By: Tamara Taylor, Assistant Director, UCS
I recently learned of a legal ruling that caused great pause. To be honest, a deep sigh and moment of disappointment. A headline to an article published in Ebony magazine, prompted me to read: “Court Rules Dreadlock Ban is Legal During Hiring Process.” Thinking that I misread the headline, I was no doubt disappointed to learn that employers can legally discriminate against applicants for wearing a natural hairstyle.
Qualifications, experience, work ethic, communication, leadership, global perspective-the things that we tell students employers’ value in candidates all seemed like a lie; at least for Black students. In my 14 years of working with college students, my reputation as a builder of people has been solid. However, in a few seconds, that deserved reputation was under attack. Why? How can an employer state that they value applicants with a global perspective flip the script and devalue a person’s character and qualifications because of their right to wear a natural hairstyle?
You mean the next Ava Duvernay or Toni Morrison can be denied an opportunity because of a culturally rooted hairstyle? According to ragingrootsstudio.com, there is no one account on the origins of dreadlocks (or locs for short). One account dates the natural hairstyle to India and the deity Shiva and his followers. While archeological proof of dreadlocks stems from Egypt where mummies have been uncovered with their dreadlocks intact. The site also claims that Romans, Germanic tribes, Vikings, Ethiopian Orthodox Tweahedo monks, Nazarites of Judaism, Qalandri Sufis, Sadhu’s of Hinduism, and early Biblical figures like Samson wore dreadlocks.
For some, locs are rooted in their spiritual faith; while for others they reflect cultural identity. Locs are created in a number of ways to include twisting the hair with a comb in a spiral motion until the hair forms into a coil. They can be styled into braids, pinned into a bun, colored, cut or however a person chooses. All of which can be done to any texture of hair. So why are locs under attack? I believe the root lies in stereotypes and deep-seated, false ideals that label Black hair as intimidating and non-conforming.
Just last year, actor Zendaya was grossly mischaracterized and degraded by Giuliana Rancic who during an episode of E! News’ “Fashion Police” stated the young actor’s faux locs “overwhelms her”. She went on to say, “I love when she has the little hair… . I feel like she smells like patchouli oils…yeah maybe weed” to the laughter of one of her co-hosts and studio audience. All while sitting next to co-host Kelly Osbourne who is sporting a lavender Mohawk with shaved edges.
The young actor responded to Rancic’s disrespect by stating, “My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough. To me locs are a symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion’s mane.”
Mic drop! So what are people of color who chose to wear locs to do? Am I going to change my message to students? Absolutely not. I will continue to encourage students and emphasize that they must research employers. Do not be drawn to an employer because of false trappings like name recognition. Visit employer websites to learn their discrimination policies, values, mission, and community outreach. Do you see people that look like you or reflect the makeup of society; especially in seats of leadership? How many generations are represented in the workplace, is there an advancement trajectory, and how do they define “good cultural fit”.
I will continue to remind students from diverse backgrounds that they are more than good enough. Perseverance builds character and character hope and strength. Look within yourself and hold your head down for no one. Create your own opportunities and when the door opens for you, do not forget to hold it open for the person coming in behind you.