Law in Contemporary Society
How Anti-blackness Perpetuates itself in Hair Introduction I have thick, long, and very kinky- curly hair. Most days, I wear my hair down, but if I want it out of my face, I may opt for a curly bun and to "lay my edges." If you knew me growing up, this would be surprising because as a young girl, I only wanted to wear my hair straight. I hated having curly hair because I wanted long, straight hair like my mother, grandmothers, and many of the women surrounding me or women I watched on television. For many other black women and I, it was not until the Natural Hair Movement that we began to appreciate our hair in its natural state, independent of chemical processing. As I have continued to grow up, I have become increasingly interested in how antiblackness manifests itself in seemingly minute characteristics such as hair and its harmful impact on black women.

The Natural Hair Movement The Natural Hair Movement was sparked by an independent film entitled, “My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair-itage" that sought to discover the deeper meaning behind the word nappy. The film went through the history of black hair from Africa, through slavery, and into American culture. The term nappy came from cotton crops on slave plantations because cotton that had not been harvested was called naps, and the texture was considered comparable to African American hair. In South Africa the "pencil test" was used to determine proximity to whiteness, along with access to political, social, and economic privileges. It involved inserting a pencil into the hair and testing whether it would hold or fall out. Hair that the pencil fell out of was considered "good" and hair where the pencil held was bad. Because of the kinkiness and texture of African hair, hair that was closer in texture to European women was classified as good hair and deemed superior and beautiful. Kinkier, more Afro-Centric hair was bad

Good Hair, the film The concept of good and & bad hair is further discussed in Chris Rock's 2009 film, "Good Hair." Good Hair incited conversations about how dangerous chemicals called, Relaxers, were heavily marketed towards African American women to make our hair appear "good" or closer to the texture of European women.

Effects of Chemical Processing Relaxers are made of chemicals that break down the curl and kink of our hair using chemicals like sodium hydroxide which can cause chemical burns, permanent injury or scarring, and blindness. Relaxers disrupt the chemical imbalance of our bodies, putting users at higher risk for reproductive problems, heart disease, different forms of cancer, early puberty, fibroids, and mental health disorders. There was a study conducted by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that published frequent users of chemical hair straightening products were twice as likely to develop uterine cancer.

Ongoing Litigation There are currently ongoing class action suits against large hair companies such as Motions, Dark & Lovely, Olive Oil Relaxer, and Organic Root Stimulator because the use of their products has caused cancer in many African American woman. These companies have all profited on the antiblackness that perpetuates throughout society and has forced Black women to feel as though they need to assimilate. To me, this makes the Natural Hair Movement about much more than learning to love and appreciate my hair but bringing attention to how dangerous proximity to whiteness can be for Black women.

The Natural Hair Movement as a form of Resistance The Natural Hair Movement is a form of resistance because it is a way for black women to outwardly express love for us and our culture. It is an example of the fight we have to endure to embrace our roots. By wearing our hair in its natural state, we are resisting the Eurocentric standards of beauty that have been ingrained in our heads and potentially saving our lives. This resistance was seen drastically in the haircare market. From 2012-2017, the sale of relaxers fell an astonishing 36.6%. This is a clear effect of African Americans resistance to the mainstream standards of beauty that include long and straight hair. It is proof of how Black women have rejected the notions of what makes us beautiful. The Natural Hair Movement is also a form of equality and social justice. The Natural Hair Movement is a form of equality because of how hard African Americans have worked to have their hair accepted in the workplace.

Hair Discrimination in the Workplace Many people have asked, "What are you going to do with your hair when you enter the corporate world?" It is a question that I had not thought about but worries me. I never want to be assumed to be less intelligent because of the way I wear my hair, but in a world where employers are allowed to implement policies regarding hygiene, hairstyles, and other appearance, this is a real possibility. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employment discrimination on the basis of race, federal courts have limited interpreted this prohibition to mean is discrimination on the basis of immutable characteristics: features you are born with or features that only Black people possess. Further, federal courts have concluded that an afro is an immutable characteristic and cannot be discriminated against. However, an afro is not a black woman’s hair in its natural state, and black women proudly wear our hair in a multitude of generational styles such as locs, braids, twists, none of which are protected by federal law.

The Crown Act In 2019, California became the first state to ban discrimination based on natural hairstyles under the Crown Act. Similarly in 2021, New York stated implemented its own CROWN act that banned hair discrimination in New York schools and employers. As of 22, the CROWN act has been passed in 20 states and 30 cities. Although some may see this as progress, it does nothing for the black women in the other 30 states and unconscious bias that still exist in those in power. My hope is that overtime the legalized acceptance of our hair will eradicate the implicit biases many faces.


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r4 - 27 May 2023 - 13:39:28 - EricaSmith
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