Federal court rules on black hair

I am black and I have black hair.

Damn right. [gif from here]


I have black hair texture. Check it.

That hair texture is protected. And I don’t just mean by my dope-ass conditioner.

“…discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII…”

[Judge Adalberto Jordan, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, here]

What’s Title VII?

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

— Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964

[from the American Association of University Women ‘Know Your Rights: Title VII of the  Civil Rights Act of 1964‘]
Me too, Miss Ellis-Ross. [gif from here]

Here’s a BLACK way I often wear my BLACK hair. These are ‘twists’, specifically a 3 strand twist of twist out fame.

It is a BLACK hair style. Much like cornrows, dreadlocks, and the afro.* BLACK.  My hair texture is protected. My BLACK hair style is not.

 “…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.”

[Judge Adalberto Jordan, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, here]

These things are tricky, you see.

“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, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, here]

So… my BLACK hair is protected as long as it’s not in a BLACK hair style? So, if I wear my BLACK hair in twists, cornrows, dreadlocks, an afro, box braids, micro braids… you know, a BLACK hairstyle, I could be unhired, fired, and/or derided for “unprofessional hair”? Because that’s what we’re talking about here. The US Court of Appeals decided a case brought forward by the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a black woman with dreadlocks.

The case, which originated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, involved a black job applicant, Chastity Jones, whose job offer was rescinded “when she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.”

The company, a claims processor in Mobile, Ala., had a grooming policy in place at the time requiring all personnel “to be dressed and groomed in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image.”

According to the opinion, the policy also said that hairstyles should convey “a business/professional image” and that “excessive hairstyles or unusual colors” were not permitted.

[from Dreadlocks Are Not a Protected Characteristic, by John Brackin, Courthouse News Service]

Dreadlocks don’t “[project]a professional and businesslike image”? Why is that? Why would dreadlocks – a not uncommon BLACK hairstyle- be “excessive”? Why is Becky with the lowlights, the highlights, and asymmetric haircut a professional, but Ms. Jones with dreadlocks is not?

Oprah knows. [gif from here]
If what informs a “grooming policy” is white-is-right, with non-white hairstyles being deemed “unprofessional” or “excessive”, can one really draw a line between hair texture and hair style as in Ms. Jones’ case? If a hairstyle is considered characteristically BLACK, is it a mutable characteristic?

POTUS would know. He’s a constitutional lawyer. [gif from here]

*Do not step to me with your Marc Jacobs I-don’t-see-color bullshit.

Featured image from Pixabay (public domain)


DrRubidium is an analytical chemist that spends her days finding needles in needlestacks. Also a science communicator, she focuses on the the science behind everyday stuff and pop culture.

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  1. Same thing happens with Indians, hair length, and earrings on men. Obviously not a hereditary condition per se, but still…

    So much of the culture of “professionalism” is “white = normal, everyone else = deviant”.

    1. Heck, look at clothing. Anything that isn’t essentially western is considered unprofessional – across the entire world.

  2. I agree with Jon Brewer that it’s pretty racist that what counts as “professionalism” always seems to line up with what white, European people consider appropriate business dress/grooming. But, as the ruling states (and you quoted):

    “As far as we can tell, every court to have considered the issue has rejected the argument that Title VII protects hairstyles culturally associated with race”.

    So, the ruling isn’t that surprising as judges are very hesitant to overturn precedence except in exceptional circumstances. What I find odd is the “tends to get messy” reason for banning dreadlocks. If that’s the case, I’m going to disagree with the ruling here. It’s one thing to argue that dreadlocks (either inherently or the way she wears them) “look messy” it’s quite another to argue they have the potential to do so as legally, some things can be done for no reason, but not for a bad reason. But, that’s a different issue as to whether black hairstyles are protected or not, so I’m not quite sure why that was mentioned.

    BTW, not that it matters, but I think your hair looks great. Very professional. Of course, I’m a work-from-home freelancer who frequently works in his underwear, so you might not want to use me as an authority as to what counts as “professional”.

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