Time tends to pass, and we do not even realize it.  In October, I received an invitation to attend my 40th law school reunion and did a double take; had it been THAT long? WOW! I decided to attend.

During the weekend of festivities, Tulane put on two continuing legal education seminars since all of us lawyers need it. I decided to attend one entitled “Anti-Discrimination and Equality of Law – What’s Hair Got to do with it” presented by Professor D. Wendy Green, a Tulane Law School graduate and associate professor of law at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.

The seminar opened my eyes to a bias that I had never even thought about: hair as it relates to the workplace (and most probably everything other aspect of our lives.) Evidently, a “hair bias” exists with respect to black men and women.  A study by the Perception Institute published in February 2017 defines “hair bias” as “negative stereotypes or attitudes that manifest unconsciously or consciously towards natural or textured hair.” (Id. at 1.) Evidently, our perception of hair (and thus our implicit biases about it) stems from “implicit visual processes”. As a result, our brains tend to associate silky hair to beauty, popularity and wealth thereby allowing our unconscious brains to leap to the conclusion that smooth and silky hair is the epitome of beauty. (Id. at 1.)

To gain more insight, this study asked close to 1200 women – both black and Caucasian– “whether hair bias affects perceptions of beauty, self-esteem, sense of professionalism, and by extension, workplace opportunities for those whose hairstyles fall outside of the dominant norm.” (Id. at 1.)

The study’s results, showed that an implicit bias does indeed exist. That is, embedded in the brains of the participants are negative stereotypes that are automatically associated with a group of people, which stereotype are often inconsistent with the participants’ conscious beliefs.  (Id. at 1.)

More specifically, the study found that:

  • On average, white women show explicit bias toward black women’s textured hair. They rate it as less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.
  • Black women in the natural hair community have significantly more positive attitudes toward textured hair than other women, including black women in the national sample.
  • Millennial naturalistas have more positive attitudes toward textured hair than all other women.
  • Black women perceive a level of social stigma against textured hair, and this perception is substantiatedby white women’s devaluation of natural hairstyles. (Id. at 6.)

 

“Textured” hairstyles include the Afro, Dreads, Twist out, Braids, while “smooth” hairstyles include straight, long cuts, short curls and pixie. (Id. at 5.)

In her presentation, Professor Green discussed the various federal and state court cases brought by women who lost job opportunities because of their hair style. In almost all of them, the courts held that to discriminate on the basis of hair style is not illegal. WOW!

This presentation woke me up. I never thought about the hair styles of the parties attending my mediations. Taking this implicit bias beyond the black community and into the community at large, I began to ask myself whether I unconsciously take stock of a person’s hair color, or hair style in my communications with him/her and take them less or more seriously based on that hair style? Do I, like the participants in the study, unconsciously put more value in what a person with straight hair tells me than what one with a trendy haircut confides in me? This topic forced me to pause for reflection.

Unconscious, implicit biases…. They seem to be everywhere… even on the top of our heads.

…..  Just something to think about.

Happy Holidays! I hope everyone has a chance to take some time off at the end of this year and to enjoy family, friends, and life! Each day is special!  I am taking some time off as well and so will be putting down my “blogging ” pen until after the New Year!  Have a great 2018 and “see ya” in January 2018! 

 

 

 

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