Inside Discrimination: It’s Not ‘Just Hair’
A note on this 4-part series “Inside Discrimination”:
This is the third post in a collaborative series where equality champions across the globe who are at the dawn of their careers describe the mechanics of inequality through their lived experience.
by Leah Gordon
These laws still exist
On mornings when I’ve snoozed all three of my alarms and have no time to lay my edges, I think, “Oh, it doesn’t matter—it’s just hair.” It's an easily digestible thought.
The New York Times recently published an article saying that the state of New York is finally putting laws in place preventing workplaces from having discriminatory etiquette guidelines; particularly those pertaining to traditionally black hairstyles: braids, dreadlocks, afros etc.
Being reminded that laws like this still exist should force us to question if it is “just hair.”
Hearing personal anecdotes from friends and family who’ve been told they look unprofessional or were sent home from school for wearing their hair naturally makes it hard—rather impossible— to believe that it’s just hair. Maybe it is to me, but the rest of the world doesn’t view it that way.
Is it “just hair” if it’s not suitable for a workplace?
Who’s hair is it?
In 2016, Kim Kardashian wore her hair in cornrows and was credited with creating a style called ‘boxer braids’ .
Obviously, they are not braids popularized female boxers, nor were they invented by Kim Kardashian.
But, as a young adult having seen those close to me not being allowed to wear that hairstyle to school or work, and then seeing Kim Kardashian not only praised for the style, but credited with inventing it—I really do begin to ask myself,
if it is “just hair”, who’s hair is it?
Because it’s not Kim’s hair, or Kim’s hair type that is the problem. And it’s not the style, either. On Kim the style was chic and new. On me, it was unprofessional.
So what about when people who don’t have naturally straight hair, wear their hair straight? Is it just hair then? Not quite.
The issue is in the origins.
The attack isn’t on the style, it’s on the person. When a person of colour is disallowed from wearing their hair as it exists naturally, what choice is there but to conform to what’s expected?
That’s the difference. There’s no historical ban or persecution of straight hair, or those who have it. That’s the hair that’s “just hair”. Not mine. My hair was never just hair.
Leah has an Undergraduate Degree in Communications and is currently working towards a Diploma of Multimedia Design and Development.
She is inspired to speak about her professional journey navigating the world as a black woman in predominantly non-black or female spaces.
Leah is passionate about women of colour being unafraid to live in—or speak—their truths where it may not be considered acceptable and is interested in how our paths are formed, and converge, given our unique experiences.
Stay tuned! In the coming months we will be featuring more insights and reflections from Collaborative members.
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