Skip to main content

Black workers upbraided at theme park?

June 19, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating complaints from more than a dozen black employees at a Six Flags theme park who were told their hairstyles were inappropriate.

Jonathan DeLeon, 17, was hired at Six Flags America in Largo, Md., in March to wear the costumes of Sylvester and Daffy Duck. A few weeks later, he said he was told to cut his braids, which were at least 3 feet long.

Though his mother cut more than 2 feet of his hair, park officials were dissatisfied, he said.

"They told me I had to cut them even shorter or go home," DeLeon told the Washington Post. "They said they wanted an all-American thing. That's what they said to all the black people. I had already cut it a lot, so I just left."

The 2006 Six Flags America handbook states that employees are not allowed to have "any hairstyle that detracts or takes away from Six Flags theming."

Terry Prather, the park's general manager, said the policy is not discriminatory and that exceptions are made for employees with religious and medical reasons for not cutting their hair.

Prather, who is black, said allowing employees to wear hairstyles that violate the park's policy would lead to customer service problems, according to the Post.

He was quoted as saying he has dealt with the ethnic hairstyles of his children.

"I totally understand it," he said. "I live with it."

AP

Waka Snek Feeds: Blog
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Six Flags employees fight ban on ethnic hairstyles



Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post
Jun. 25, 2006 12:00 AM

It's right there, under "Extreme Hairstyles," in the 2006 seasonal handbook for Six Flags America employees: no dreadlocks, tails, partially shaved heads "or any hairstyle that detracts or takes away from Six Flags theming."

Braids "must be in neat, even rows and without beads or other ornaments," the amusement park handbook advises.

That prompted Tim Bivins, 18, who has worked at Six Flags America in Largo, Md., for two years, to cut off several inches of his hair and pay $50 to have it braided into cornrows. Not good enough, he was told. Cut the braids shorter or go home.
advertisement


Shannon Boyd, 17, bought a wig to cover the locks she sports under her Tweety Bird costume. Not appropriate, she was told, because the wig wasn't her natural hair color.

Jonathan DeLeon, who had been growing his fanny-length hair since he was 7, was hired in March to portray Sylvester and Daffy Duck. A few weeks later, however, he was told he would have to cut his braids, which were more than 3 feet long. His mother whacked off more than 2 feet, but it wasn't enough, park officials said.

"They told me I had to cut them even shorter or go home," DeLeon, 17, said. "They said they wanted an all-American thing. That's what they said to all the Black people. I had already cut it a lot, so I just left."

Femi Manners and her 16-year-old son, Shakir, agreed he would not change his hair: short cornrows with a small design braided in. She contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which is investigating complaints from more than a dozen Black employees of Six Flags America.

"This is culturally very, very insensitive and possibly discrimination," said King Downing, coordinator of the ACLU's national campaign against racial profiling.

"Many of the people who go to Six Flags have locks and twists and Afros," said Demetrius Hall, 16, of Suitland, Md., a Muslim who said he will not cut his hair, for religious reasons. "Black people are not offended by those hairstyles."

Wendy Goldberg, national spokeswoman for Six Flags, said the policy has been in place for years. "I understand they don't want to conform, that this is a matter of heritage and pride," she said. "But you can apply the question of heritage and culture and not conforming to piercing, shaved heads and tattoos."

Walt Disney Co. also holds employees to a grooming policy that limits some ethnic hairstyles, agreeing only six years ago to allow mustaches and three years ago to let men wear short cornrow braids.

"The hair has to be clean, natural and polished," said Jacob DiPietre, park spokesman for Walt Disney World. "I don't think dreadlocks are allowed."

Linda Jones, who edits a newsletter called Nappy News for people who wear ethnic hairstyles, said "it is very telling" that theme parks forbid such styles for employees.

"Why not point out mohawk or mullet (styles), too?" Jones asked. "They only specify dreadlocks, and who is more likely to wear those styles? Are they saying that styles that aren't in keeping with the European aesthetic are not professional?"

Largo Six Flags America was taken over last year by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and its new management has pledged to tighten operations and make the park more "family friendly." Terry Prather became general manager in February.

