Hair is in the Air
Solange Knowles just released “Don’t touch my hair”, a new title from her album “A Seat at the Table ” and it immediately resumes the beauty conversation on social media that started a month ago.
For his Spring Summer 2017 presentation in New York, Marc Jacobs sent his models down the runway in hand-dyed wool dreadlocks. The pale piles of faux hair, hairstylist Guido Palau had explained backstage, were an homage to club kids, Boy George and director Lana Wachowski, among a slew of other references. The look incited an immediate discussion about whether or not the hairstyle was an offensive form of cultural appropriation, especially as worn by a predominantly white cast, or if it was merely a show of appreciation for the style.
Meanwhile a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced that banning dreadlocks from the workplace is entirely legal. The ruling was based on a case filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which a black job applicant, Chastity Jones, had her offer of employment at Catastrophe Management Solutions rescinded when she refused to cut off her dreadlocks. The suit claimed that CMS’s actions amounted to discrimination, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (failure or refusal to hire someone over race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is against the law), and arguing that zeroing in on dreadlocks unfairly targeted African-Americans. Lawyers for CMS argued that the company had a race-neutral grooming policy.
The court’s decision was reached after deciding that Title VII protected “immutable traits” of race that did not extend to grooming choices. In other words, CMS’s company policy, requiring employees to present themselves in a manner that “projects a professional and businesslike image,” is up to the business to interpret. Reactions to the ruling have erupted online, mainly taking issue with exactly whose idea of business professionalism is being upheld.
Raising questions about whether the difference between “groomed” and what Jones was told by a CMS HR manager was “messy” is a matter of perception—one that is intrinsically linked to community or culture—the subject certainly requires a sensitive rethinking. And it’s not the first time that hair, or dreadlocks in particular, have sparked debate.
Regarding Solange’s new album and new song. It started with an Instagram teasing showing her with different looks inspired by the R&B singer Patrice Rushenrom. In the video she co-directed with her husband Alan Ferguson, she and a cast of dancers in chromatically coordinated costumes display a procession of spectacular styles: Marcel waves, brushed-out curls, crowns of looped braids, Afros short and long and everywhere in between. That the range of looks on display is so vast—and so undeniably gorgeous—sends a message about hair not only to people of color, but to people, period: It’s yours and yours alone; do with it what you will.
Solange’s lyrics, too, offer a sharp retort to those who would deem certain hairstyles to be unprofessional or otherwise inferior: She’s taking ownership of her hair just as she would her own body. “It’s the feelings I wear,” Solange sings of her strands. “Don’t touch my pride.”
After years of addiction, I’ve ditched my relaxer kits few years ago when I was pregnant of my first child. Aside from the superficial damage that often comes with chemical processing—split ends, thinning, breakage—the potential health risks, from burns to uterine fibroids, were increasingly hard for me to ignore. It became a health issue. This summer I move a step ahead as I don’t feel the need to straighten my 4B kinky hair -on the curl pattern chart- anymore. I let it go…and found out that big don’t care!
Solange’s message is interesting as it just tell us that you are free to do what we want. Relaxed, wiggy, or nappy, there is no rule, except feeling aligned with your path and health.
Carole Bienaimé Besse
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