Within the social spectrum space, I abide in a community of kinship. A community where brother greets sister with a familiarity that resonates inwardly and outwardly. Unspoken glances whisper of community, commitment, an acknowledgement that transcends words as eyes meet, eyebrow uplifts, corner of mouth parts a head nod signifies an awareness that those within understand best. At the least, there is an acknowledgement of existence within this complex universe. I have an adopted family, a place that I fit, a body of people that get me, without pause nor concern; without bias.
Now, a division has occurred at the federal level, within this community. The U.S. District Court 11 and human resource policies at Catastrophe Management Solutions(CMS) have stepped into our bathrooms and ruled against Dreadlocks as a choice of hair grooming for gainful employment, when a company has a policy against them. This ruling has resulted in a division that not only legalizes discrimination against a class of people, this ruling requires those with different lock formations to distinguish themselves from one another, for the first time, turning 360 degrees away from the familial acceptance that has existed within this subset of those who choose to wear their afro-kinky hair unadulturated.
The judicial body that rules Alabama, Georgia and Florida ruled in September 2016 that Dreadlocks are subject, legally, to discrimination. An employer can legally decide that a person with Dreadlocks can be denied gainful employment without recourse. Biased discriminated has been introduced into the workforce, creating a conscious divide within an already isolated, often ostracized community.
IRIE, I respect - True Dreadlocks.
There are many type of locks, just as there are many types of people. The court ruling that 'Dreadlocks' are subject to legal discrimination is a vague term that does not encompass the true breadth of ethnic and lock diversity. There are Sisterlocks(TM), ISIS locks, bradelocz, braidlocks, palm-rolled locks, lock coils, KnottyLocks(TM), Twist locks, traditional locks, latched locks, many types of locks; and, yes Dreadlocks. Not only are there different types of locks, there are also different grooming techniques. Since the premise of District Court 11's ruling is that locked hair tends to get messy, does the court imply that only organically grown-free formed Dreadlocks represented by Rastafarian are subject to implicit bias? These locks naturally form freely without grooming and manipulation, product and tool-free maintenance? Or does the court mean all forms of locked hair? This is a very tenuous territory to tread upon naively. The very ruling is subject to many interpretations because the ambiguity of the court ruling, is rooted in a limited awareness of locked hair, lumping many different locked formations into one bucket. The very ruling is subject to interpretation because the ambiguity of what the court means by calling the plaintiff, Charity Jones, hair Dreadlocks. From what I have researched, Ms. Jones does not have the true form of Dreadlocks, organically grown, unadulterated. She has hair that is locked and groomed for maintenance, disputing the ruling that justifies CMS's reason for not hiring Mrs. Jones.
In that meeting, the suit claims, Wilson(HR from CMS) told Jones that dreadlocks "tend to get messy, although I'm not saying yours are, but you know what I'm talking about."
The second factor is that Mrs. Jones grooms her locks. If she did not, her hair would not be grow uniformly; loose hair would be growing outside of her locks. That is not the case. Her parts are visible and her hair is maintained and groomed, debunking the biased assertion of unkempt hair, demolishing CMS's claim.
The very fact that I have to write this blog is offensive and destructive to the psyche locked community; but, it must be addressed so we can heal before the damage seeps in deeper. If addressed, a community can be empowered to reject the established ruling and fightback. The ruling is divisive and creates those in defense of their rights to live and work while locked to separate, distinguish and divide themselves from one another and ostracized an already minority subset even further within the natural hair community, creating hierarchies equivalent to Willie Lynches' doctrine that created levels of slaves based upon physical attributes that impact the African American community post-slavery, today.
The bottom line is that all forms of locked hair are beautiful, because the process is an intricate process that creates matted chords hair weaved into a beautiful matrix that is uniquely fashioned and matured by the choice of maintenance that requires consistent grooming, or now. So, what is this ruling really about? It justifies blatant conscious bias against a class of people with features that are ethnic, while validating an arrogant misunderstanding. This is conscious ignorance sanctioned by law, bathed in ignorance granted by biased legislation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit-with federal jurisdiction in Alabama, Florida, and George-sided September 15 with CMS, stating that although hairstyles may be "culturally associated with race," the opinion read, they are not "immutable physical characteristics." In other words, hair can be changed (Wellington, Elizabeth, 2016). Afro-kinky hair is kinky, tangled and knotty, it does not grow straight unless it is adulterated. So, is the court proporting that those with this afro-kinky hair have hair that is less than desirable to work in SC, GA and FL today, forming a dangerous precedent that permits racism and conscious bias in the workplace? Based upon this ruling, absolutely, yes. My hair does not grow straight out of my head, For the health of my hair I must be able to wear styles that compliment the texture and allow me to work in an environment that is not oppressive but accepting of my ethnic birthright, which includes my afro-kinky hair.
