A Multidimensional Analysis of What Not to Wear in the Workplace: Hijabs and Natural Hair
Florida International University Law Review, Vol. 8, 2013
32 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2013 Last revised: 19 Nov 2013
Date Written: August 21, 2013
This Article challenges a relatively universal judicial and societal assumption that employers’ enactment and enforcement of grooming codes are inconsequential to women’s access to, and inclusion in, American workplaces. Specifically, this Article provides a multidimensional analysis of workplace grooming codes, shedding light on the comparable journeys of discrimination that Black and Muslim women experience when their hair and hair coverings are subject to employer regulation. Further, it illustrates that since Black and Muslim women’s identities are not mutually exclusive, Black women who are Muslim may also suffer a double form of discrimination if an employer bans both hijabs and natural hairstyles in the workplace. Thus, for the first time, this Article specifically contemplates the interconnectivity between the socio-politically constructed identity of Black and Muslim women, the socio-political and personal meaning of Black women’s natural hairstyles and Muslim women’s hijabs and resulting discrimination — under the law and in society. In so doing, this Article illuminates how these women, who are racialized as non-white due to their physical appearance and/or their religious faith and observances, share similar experiences as it relates to workplace inclusion and exclusion vis à vis what adorns their heads. This Article also demonstrates that workplace prohibitions against Black women’s natural hairstyles and Muslim women’s donning of a hijab are closely aligned forms of race and gender-based discrimination, triggering parallel actual as well as perceived stigmatization, vulnerability, and exclusion for these women of color, which civil rights constituencies have not fully exposed and addressed.
This Article draws upon the works of notable critical race and sexuality theorists in its contention that a “multidimensional” analysis of the discrimination that women of color as a collective experience in the workplace — at the intersection of race, religion, and gender — is vital for a deeper understanding of the civil rights issues at stake, as well as for increased and sustained civil rights advocacy challenging the legality of such grooming codes. Thus, this Article calls for cross-cultural advocacy among civil and workers’ rights constituencies so that antidiscrimination law, doctrine, and advocacy can more meaningfully attend to the deprivation of equal conditions, privileges, dignity, and personhood that Black and Muslim women suffer due to the arbitrary enactment and enforcement of workplace grooming codes banning natural hairstyles and hijabs in the workplace.
Keywords: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Muslim women, Black women, race discrimination, religious discrimination, gender discrimination, equality, workplace grooming codes
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