African Americans have long suffered from racial disparities in the workplace — not the least of which are dress codes and grooming expectations that were designed with non-blacks in mind. California (along with New York) was among the first states to take a stand against racially based hair discrimination, passing laws that specifically forbid it in schools, public buildings and employment actions.
That doesn’t mean that the problem is over, however. It merely means that should you experience race-based hair discrimination, you now have the legal right to fight back.
Many black people (particularly women, who tend to be judged heavily by their appearance) report that the pressure to conform to white standards of beauty can be intense. Employers have a knack for making their feelings known when they decide that typically black hairstyles — like Bantu knots, braids and locks — aren’t “professional enough” for their company. They can make it clear that an employee’s job depends on whether or not they can fit in with the other employees — even if that means submitting to expensive hair treatments and damaging chemical straighteners.
Legislation alone doesn’t stop racial discrimination, so prejudices against natural black hair or typically black hairstyles may continue to cause problems. Many uninformed people believe that natural black hair, braids and locks are somehow unclean — a perception that is based only on stereotypes and myths.
The only way to combat that kind of discrimination is to document what is happening and discuss the situation with an attorney to learn more about your options. Hair discrimination has already provoked several lawsuits around the nation, and more will likely follow.