Prather, who is Black, said allowing employees to wear hairstyles that violate the park's policy would lead to customer service problems. He said he has dealt with the ethnic hairstyles of his children, ages 23 to 33. "I totally understand it," he said. "I live with it."

Prather and Goldberg said exceptions are made for employees with a religious or medical reason for not cutting their hair. But Hall said he was ordered to change his long, straight hair despite his views as a Muslim.

Spencer: Things are getting a bit too hairy at Six Flags


Gil Spencer, Times Columnist
06/23/2006

The ACLU is investigating -- but only investigating -- a serious breach of civil rights at the Six Flags America amusement park in Maryland. Human Rights Watch has yet to weigh in. But if what is being alleged is true, look for the European Union to call for the park to be closed, a la Guantanamo Bay.

Park management is cracking down on employees who sport what the Six Flags seasonal handbook calls "Extreme Hairstyles."

Advertisement
Violators are having their Korans flushed down toilets and heaved from roller coasters.

Oh, wait. No, they're not. They're being asked to restyle or cut their hair. Sometimes both.

Dreadlocks aren't welcome. Neither are "tails," or "partially shaved heads."

The ACLU smells a rat because mullets are not specifically mentioned.

"This is culturally very, very insensitive and possibly discrimination," said a man named King Downing, identified by the Washington Post as the "coordinator of the ACLU's national campaign against racial profiling."

You can't make this stuff up.

"The question is how long do we have to keep going around and around with this when it comes to people of African descent and the natural style of the hair that they wear."

What kind of unthinking dolts are these people?

Jonathan DeLeon is finding out. He was hired in March and has been growing his "fanny-length" hair since he was 7.

A few weeks into the job he was told he would have to cut his "3-foot-plus-long braids." It must have broken his mother's heart to cut more than 2 feet of it off.

And still, park officials weren't satisfied.

"They told me I had to cut them even shorter or go home," said the 17-year-old DeLeon. "They said they wanted an all-American thing. That's what they said to all the black people. I had already cut it a lot so I just left."

Wow. Cool. Take this job -- and this hair -- and shove it. That's telling 'em, Jonathan!

But, oh, wait. He didn't "just" leave. He left. But now he has also threatened to sue. Apparently, he hopes to get a few thousand bucks for being treated with the cultural sensitivity he deserves.

More than a dozen black employees, according to the Post, complained to the ACLU about how they were being picked on for their hairdos.

What's ironic about all this is that the man responsible for cracking down on hair is himself a black man. His name is Terry Prather and he's the park's new general manager.

The idea is to "tighten up" operations at the park. Trying to get the employees to look more professional, more "family friendly."

Prather isn't the only black man in America who understands how a young man presents himself matters when it comes to work.

At Hampton University in Virginia, Sid Credle, the dean of the business school, explained to the Post that students with "extreme" hairstyles aren't included in meetings with visiting corporate executives.

Hampton is an historically black school and it was the students themselves who put that policy in place six years ago, recognizing that when it comes to the workplace, appearance matters.

But I sympathize with Jonathan. After all, he spent most of his days at Six Flags alternating between wearing a Daffy Duck and Sylvester the cat costume. Is it really important -- under that giant, fake, furry head -- that his hair be neatly cropped?

I say this as a proud former employee of the Six Flags family. I worked for Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., when it opened in the summer of 1974. I guess technically that was before it became a Six Flags park. But I learned the drill.

Hundreds of kids were looking for jobs at the new park that summer and my buddy Wray Blattner and I landed two of the best by schmoozing the personnel guy.

We starred in the Great Arena Show. Well, "starred" is a little strong. We appeared in the Great Arena Show as Roman pages in the joust and chariot race and as magician's assistants in the Taras Bulba number. There were real horses involved. Big, very excited horses, running all over the place. We could have been killed.

But what I remember most is the white tights and pink vests Wray and I were required to wear during the joust. And being told by the head stunt coordinator one day to (and I'll never forget this) get my head out of my a--.

I showed that guy. I quit a month later.

If only the ACLU had been doing the sort of work back then that it's doing today.

