Social Campaign Takes On Discriminatory Hair Standards

By Brandon Brown

After Faith Fennidy, an 11-year-old African-American girl, was removed because of her ethnic hairstyle from Christ the King Elementary School, her Xavier University big sisters decided to show her that she is not alone. In September, Xavier student leaders took to social media to promote confidence in an intrinsic aspect of African-American culture: hair. The #IAmNotMyHair Campaign set out to promote pride for African-American girls and women who may have experienced discrimination or negative stigmas either at school, a job, or anywhere else.

“If they see that we’re proud of who we are no matter the skin tone, hairstyle, or hair texture, they’re going to be like, ‘oh I can be like them,’” said Kelsey Green, Miss Xavier 2018-2019 who is leading the Xavier Campaign under #IAmNotMyHair is to set a positive example for these young girls.

“It would be good to show her that Xavier University, full of diverse Black women, has her back,” Green said.

The campaign has been used before by African-American women to assert that hair does not define their value. This month it was used by Actress Sanaa Lathan to promote her 2018 Netflix Film Nappily Ever After released this month. In the film, her character shaves off her hair and begins a journey of self-acceptance. On social media, Xavier women have used this hashtag to set an example in cultural pride for Fennidy and for other young African-American girls and boys recently disciplined at schools because of their hairstyles.

Policies against African-American hairstyles, such as locs, twists, and braids, are often banned for school children. At the start of this school year, in Florida, 6-year-old Clinton Stanley Jr. was prevented from attending class because of his dreadlocks. In 2017, a Massachusetts school instructed twins Deanna and Mya Cook to remove their “distracting” braids. The students’ parents typically argue that these policies unfairly discriminate against African-Americans, which is against federal law, and advocated that the schools should change their hair policies. However, in many cases, the schools are privately owned and are legally allowed to keep their policy. Some schools rescind or suspend policy after backlash, as the case of Deanna and Mya, and the students are allowed to return to school. In other schools, as was the case of Clinton Stanley Jr, the disciplinary action stands, and the student must enroll in a different school.

However, these policies are not exclusive to schools, they are also apparent in corporate job environments. In 2016 in Mobile, Ala., Chastity Jones was told by Catastrophe Management Solutions that they would not hire her unless she cut off her dreadlocks. In 2012, Six Flags denied employment to 21-year-old Markeese Warner due to her dreadlocks, a style which the company calls an “extreme hairstyle.” Even the United States Navy banned dreadlocks for women, but the ban finally ended this year in July.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a racial discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Chasity Jones against CMS, but the Federal District Court in Alabama ruled in favor of CMS. They ruled that discrimination must show is bias based on unchangeable traits such as skin color, and that hairstyle does not fit under this category.

The effects of these discriminatory policies have proven to be adverse for African-American women. The “Good Hair Study,” conducted in 2016 by Perception Institute, found that African-American women “perceive a level of social stigma against textured hair,” and also “experience high levels of anxiety more than White women” when it comes to their hair.

Policies at schools and jobs that target African-American hair deters confidence. Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley said, “banning these hairstyles essentially tells Black girls and women… that the hair they were born with is faddish, extreme, distracting, and unprofessional.”

Under the hashtag, dozens of Xavier women have posted pictures and stories about their struggle to embrace their hair and the culture behind it. Many students said they also see the hashtag as an expression of liberation from oppressive perceptions towards African-American hair. Since women make up more than 70 percent of Xavier’s student body, they feel it is important to show solidarity with students who have been discriminated against across America. Their stories explain instances of discrimination and negative stigmas, but more importantly, how they have overcome these experiences and learned to love and accept themselves.

“It’s about voicing that your hair does not define your beauty and doesn’t dictate over the other qualities within yourself,” said Mizani Ball, a Mass Communication senior. She also said #IAmNotMyHair teaches African-American girls to love their hair which leads them to loving themselves for who they are.

The hashtag proves that women have the freedom to wear any hairstyle without consideration for what is expected of them, they said. “For a long time, Black women have been told what to do and how to do it,” said Amenze Omoruii, a senior, Psychology, Pre-Medicine major. “So #IAmNotMyHair basically symbolizes that it is our choice,” Omoruii said.

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