Since the ruling a few weeks ago that declared banning dreads from the workplace a legal practice, I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking, and I have questions.
Question one is this: How in the whole, wide world would I ever be able to trust a non-Black hiring agent of a company to know what dreads are or aren’t on my head?
Most executives and decision-makers in companies are not people of color, so how, exactly, am I to trust a White man’s judgment about my hair? I can’t think of many White men or women who can differentiate between box braids, faux locs, or sister locs, or who know what a perm does to a Black person’s hair. How are these people who know nothing about Black hair supposed to make decisions based on my Black hair?
I’ve had plenty of White people ask me if I have dreads or tell me I have dreads when clearly I have two-strand twists, micro twists, a twist out, or any variety of braids. Conversations like these are all too common:
“Oh I like your dreads!”
“What? No these are twis—”
“Yeah, you’re hair’s so neat!”
The chances of someone mistaking other common African-American hairstyles for dreads are just too high for my liking. It’s not comforting to know that I could have my hair in a two-strand twist updo and not be hired because someone, oops, just didn’t know the difference. It’s not comforting to know that people who have no knowledge of Black hair are qualified to make decisions based on it.
And if they were going to become informed, how would that work out? Are hiring managers for these companies now going to have dread-spotting training? Will they be forced to subscribe to natural hair Youtube channels? Will they have to watch lots of “Black TV shows”?
This law doesn’t require companies not to hire people with dreads, but it does give legal standing to those who choose to make that decision, and my next question for those people is this: Because dreading is a process, how do you define dreads anyway?
Hair doesn’t just become dreaded overnight. So, where is the line? At what stage are dreads considered dreads? Do all of the locs have to be budding? Do all of individual strands have to be locked? What if only some have locked? What if they aren’t locked but they’re not exactly those original palm rolls either?
If you don’t know what budding or palm rolling is, how are you going to figure any of this out?
I have some more questions.
If I’ve had my two-strand twists in for three months, the twist pattern is slightly visible, and I could still pop them apart with a rat tail comb, but say, the middle of the twists look like dreads, can someone legally not hire me?
What if I have dreads but on top of those dreads I have braid extensions, and thus my hair looks like any other person’s hair with box braids?
What if I’m on a journey to dreads but they haven’t started budding yet? Are these dreads?
What if I have one or two small dreads?
What if I have faux locs?
What if I just have some real old Senegalese twists?
What if I have faux dreads on top of natural hair that’s pretty close to being dreaded because I’ve had them in for so long, but you can’t see my natural hair because it’s covered?
What if I have marley twists or braids on top of my natural hair that’s pretty close to being dreaded because I’ve had them in for so long, but you can’t see my natural hair because it’s covered?
What if I have dreads but I always wear head scarfs?
What if I have dreads and I wear a hijab?
What if I just got comb coils? Do you know what those are?
What if I’ve had comb coils for weeks?
What if the 4c hair in my kitchen looks a little rough today?
What if the curls in 4c hair in micro twists are getting a little too cozy but my 4a curls in the front are clearly separated?
What if I just finger coiled my 4c hair?
What if those finger coils have been in for a month?
What if I left those finger coils in for 2 months and now I’ve tried separating them, but some of the curls are knotted from that process?
What is the legal definition of dreads? Can you answer any of these questions?
As a Black woman with natural hair, I have so many questions, and no one has to answer them. People don’t have to know about my hair to scoot my application in the trash. They just have to see and judge and be done with me.
But I’m not just upset because I have natural hair and often wear hairstyles that are easily confused with dreads by people who don’t know about Black hair.
I’m not just upset because I’ve been planning on getting dreads for years and now I have to consider the possibility of legally being passed up for a job because of them.
I’m not just upset because I’ve been planning on getting dreads for years and now, even if I do get a job, I could be fired if a company changes their policy and decides they won’t allow dreads and I decide I won’t cut them or take them out.
I’m also upset because this law disproportionately affects Black people.
I’m also upset that this law could make it more difficult for thousands of Black people to be hired.
I’m also upset that this law could make it more difficult for thousands of Black people to keep their jobs.
I’m also upset because “business” and “professional” looks really mean White Eurocentric beauty standards.
I’m also upset because for my hair to be traditionally “business” and “professional” I have to put chemicals on my hair every six weeks that can burn my scalp and damage and break off my hair, and, without those chemicals, I must go to great lengths to straighten my hair on a regular basis and then go to great lengths to avoid water in all of its forms.
I’m upset because before this law was even passed, people were making these decisions anyway.
So yeah, I’m pretty sure the companies that were illegally discriminating against people with dreads are now legally continuing that practice. But this law opens up the door for businesses in the United States to change their policies, fire, and not hire people with dreads. A hairstyle. A literal configuration of hair follicles.
How did we get here? Who, historically, has had the power to declare what “business” and “professional” looks are, and who didn’t have a say in that process? What predominately White hairstyles have ever been banned from the workplace?
Who will ever answer these questions?