Naturally textured hair of Black women is absent within dominant cultural representation and this has led numerous women, and more recently, men, to be denied jobs, opportunities and experience discrimination.
Whilst I'm sure the majority of you may be wondering why a topic like this should be considered "news," I'll remind you it was only July last year when the U.S. made a long-overdue change to a common workplace policy, allowing women to wear their hair in dreadlocks, large buns, braids and ponytails.
Even here in Britain there's been no shortage of Black and mixed women losing jobs and being denied jobs simply because of their hair — leaving them to continually face daunting and unnecessary roadblocks, leaving many of them feeling isolated and not in their true form.
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In 2015, a Black woman had a job offer withdrawn because she was unwilling to remove her braids. And in 2017, Chikayzea Flanders was told on his first day of school that his dread-locked hair, which he wore tied up, did not comply with the school’s uniform and appearance policy. He was given the ultimatum to cut them off or face suspension.
These are the mere examples of how implicit bias has affected the lives of Black men and women.
Ishmayl.A, 24, born and raised here in the U.K., grew up hearing the many stories of men and women being discriminated because of their hair. He later decided to explore the issue deeper by creating a short documentary speaking to Black women from different countries living in Britain.The documentary titled, Black Girl Hair: Embarrassed, Proud or Shy, includes a woman whose mother had all her hair cut off by a white family who were childminding her because they didn’t see the use/need for such hair. Another story was based on women being told by their potential employers at job interviews that their braided hair was not professional enough.
Speaking on the impact this doc has had, Ishmayl said, "A lot of men have told me they learned so much from the documentary and it made them have a moment of self-reflection. They admitted to making unnecessary jokes about Black female hair and will make an effort to stop this."
He added that parents have contacted him saying they wished the documentary was out when they were younger because it would have given them the confidence to express themselves more when growing up.
Since the documentary was released, GHD and Cantu Beauty, well-known hair brands, contacted Ishmayl. The doc has received over 30,000 views in a week and has been played at many hairdressers, whilst women are getting their hair done.
"My little brother has cornrows and some of my friends have told me, 'He better cut those off or he won’t get a job',” he told Backbench.
He believes this proves the issue has been accepted rather than being questioned.
"We should be trying to change this notion not to change our natural hair and historically accustomed hairstyles. We're who we are and it should be embraced, not shunned."