Saturday, May 3, 2008
Can We Be Subdued?
Jessica Devnani found out this week that her appearance was deemed unacceptable. She had been hired to run one of the games at Canada's Wonderland. When she went to take her staff ID photo she was informed that she would either have to resign or get rid of her dreadlocks. Jessica decided to resign ( HUGE APPLAUSE FROM ME!)
It seems Canada's Wonderland considers dreadlocks to be an extreme hairstyle. Spokesperson Dineen Beaven is reported as saying, "We have 4,000 seasonal employees and we strive for a professional look for all our employees," The same appearance rules apply at the 11 other parks in the United States and five water parks owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company. Ministry of Labour program information officer Lori Barton said the issue doesn’t violate the Employment Standards Act. That act deals with issues such as overtime pay, holiday pay and the limit of hours on a work week.
“An employer does have the right to decide how you dress and how you keep your hair,” Ms Barton said.
A complaint can be made to the Ontario Human Rights Commission if it is related to specified grounds such as race or religion, said Afroze Edwards, a communications officer with the commission.
For example, if Ms Devnani was of the Rastafarian religion, it could be viewed as a violation of her human rights if she had to keep her hair like that for religious purposes.
I am a proud dread lock wearing sister. I have been growing my locks for 6 years now and they reach the middle of my back. They are my majestic crown of black beauty. Dreadlocks cannot be equated to dying your hair pink, as the government agencies and Canada's Wonderland attempt to do by stigmatizing those who choose to grow them.
Black hair, as all POC will tell you is not the same as white hair. It requires a lot of work to maintain. As POC we can choose to wear our hair au natural, straighted with chemical relaxers, weaved, or braided. Though this article focused on dreadlocks, many companies find braided hair to also be extreme.
There are limited options for blacks in terms of hair. Putting chemicals in our hair to straighten it, is damaging not only to the scalp but to the hair itself if it occurs for a number of years. The genesis of hair relaxing is the imitation of white hair. Recall in the movie Malcolm X when Malcolm got his first conk....He said to his friend, "it look white don't it?" Straightened hair is the internalization of white characteristics as the symbol of beauty. Think I am off base?? Think about the good hair/bad hair dichotomy. "Good hair" is considered relatively kink free, and relatively straight whereas "bad hair" refers to kinky "unmanageable" hair.
Cornrows have been re popularized, by the hip hop culture, and as such many businesses have wrongly categorized them as extreme. When they initially were made "mainstream" (read: white) was when they worn by Bo Derek in the movie ten. When a black woman tried to wear them to work shortly after the release of the movie to her job, at the Hyatt Regency she was sent home. When she took her case to court, citing racial discrimination, the Judge said that she only wanted to wear them because of Bo Derek, and that this was not a racial issue. This lead to a national boycott of Hyatt led by none other than the Rev. Jessie Jackson.
I don't know about you, but how many white girls do you think have a memory of sitting at their mothers knees to get their hair braided for the week? The washing, drying, oiling of the scalp, and braiding is a ritual that most black women have been through. But a white judge decided that it is not a racial issue.
Au Natural is another choice that blacks may make. The hair is usually cropped close to the scalp so as not to be confused with the AFRO, although many young blacks are taking a page from their parents style book and choosing to wear the AFRO. At the time of its initial popularity the AFRO was considered extreme.
It seems to me that until white culture appropriates our hairstyles, clothing, music, dress or mannerisms they are considered extreme. Why is it that whatever begins in black culture needs the stamp of approval from white people before it becomes acceptable? Think I being to hard on white people??? Think about Jazz, Blues and Rock N Roll, all at one time considered extreme until white people appropriated it and made a profit off of it. I am sure Little Richard is still waiting for a royalty check from Pat Boone after his horrible re-recording of tooty fruity.
You see until whites can make a profit from it, all things Black are considered uncouth, uncivilized, ghetto (read: low class), or even savage. Though this article starts off with black hair I believe the heart of the issue is black culture. When it cannot be stolen from us, it must be negatively stigmatized so as to deny the originality and or culture that is unique to POC.
As POC we must stand up and say, it is not okay to steal from us to make a profit. It is not okay to pass laws that force us to attempt to look like you. We are beautiful as we are. That which is different, is not necessarily extreme.