Updated: Mar 31
We might not know or realize it, but the hair on our head plays an essential part in the way we look and feel about ourselves, and it directly affects our self-esteem. Black Americans often face discrimination because of how they wear their hair, especially in school and work. Deep anti-black hair feelings on U.S. soil have existed for centuries. “Naturally curly black hair has been wrongly seen as unprofessional or even dirty” (PBS, 2021).
In the 1700s, in cities such as New Orleans, where free, “women of color donned elaborate hairstyles that displayed their kinks and coils with an air of regality, the city implemented laws like the Tignon Law – that required these women to wear a tignon (scarf or handkerchief) over their hair to signify that they were members of the slave class, regardless of whether they were free or enslaved “ (JSTOR Daily, 2019).The 1900s saw the invention of the pressing comb, good or bad; this offered black people an avenue for increased societal acceptance in a period “when minstrel songs mocked the hair texture of African Americans, comparing it to wool and describing it as nappy” (JSTOR Daily, 2019).
“Don't remove the kinks from your hair! Remove them from your brain!" – Marcus Garvey (JSTOR Daily, 2019).
The initial wave of the natural hair movement emerged during the 1960s; it was a new awareness among black people that our natural appearance, skin, facial features, and natural hair were beautiful. The” Black Is Beautiful” encouraged black people to embrace their natural kinks, contending that copying white European standards of beauty denigrated the beauty of black people.
Activist Angela Davis rocked an Afro as a sign of black pride and power and rebellion against white American beauty standards. Black people wearing an Afro became armament in the fight for racial equality and a public display of self-love and unity within the black community.
Fifty-six years ago, the Federal Government formed the EEOC, whose primary focus was that black people be granted equal access to public workplaces. However, It didn’t anticipate that “Black Hair” would need equal access as well.
In 1976 the first natural hair discrimination case was heard in the U.S. Court of appeals Seven Circuit in Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance. They upheld a race discrimination lawsuit against an employer for bias against Afros. The appeals courts agreed that workers were entitled to wear Afros under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
In the 1980s and 1990s, we experienced the popularization of natural protective styles like braids, twists, and cornrows - black celebrities and athletes showcased these styles, encouraging black people to braid and twist their manes. Unfortunately, wearing these styles came at a price by creating a legal firestorm.
In 1981, Renee Rogers, a black woman, took American Airlines to court because they demanded she not wear cornrows and style her hair in a bun. The Courts did not agree that cornrows should be protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, saying that because braids are an “easily
changed” characteristic – unlike the Afro “and even if socio-culturally associated with a particular race or nationality, is not an impermissible basis for distinctions in the application of employment practices by an employer” (Libraries, University of Missouri).
The Rogers decision severely limited the hairstyles that a black woman with natural, chemically unprocessed hair can wear. Under this decision, black women could not wear braids or locs, and their natural hair, in many cases, would not conservatively fit into a bun. The 2000s welcomed a second upsurge of the natural hair movement. Prompted by the natural hair care, braid, and loctician industry that exploded because of social media, this movement powered a cultural shift that has caused multitudes of black people to abandon relaxers, flat irons, and societal standards of beauty and professionalism.
As natural hair care practices have gained increased acceptance in conventional society, many employers, including the U.S. government, have embraced natural styles, even though courts decided they didn’t have to.
In January 2020, California’s CROWN Act—CROWN being an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair”—went into effect. The law explicitly bans discrimination against natural Black hairstyles, including cornrows, Afros, braids, twists, and dreadlocks, in workplaces and public schools. It clarifies that natural hair discrimination, in all forms, constitutes race discrimination. Our natural hair has nothing to do with our competencies, qualifications, or abilities. Therefore, it should not have anything to do with whether or not we are “afforded employment opportunities or if we should be included in specific spaces” (PBS, 2021).
“This cultural acceptance and even celebration of natural hair is changing the conversation about discrimination across America” (PBS, 2021). Natural hair is on-trend. Vanda McCauley, founder and owner of Vanda Salon Hair Loss Solutions offers various natural hair care protocols and style options. For those desiring to wear their natural coils, a wellcoiffed, cut, or styled Afro, braid, or twist style, Bantu knots, or locs can make a significant difference in your appearance and self-esteem. At Vanda Salon, our goal is to level up our client's hair game and confidence.