Essentially, despite what the court decision implies, my locks are not the same as dying my hair pink. "It's like telling a black person they have to bleach their skin, or their nose is too wide," said Angelo Onwuachi-Willig, an African American lawyer who is the chancellor's professor at U.C. Berkeley School of Law (Wellington, Elizabeth, 2016).
Employers should proceed with care when dealing with these types of issues in the creation of their set of mandatory rules that employees must follow. The employer was victorious in this case, but the EEOC didn't argue that CMS's grooming rules had a disparate impact on African-American employees. It is not clear whether or not this case’s outcome would have been the same if the employer had faced a disparate impact, as opposed to disparate treatment, claim. Employers will have to weigh carefully their choices in deciding whether their preference for banning certain hairstyles is worth the litigation these policies may trigger (Mays & Kerr LLC, 2016).
I absolutely agree. Don't disrespect and minimize the true journey of a Dreadlock. That journey is sacred and rooted in a rich, historical tradition of respect. Locks that are manipulated are a unique journey unto themselves; the two are unique in their own right one and lumping all locks into one pot is dangerous territory for employers and courts to tread. Only people that do not understand a locked journey would dare make such an assumption-and then legalize that assumption. Respecting the differences of all workers supporting the most impactful, diverse workforce should be the goal for any viable organizations that wants to continue to capture a workforce that is reflective of the global economy. A strong workforce requires workersthat can better meet the needs of the increasingly multi-cultural customer that challenges the status quo, encourage new ideas and innovate.
And if for no other reason, it's not the hair that is professional, it is the person. If the person is not professional, than nothing, including the hair is professional. Subjective claims of grooming habits is not a basis to determine court rulings, or perhaps US District Court 11 is short on case loads.
READ MORE HERE!
The Knotty Truth Series of Books can be purchased online at various outlets including Amazon.com or Createspace.com.
Case: 14-13482. 2016 http://media.nola.com/crime_impact/other/Deadlocks%20Case.pdf
Regarding The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-00476-CB-M)
Today I downloaded my employee handbook and read it line for line, highlighting critical information to empower myself, whether related to my hairstyle or to my tenure with my organization in general. I sought information to educate myself on where my employer stands on diverse & inclusive hairstyles.
Luckily, my employee handbook confirmed that 'My employment is voluntary and subject to termination by myself or employer with or without cause and with or without notice at any time. The handbook is not to be interpreted as an employment contract, expressed or implied.' Ok, Ohio is an 'at will' state so, yes, I pretty much knew that, I can leave my employer and my employer can let me go if I wear yellow on a Tuesday and they want me to wear purple, got it, but what about my hair!?
I learned via my Code of Conduct all employees must:
- Avoid practicing or facilitating discrimination
- Treat with respect individual religious beliefs and customs of patients, parents and other staff
- Maintain a professional appearance by adhering to the dress and uniform policies
- Dress and Appearance Guidelines
Because the code seemed a bit ambiguous, I wanted to drill down to the policy level and see if any particular grooming method was spelled out, to include locked hair. So, I then went to my company's Dress Code Policy:
'Regardless of position, appearance and behavior is especially important in a health care environment. Appearance and behavior influences others’ opinions about the organization and your department. Clothing/uniform should be clean, neat and appropriate at all times. Employees are responsible for following dress/uniform standards in accordance with the policy of the hospital and their department. Clothing is to be professional looking according to an employee’s position, fit appropriately and be in good repair. Hose/socks are to be worn and open toed shoes are prohibited in patient care areas. Visible body piercing is limited to ears only. Visible tattoos should be covered at all times. Artificial nails are prohibited for any employee working around patients, including care providers, Environmental Services, and Nutrition Services. Real or artificial nail should not exceed more than one quarter inch long past the tip of the finger. Also, clear nail polish is preferred and should not be chipped, cracked or peeling.'
