”. In addition, I find the slew of diversity and inclusion initiatives used to “combat racism in the workplace” disappointing because when it truly comes down to it, we must all do more to confront our deep biases than attend a 45-minute required training.