Hampton University policy states that male students in the business school cannot wear dreadlocks or cornrows. For some reason this policy is in the news lately although it has been around since 2001. I do not intend to weigh into the class, race, style politics involved, but I do have a gender question. Why can women at the school wear cornrows or dreadlocks but the men cannot? What is it about men with those hairstyles that make them less business like, less professional, less corporate. Is there a list of different hairstyles banned for women?
Business School Dean Sid Credle in explaining the ban stated, “When was it that cornrows and dreadlocks were a part of African American history…. I mean Charles Drew didn’t wear, Muhammad Ali didn’t wear it. Martin Luther King didn’t wear it.” Along the same lines I cannot think of similar female figures who wore dreads or cornrows, but women can wear those styles at Hampton.
One particular detail of today’s Zits comic struck me.
What struck me was not the rather lame joke about gender based hair perception. It was instead the white girl in the first panel holding and examining the black girl’s hair and then offering some sort of naive analysis. In my experience and from what I have read and heard, it is taboo for white folks to reach out and touch and feel black people’s hair. Now it is not clear in this scene whether the white girl asked permission first, a fact which might slightly mitigate the problem (although the question, “Can I touch your hair?” is still awkward). However, if she just reached out touched and grabbed the other girl’s hair, that’s just wrong. Why would anyone assume, no matter the relationship, that it is cool to inquisitively grab and examine or play with someone else’s hair? I doubt anyone would look at Zits as a guide to social etiquette; still I hope no one sees the first panel and reaches out and touches their black acquaintance’s hair.
For further detail on what I am talking about go to this piece ‘”Can I Touch It’ The Facination With Natural, African-American Hair.”
Is this product racist? It seems tacky but funny. I can understand the outcry given the implied unfortunate link between black hair and a brillo pad. I think I would be a lot more upset if they were Barack Obama and Michelle Obama sponges, because that would be a more blatant political statement; somewhat generic sponges are less problematic. Seeing the whole line at the bottom also somehow makes the product more palatable as a range of races and hairstyles appear.
Sometimes in doing research for this blog I learn something I totally did not know. Until today I did not know how serious gingerism, prejudice against redheads, can be especially in England. I was not even aware of the term. Check out Gingerism.com for posts on people being harassed and beaten due to hair color. This post from Yahoo talks about how redheads in America do not suffer the same level of persecution and in fact names prominent redheaded entertainers. I think the writer may go a bit too far when he tries to draw parallels between gingerism in England and racism in the USA. For example, he states that even while Queen Elizabeth was in power gingerism still thrived, and even with Barack Obama as president racism still continues. Not knowing enough about the situation in England, I cannot fully speak to that point, but from my provincial American perspective I do not really see an equivalence. Then again there is this news piece about a sperm bank no longer accepting donations from redheads.
Conan O'Brien, an example of overcoming gingerism
curling a doll's hair: politics in plastic and pipe cleaners
Saw a piece on a CNN blog about a group of women who modified a batch of Barbie dolls (they started with a black friend of Barbie actually) so they had natural, rather than straightened hair and then gave them to a class of black schoolgirls while teaching a lesson about being one’s self. I also found this YouTube clip featuring similarly modified dolls. I think its great the lengths people will go to so children have positive toys. However, on the other hand should black girls’ scalps really become cultural battlefields where contesting forces battle to see hair grow in the proper direction?
This may be fairly old, but I just stumbled upon it. On the surface it is a great video supporting freedom of hair expression, but this commentary from This Week in Blackness points out the flaws in having one black individual sport all those varied hair styles.