Dreadfully Discriminatory

A federal court appeal ruled, in mid- September, that banning an employee due to their dreadlocks is not a form of racial discrimination. In the Africana world, doing this is a form of discrimination.

A business man with dreadlocks

The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals came to a 3-0 decision that dismissed a lawsuit brought forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which claimed that “prohibition of dreadlocks in the workplace constitutes race discrimination because dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.”

A court document says, Chastity Jones applied for a customer service representative position in May of 2010 at Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS), an insurance company in Mobile, AL. After her interview, Jones was brought into a room with other applicants and Jeannie Wilson, the human resources manager, stated they were hired. Following a private meeting with Wilson, Jones was asked if she had dreadlocks, which she confirmed, and Wilson informed Jones that she had to cut her dreadlocks before she started working due to CMS’s dress and grooming policy that states that the employee’s mien has to be “in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image.” The HR manager continued by saying “[dreads] tend to get messy, although I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.”

Jones refused to cut her locs, so her offer was withdrawn.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1964)

The court document states that the EEOC was suing because of violation to Title VII under the Civil Rights Act of 1964; however, the court concludes that Title VII bans discrimination based on immutable traits and since hairstyles do not determine race – even though culturally associated with race – hairstyles are changeable.

There is a plethora of evidence about the history of dreadlocks ranging from Indian culture to Egyptian culture to Rastafarianism for either spiritual or cultural reasons and/or lack of technology. Bert Ashe, professor at the University of Richmond and author of Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles wrote in this book, “Who hasn’t worn dreadlocks at one time or another?”

Nevertheless, Rastafarians derived the term “dreadlocks” because before it was named ‘Rastafarianism’, its followers called themselves ‘dreads’ to signify their respect for God. Migrations in History stated that these followers’ locs are tied to their African identity and a religious vow of the separation of Babylon- “the historically white-European colonial and imperialist power structure which has oppressed Blacks and other peoples of color.”

Locs have been associated with the West, over the decades, because of Jamaican political leader, Marcus Garvey, cry during the 1930’s for black empowerment and advocation of blacks returning to Africa. This started after the crowning of Haile Selassie I making him the emperor of Ethiopia. Thus, creating the strong connection between Africa and its diaspora, and dreadlocks.

Marcus Garvey (Source: http://www.khemet.net/garvey.html)

In a claim by the EEOC on Jones’ claim, that states dreadlocks were originally created during the slave trade during the Middle Passage. “Their hair became matted with blood, feces, urine, sweat, tears, and dirt. Slave traders [viewed their hair upon arrival and] referred to the slaves’ hair as ‘dreadful’.”

In addition, The EEOC Compliance Manual states that the “concept of race encompasses cultural characteristics related to race or ethnicity,” including “grooming practices.”

Dreadlocks are sometimes worn for quick hair growth because people of African-descent have less sulfur our hair and because of this, our hair thins out easier and quicker than any other race. Getting locs helps re-thicken our hair as well as restore its natural color.

Consequently, dreadlocks for people of African-descent were something that was forced due to the conditions of the slave ships but not by choice of faith. With this new understanding of locs, comes the conclusion of locs being culturally attached with race because of some type of oppression, as well as being physiology connected with race.



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