Dreadlocks are having a big week. First there was the PLUR-inspired locks at Marc Jacobs’ NYFW presentation, followed by his culturally inept response, and now there’s been a ruling that argues dreadlock discrimination does not fall under the category of racial intolerance. When Chastity Jones applied for a job at an insurance claims processing company, CMS, in Alabama, she was denied the position. When she asked why, an HR representative blamed her hair: “They tend to get messy,” she said. “I’m not saying yours are, but you know what I’m talking about.”
Understandably, she didn’t. So Jones called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and they sued CMS on the grounds of discrimination, citing Title VI of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law forbids employers from refusing to hire someone based on their race, color, religion, sex or nationality, and prohibits the discrimination of current employees based on the same factors. Sounds pretty reasonable.
But last week, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against Jones, certifying the legality of discrimination based on hairstyles. According to the court, since particular hairstyles aren’t inherently connected to any racial group, refusing to hire someone based on their hair cannot be considered racially motivated and therefore, does not fall under Title VI.
This seems like a big gray area—dreadlocks are rightfully a popular hairstyle among people of color, which naturally poses questions about race and the way it relates to Western standards of beauty. As the Yeezy Season 4 protestor argued, black women are often shamed or rejected from professional environments when sporting the same styles for which white women are praised—Marc Jacobs’ runway being a prime example.
“It’s just facts that Black women are constantly told they are too dark, lips too big, hair too ghetto for all professions,” she said, “Only to see these same features or styles on non-Black women, receive praise. Obviously the problem isn’t the style but the color of the women wearing it.”
Clearly, it seems like Title VI needs an update—and that employer needs a punch in the face.