Black Women Can’t Have Blonde Hair . . . in the Workplace

26 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2011  

D. Wendy Greene

Samford University - Cumberland School of Law

Date Written: Spring 2011

Abstract

This Article introduces a recent string of “hair stories” involving the regulation of Black women’s blonde hair in the workplace. At first glance, these “hair stories” appear unlawful, unreasonable, and unfathomable, as it is difficult to imagine that an employer would prohibit and could lawfully bar Black women from wearing blonde hair in the twenty-first century. However, these cases illustrate that modern employers have exacted a “no blonde hair in the workplace” ban that is singularly applied to Black women, and courts have ruled disparately regarding the legality of this proscription. Thus, this Article argues that it is imperative that courts begin to address, in a meaningful and consistent fashion, the particular discrimination that Black women suffer at the intersection of race, color, and sex pursuant to employers’ arbitrary hair regulations.

Additionally, this Article maintains that hair proscriptions – though largely viewed by courts as irrelevant to equal employment opportunity – are indeed critical to Black women’s ability to acquire and maintain employment. This Article’s broader examination of “hair stories” involving Black women illustrates the conflicting and restrictive demands the judiciary (and employers) impose upon Black women and their hair. Employers are allowed to force Black women to wear their hair in a straightened style and thus conform to an “invisible” norm of white womanhood and beauty to maintain and acquire employment. Yet, employers are able to lawfully deny Black women employment opportunities if they venture into territory that is deemed “visibly white” by wearing blonde hair – a hair color presumably natural to only white women. Simultaneously, employers are allowed to prohibit natural hairstyles that are deemed “visibly Black” such as braids, twists, and locks. Accordingly, courts have constructed and reified a very narrow space in which Black women can express their natural or chosen hair style and color without reprobation, stigmatization, or exclusion. Therefore, with respect to hair, Black women's freedom, autonomy, and privilege are constrained in ways that are unique to Black women, which our antidiscrimination law needs to address.

Keywords: Employment Discrimination, Grooming Codes, Hair, Black Women, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Section 1981 of the 1866 Civil Rights Act, Race Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Color Discrimination, Intersectionality, Antidiscrimination Law, Racial Stereotyping, Racial Stigmatization

Suggested Citation

Greene, D. Wendy, Black Women Can’t Have Blonde Hair . . . in the Workplace (Spring 2011). Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1859662

D. Wendy Greene (Contact Author)

Samford University - Cumberland School of Law ( email )

800 Lakeshore Dr.
Birmingham, AL 35229
United States

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