Court ruling targets blacks

Bolaji Olagbaju

Recently, in a school that falls under the Jefferson County Public Schools system, a memo was disseminated to students on a revised dress code, effectively targeting popular hairstyles worn mostly by black students. This form of targeting is not new for the black community, especially given the pervasive idea of respectability politics. Another such example is found in the ruling made by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — that companies are within their rights to fire people for having dreadlocks.

A black woman named Chastity Jones was hired at an insurance claims processing company in Mobile, Alabama, but according to the suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a white HR employee informed her that her dreadlocks did not fit the company’s description of a “professional and businesslike image.” Jones refused to change her hairstyle, which would have most likely required her to cut her hair, and her employment offer was subsequently rescinded. In contrast, hairstyles that are associated with white women are rarely deemed “unprofessional” in corporate and working environments, so it is important to question why this distinction exists, and why it matters.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have defined race as a symbolic category, misrecognized as a natural one, constructed according to specific social and historical contexts. My idea of being black back in my native Nigeria varies from the same ideas here in the United States, for example. Thus, it is this social context that is key to our understanding of race in America.

Thus, when the ban of a traditionally black hairstyle such as dreadlocks is institutionalized, it is not radical to deduce that dreadlocks are seen as “unprofessional” because of general attitudes directed toward blacks. The 11th Circuit’s ruling on this issue was wrong because it allows for adverse action to be taken on these culturally significant hairstyles. What we as a society should strive toward is broadening our view of what we deem to be acceptable, and more importantly respectable.

As a young, black man with dreadlocks, it is disheartening to think that I, along with others who share this style, could be discriminated upon because of hair, especially when a hairstyle has nothing to do with work ethic and productivity.

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