'Hair care & accessories: Hair and jewelry that present a hazard in equipment operation or patient contact is prohibited. Head coverings are only acceptable where required by weather or safety regulations. Hats are not to be worn inside, unless it is a required part of a uniform. Accessories that are a part of religious preference are given appropriate consideration based upon the nature of the job. Hair must be of natural colors only.'
So that's it - my hair must be neat, head coverings are subjective-however a large Somali population exists in my region we serve. Consequently, hiring of Somali workers has significantly increased due to an effort to meet the needs of our patients and families. This policy is subjective; however, from what I observe traditional cultural preferences are respected. The only mention of hair, my concern of the day, is a requirement that hair must be of natural colors only (albeit still subjective). Upon review, I was relieved to learn that there is no written policy at my organization opposing Dreadlocks. In fact, I was excited to accept a position at my health care facility because the HR representative had locked hair! Since I've been hired over 5 years ago, I've seen men and women at all levels with locked hair. My alarms went off when this judgment came out, disturbing my peace and harmony, so my first thought was to finally know my company policies, so if needed, others can know I'm equipped and empowered to defend my grooming preference.
I then revisited the court ruling:
'The Alabama appeals court disagreed with EEOC law suit, voting 3–0 to dismiss the suit. “We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn,” Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote in the decision. “So, for example, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.
Basically, Title VII says that the texture of black hair is a condition that we cannot change. Well, true. We all agree on that. Those born with an tightly coiled afro kinky hair texture know that is just the way the hair grows naturally un-augmented from our scalps. However, hang in there with me on the second half of the ruling:
‘Adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle is not (protected)’ – Adverse means retaliation, preventing success or development, harmful, unfavorable activities against those with tightly coiled afro kinky hair texture is ok if an employer disagrees with the hairstyle created for the management of the hair (from the integration of tightly coiled afro kinky hair texture).
Back to bad
What in the world?! For the most part, individuals with ‘black hair’ (aka tightly coiled afro kinky hair) wear hairstyles that suit, control, complement the texture. 'Black hair' does not naturally swing downward. Nor, does tightly coiled afro kinky hair texture easily conform to styles of other cultures - unless there’s a high percentage of another hair culture that is straight by the nature of its’ creation.
Another concern is that the basis of this ruling is based on the premise that Dreadlocks ‘can be messy.’ The last I checked, all people with hair have hair that ‘can be messy.’ However, unique to locks, hair is locked into the matrix of the lock shaft. In fact, locked so tightly that the hair canNOT be combed. It's disconcerting that the judicial system is in the business of legislating grooming, deciding on such a contentious, subjective topic as hair grooming. Seriously!? We have State Cosmetology Boards for this role. However, last month, three judges in Alabama decided to legislate grooming preferences for people that have ‘black hair texture’ regardless of the protections afforded under Title VII that unequivocally states that individuals cannot be discriminated against for the inherent differences. The stress of contemplating the management of this inherent difference in a way acceptable to select employment policies and these three judges has been overwhelming to a community that continuously strives to defy stereotypes and fight misperceptions. In this case, three judges, decided it’s logical to protect black hair under Title 7 for being ethnically unique; however, hairstyles fashioned to complement said texture are not protected, validating legalized discrimination.
What can you do today?
There's a saying that those that don't know they have rights, loose the right. The EEOC feels that those with Dreadlocks are primarily of African Descent, a protected class under Title VII. Regardless of cultural appropriation, those of other culture that gain notoriety (cue fashion designer Marc Jacobs) wear Dreadlocks for a temporary moment as a fashion statement, not as a matter of lifestyle due to the immutable characters of tightly coiled afro kinky hair. The EEOC is still fighting to protect rights of this protected group. Employers should keep in mind; however, that a race-neutral grooming policy enforced in a manner that selectively targets members of a particular race can lead to liability under Title VII, the irony and what a tangled web 11th Circuit Court District has just woven considering the majority of those who wear locked hair daily are individuals of African Descent. Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (EEOC.com, 2016).
READ MORE HERE!
The Knotty Truth Series of Books can be purchased online at various outlets including Amazon.com or Createspace.com.
Terms of interest:
Immutable - Permanent traits(all things human can be altered)
Mutable - traits that are not permanent
Three judges - 11th Circuit Court
Judgment File by EEOC regarding Catastrophe Management Solutions
Jeannie Wilson - Human Resource representative
EEOC. 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2016/sep/17/marc-jacobs-defends-himself-dreadlocks-furore