It’s finally Black History Month, a time for people to embrace their African heritage, learn about historical civil rights figures, and have discussions about race in America. Luckily, North Carolina has something big planned. No, it’s not a big festival or museum to African American history, but a proposed new law.
This proposed law would make it illegal for jobs to fire someone based on the texture or style of their hair. Now, it seems very odd and unrealistic for someone to be fired over their hair, but unfortunately, it happens. Just last year, an African American newswoman was fired after refusing to straighten her hair. In fact, a federal court ruled that firing someone over dreadlocks is not considered a form of racial discrimination.
Not only will this law potentially challenge the court ruling above, but it will lead to a more inclusive environment for African Americans and others from non-Caucasian backgrounds.
The most important thing about this law is that it challenges the standards of professionalism. It is no surprise that African Americans have different hair textures. Lists can be found all over the internet listing hair styles that are considered professional for both men and women. These models follow the Eurocentric view of professionalism and beauty.
This is a problem because not everyone is white and has straight hair. When people of color don’t naturally follow these standards, their natural looks are implicitly judged as inferior, dirty or “unprofessional,” as they would call it in the workforce.
These biases become problematic when they force people of color to either straighten or cut their hair, or simply be fired. The act of forgoing your natural hairstyle can be very damaging to a person’s identity and can tell them they are naturally inferior.
For example, a black woman working in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was constantly harassed for having unprofessional hair. Of course, the judge said it was not discrimination and did not lead to a hostile work environment. This new law challenges and dismantles the Eurocentric beauty model that is unfortunately prevalent in today’s workforce.
Not to mention that constantly straightening your hair is extremely unhealthy. When you straighten your hair, you are steaming it and removing all of the moisture within your follicles. Having dry hair can lead to frizz, damaged hair texture and even permanent hair loss.
While I am familiar with the term “beauty is pain,” this is ridiculous. People should not have to damage their hair just to attain some arbitrary definition of beauty and professionalism. If this new law is passed, not only will it keep people’s hair healthy, but it can lead to some newfound appreciation for other cultural identities.
With North Carolina expecting to be increasingly diverse over the next several years, this is an issue we must address now before it becomes too serious. Sure, it’s just hair. Why get yourself in a tangle over it? The issue is that for some people, their hair ties into their cultural identity. Dreadlocks, cornrows, Bantu knots and other hairstyles are more than just a look — they’re a part of cultural identity and heritage.
When employers force their employees to straighten or cut their hair, they, intentionally or not, tell the employee that how they naturally look is unprofessional and disregard their culture. With this new law, it challenges the Eurocentric definition of professionalism and allows everyone to express their cultural identity in the workforce. North Carolina, cut to the chase and pass this new law so people can finally wear their hair naturally.