How Did We Get Here?

Anti- nappy hair emotion on U.S. land has endured for centuries. In the 1700s, enslaved women who labored in the areas frequently protected their hair in head-rags due to the severe needs of these work. However, Enslaved Africans who nappy hair toiled in the “huge house” often mimicked the hairstyles of these enslavers, either by wearing wigs that had recognition through that time or shaping their kinky hair to imitate them. In cities like New Orleans, however, wherever free Creole women of shade donned intricate hairstyles that shown their kinks and rings by having an air of regality, the city executed laws—the Tignon Laws—that needed these women to use a Tignon (scarf or handkerchief) around their hair to represent that they were customers of the slave class, regardless of whether they were free or enslaved.

The very first nappy hair discrimination instances wouldn’t appear until the next decade. In the 1976 case of Jenkins v. nappy hair Orange Corner Shared Clinic Insurance, the U.S. Judge of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a battle discrimination lawsuit against a company for prejudice against afros. The appeals court agreed that personnel were eligible for use below Subject VII of the Civil Rights Act. nappy hair

While afros were theoretically permitted in workplaces, the cultural stress to imitate Eurocentric hair permeated National society, impacting black women’s hair grooming decisions. In “Hi Woman, Am I More Than My nappy hair?,” the communications scholar Tracey Owens Patton wrote that “the modern changes made through the Black Power action evaporated as retention became more dominant in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.”

The 1980s and 1990s ushered in more black women sporting forced and permed hair because of prevalent hair-care ads on TV and in publications that inspired black women to improve the consistency of this hair. However, nappy hair now period has also seen the popularization of styles like braids and cornrows. Images of black women superstars showcasing braids—like Janet Garcia in Lyrical Justice—inspired black women to braid their tresses. Carrying these styles came with a price, as they produced a legitimate firestorm. In 1981, a black girl took National Airlines to court because the organization required her not to use her hair in braids. The court sided with the airline, saying that nappy hair braids weren’t an immutable racial characteristic—unlike the afro. Less than the usual decade later, the Hyatt Regency applied this ruling to create employee Cheryl Tatum’s decision after refusing to take out the cornrows she wore to work. The National Airlines ruling established the legitimate standing precedent.

Where Are We at Now?

In 2006, the EEOC gave their Conformity Guide nappy hair on Battle and Shade Discrimination, which details what, constitutes discrimination predicated on physical traits in the workplace. The guide shields against “employment discrimination predicated on a person’s physical traits associated with battle, such as a person’s shade, hair, skin functions, top and weight.” The guide claims that employers can impose neatness and grooming standards so long as racial variations are considered and the rules are used equally across racial lines. Employers can not discriminate against an employee wearing an afro, for example, because that’s black hair in their natural state. While employers might manage to request that an afro be groomed, they can not demand it, so it may not be worn. Neither would they use hairstyle rules more stringently to hairstyles worn by blacks.

The EEOC’s recommendations, however obvious, however, leave room for judicial meaning, with the EEOC and federal courts disagreeing. At the center of the current discussion around everyday hairstyles like locs is whether fashion is a racial characteristic protected by the law.



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