Gil Spencer's column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at gspencer@delcotimes.com

What are ˜extreme' hairdos for amusement park workers?



By ROSE RUSSELL

FOLKS are intimidated about hair, especially black people's hair. This was an issue in the 1980s, and hasn't been in the news until recently when Six Flags amusement park in Largo, Md., targeted employees wearing "extreme hairstyles," such as locks "” also called dreadlocks "” long braids, and some cornrows.

The park's new general manger is a black man. But more about Terry Prather later.

Six Flags America's 2006 seasonal handbook says workers can't wear locks, tails, partially shaved heads, "or any hairstyle that detracts or takes away from Six Flags theming," the Washington Post reports.

Employees at a theme park wearing those styles wouldn't bother me. So I wonder why Six Flags wants the hair of workers who are mostly out in the hot sun all day to look as though they just left a board meeting.

Visitors comfortably dressed in summer clothes include many African-Americans who wear styles that park workers can't.

Six Flags told a male teenager to cut his hair and have it braided into cornrows. He did, and was told to cut it shorter. Another young man's mother cut two feet off his three-foot long braids, and he was also told to cut more.

Northwest Ohio's renowned Cedar Point says young men's hair cannot be longer than the tops of their collars, according to Robin Innes, director of public relations. That makes sense for young men in business offices, but I don't get the restriction for a theme park. And I don't understand why locks and cornrows with designs are considered "extreme." Is that so because whites don't like them?

Jonathan DeLeon, hired to portray Sylvester and Daffy Duck at Six Flags, who cut his braids, said, "They said they wanted an all-American thing. That's what they said to all the black people."

Targeting blacks tells me the desire for an "all-American" look is hair that is straight, short, and bouncy, or straight, long, and swingy. Many white people's hair is not like that. Many black people's hair is.

These policies are widespread. Jacob DiPietre, spokesman for Walt Disney World, was quoted as saying he doesn't "think" locks are allowed there. He added, "Their hair has to be clean, natural, and polished."

There's a misconception that people who wear locks do not wash their hair. Not true. As for hair that's natural, as Mr.DiPietre said, when many black people's hair is natural, it is kinky and nappy, and the wearer usually sports an afro.

Cedar Point doesn't allow locks or cornrows with designs either. Mr. Innes says the park doesn't have much problem with the issue, which is also addressed in its manual. Anybody seeking work there is aware of the guidelines and agrees to abide by them if hired.

The description of what's deemed "extreme" gets me, though. Mr. Innes said, "We get few [styles] that are patterned because they are extreme and extreme is not permitted." His reference to "patterned" concerns cornrows.

He said such "extreme" hairdos worn by workers is "very uncommon. We think it's important to have a uniform look for employees."

For many blacks, though, there's nothing "extreme" or uncommon about these hairstyles. So I ask, uncommon to whom? To whites, and some blacks?

Male business administration majors at Hampton University, a historically black university in Virginia, are not allowed to meet corporate executives if their hair is in "extreme" styles. That's understandable. And I understand why such dos are not accepted in corporate America where men wear white shirts, conservative ties, suits, and shoes, and where women wear conservative suits and dresses, pumps, and no colored hose or dangling earrings.

Nobody whose hair and clothes are not conservative can expect to advance in the business world. People who wear clothes that are too baggy, too tight, or too skimpy can't expect to win promotions either.

But I don't get making park workers abide by a "uniform" look, when what's forbidden is directed at one ethnic group.

Employees who prefer "extreme" hairstyles at Six Flags in Maryland won't find a friend in Mr. Prather. He has enforced the policy since February when he joined the board. Violating it leads to customer service problems, he said. He should know. As the father of adult children, he's personally dealt with the matter.

He calls the policy neither antiquated nor discriminatory, which tells me he embraces it. That's great. But the subordinates to whom the policy is directed are amusement park employees, for goodness' sakes. Maybe they will find a better friend in the ACLU.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.
» Read more Rose Russell columns at www.toledoblade.com/russe

Add Reply

Post
×
×
×
×
Link copied to your clipboard.
×