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Originally posted by SistahSouljah:
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The Politics of Hair

Robinson, Lori S

In her hit song "I Am Not My Hair," R&B songstress India.Arie painfully describes her struggle with trying to conform to European hair standards before adopting her own brand of beauty.

But the reality is African American hair - from the afro to the press and curl and perm to natural styles such as braids, twists, cornrows and dreadlocks - still stirs up controversy. Why?

"The standard of beauty is certainly a lot more flexible today than it has been in our history. Yet, there is still a kind of underlying standard of beauty that is fundamentally European," says Paulette Caldwell, a New York University law professor who specializes in education law and employment discrimination law.

Recently, when Vaughan Thomas took her mother-in-law to the beauty salon in a Montgomery, Ala., Dillard's department store, she was charged $30 for a wash-and-set, more than the listed $20 cost.

Thomas was told Black hair needs more conditioner and takes longer to style. She and seven other women are now suing Dillard's, claiming the company engages in race-based pricing. Though Dillard's denies charging African Americans more than Whites as a matter of policy, the company has presented evidence that doing Black hair is more difficult and time-consuming.

"What makes this such a fascinating case is that a corporation would actually try to justify race-based pricing under some sort of pseudo-scientific principal," says Patrick Cooper, Thomas's attorney.

For years, African Americans, particularly women, have had hair battles. Twenty-five years ago, Renée Rogers brought suit against her employer, American Airlines, for their policy against braids. And 10 years ago, Corrine McBride sued a Georgia temp agency that refused to refer people who wore all-braided hairstyles to job assignments.

But corporate America isn't the only adversary of natural styles. Some Black institutions discourage the "natural" look, believing it's best to prepare African Americans to blend into a majority-White corporate environment.

In June 2006, it became public that a college student had to cut his dreadlocks to keep an internship at Black Enterprise magazine. Years earlier, in the February 2000 issue of Black Enterprise, publisher Earl G. Graves penned a two-page editorial explaining his position on "traditional business attire." Recently, Susan L. Taylor, editorial director of Essence magazine, canceled an appearance at historically Black Hampton University, after learning that a program within its business school prohibits dreadlocks and long braids on men.

According to Caldwell, employers are protected by law.

"You're not required as an employer to announce that you've got a policy against braids," says Caldwell. "Anything that you do voluntarily to associate yourself with a particular race or culture or national origin is not protected by law against racism."

- Lori S. Robinson

Copyright Crisis Publishing Company, Incorporated Sep/Oct 2006
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