And although the manager was fired after her story garnered significant media attention, Tompkins says the incident has had a lasting impact—far past the news cycle of her story. “I struggle trying to work in retail or food anymore because of that specific experience,” she says, noting that she’s now hyperaware and cautious of any industry that has explicit rules on how employees should look. “As a Black woman, I’m learning to just love my hair,” she adds. “So when someone tells me that it’s still not good enough for their image, I ask myself, Do I care to fit into this image?
That’s why she wants to continue to raise awareness about hair discrimination and the legislation that could legally protect women from going through the experience she did. “I think it’s time that we are able to be our complete selves without criticism, without critique, without being questioned for it,” she says. “It's not fair that everyone gets to live so peacefully, so free, and then when it comes to Black people, it’s always a problem.
Meaning, if Black women in the military wanted to rise in rank, they would need to spend more time and money getting ready each morning—which, according to Gale’s experience, many did. “At times I kind of felt like an outcast because I was not perming my hair,” she says, noting that the Coast Guard already has a small percentage of Black officers. “It’s that feeling that if you want to belong and succeed within the organization, then you need to wear your hair this type of way.
Noble hopes that with more states adopting the Crown Act, the focus will be on the work that needs to be done and stories that need to be told. “If I want to wear my hair straight, no one should judge me," she says. "And if I want to wear my hair natural, I should have that right. “For a long time growing up, my family had the impression that America was this place where you could be yourself.
After the incident, Johnson, 32, says she became increasingly aware of how rampant hair discrimination actually is and why it needs to be forbidden under the law. “The Crown Act is not just about Black hair, but also civil rights,” she says. “It’s about the right for Black people to have freedom and equality.
Johnson now works for Netflix, a company she says has a great “come as you are” culture. “I was actually hired with blonde highlights in my hair,” she says. “I never worry about being criticized or mistreated because of my hair or overall physical appearance. ” She’s also a member of Netflix’s inclusion and diversity task force, which aims to increase diversity among production crews that work behind the scenes for shows and movies.
With no valid health or safety concerns to point to, Kim argued, the new regulations put an undue burden on Black women. “How we are groomed, with our hair, is a part of our professional evaluation,” says Kim. “So if our hair is not ‘in compliance’ per a racist regulation, then a supervisor has full discretion to downgrade your evaluation.
For Sakabo, the Crown Act is a sign of great progress, but it also comes with a certain level of sorrow. “This is our reality as Black individuals—that we will be judged for every little thing, down to our hair,” she says. “We have to make laws so that we can be accepted.
According to the official complaint, Noble claims she was told her natural hair looked “unprofessional. ” (In its answer to the complaint, Nexstar Broadcasting, the news station’s parent company, counters that she was told her “hairstyle was unprofessional”—not her “natural hair”—and that she “could wear her hair however she liked, if it looked professional. ”) Noble’s suit also claims management had “stopped including her in station promotions and events” and that she was told news stories she pitched were “not for all people.
For many Black women at the time who may have flipped past the ad while sitting under the dryer at the salon on a Sunday afternoon, Raveen—which has since been discontinued—was communicating a gentle warning: Wear your hair in its natural state and risk not landing the job.
In the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint she filed, Johnson stated that Black waitresses were not allowed to wear their natural curls and were advised to straighten their hair before work or they wouldn’t be allowed to work their shift.
If the experience has taught her anything, it’s that if a business is going to make a decision about your capabilities based on your locs, your Afro, or the fact your hair isn’t straight, it’s probably not a place you want to work anyway. “A good company is not going to judge you by your physical appearance.
Each of the six women you’ll hear from in this story describe unpleasant experiences on the job, and they’re advocating the passage of the Crown Act in every state, a vital piece of legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate against a person for the way they wear their hair to work, whether that’s natural or in protective styles.
Sakabo now works as a doula. “They essentially treat me like family,” she says of the private practice in Brooklyn. “I came comfortable as I am, and they accepted me, as opposed to other jobs where I felt like I needed to come in with my headscarf or my natural hair from the start, so they knew who they were hiring.
And for Black women, it’s a look that takes a lot of time, money, and—in instances like Brittany Noble’s—difficulty to maintain. “To save money I would try to do my own hair.
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