Discrimination based on hair texture is a form of social injustice, found worldwide. Afro-textured hair has frequently been seen as being unprofessional, unattractive, and unclean.
In the Western world, afro-textured hair has historically been treated with disdain, by members of all ethnicities. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Atlantic slave trade saw Black Africans forcibly transported from Sub-Saharan Africa to North America and, upon their arrival in the New World, their heads would be shaved in effort to erase their culture, as many Africans used hairstyles to signify their tribal identity, marital status, age, and other personal characteristics. Early on, both men and women would wear headscarves in order to protect their scalps from sunburn and lice but, as time progressed, these hair wraps became more associated with women, who began to wear them in various fashions, based on their region and personal style. In the 19th century, when slaves were no longer being imported from Africa, quality of life increased for them somewhat as they became more valuable in their owners' eyes. Now enjoying Sundays off, Black women would take the day to style their hair, uncovering it for church services but keeping it wrapped Monday through Saturday. As traditional styling tools weren't available to them, Black women began to use butter, kerosene, and bacon grease and combs meant for livestock to style their hair.
The concept of good hair arose in the time leading up to the abolition of slavery in the United States. Slaves who worked in the home did not wear headscarves as field laborers did and, as they were often children of a white man in the family that owned them, they were more likely to have straight hair than kinky or curly. To straighten their hair, Black women would often use a mixture of lye, which could burn their skin. In New Orleans, Louisiana, in the 18th century, Black and Louisiana Creole women were required by law to wear a tignon, to cover their hair, and, in an act of resistance, did so but adorned their wraps with fine fabrics and jewelry.
In the Dominican Republic hair is seen as an important attribute of physical beauty. Many view straight hair as beautiful and appropriate for a professional setting while also seeing afro-textured hair as inappropriate and distracting. This mindset had stemmed from racial discrimination. This has changed over the years in the United States and abroad as the American Natural Hair Movement gains popularity.
In the Dominican Republic hair straightening is done for the same reasons it is done in the United States and the diaspora for convenience and of course influence from western beauty standards. As Rooks (1996) affirms, "Hair in 1976 spoke to racial identity politics as well as bonding between African American women. Its style could lead to acceptance or rejection from certain groups and social classes, and its styling could provide the possibility of a career" (p. 5-6).
Straightened and more conservative styles are still the standard in the workplace, as it is in the United States and other countries with African descendants of the diaspora. The views expressed aren't exclusive to the Dominican Republic. Contrary to popular misconception many Dominican women do wear natural hair and it is becoming increasingly accepted in society.
Similar to many countries around the world, Black and First Nations Canadians have experienced discrimination in educational and professional environments. One type of discrimination has been based on their hair textures and styles. The cause of this type of discrimination is based on long standing Eurocentric views of beauty that were established during early colonization. Setting this standard was used as a tool to suppress both African and First nations culture. Though, Canada has made a commitment to support anti-racism and reconciliation there has been no specific protections put in place (such as the United States CROWN Act) to protect against this form of discrimination.
In Canada, there has been notable cases of discrimination that made national news sites about Black Canadian women being discriminated against at their work place, due to their hair being deemed unprofessional. In 2016, a Bi-racial woman in Scarborough, Ontario, who was working at the retail chain ZARA, was asked to remove her box braids because her hair style was unprofessional. In another case, an African-American woman living in Montreal, Quebec, was sent home from a restaurant and denied shifts, because her hair was in cornrows. The woman gained representation through the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), and filed a case with the Quebec Human Rights Commission based racial and gender discrimination. She won her case and was rewarded $14,500 in damages.
First Nations people in Canada have also experienced discrimination and harm due to wearing hair styles that do not conform to Eurocentric view. During the time of residential schools, First Nations children braids were cut from their heads to force assimilation. Similar incidents of racism have happened recently in Canada. In 2009, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a First Nations boy's hair was cut by a teachers aide. In 2018, a boy in Calgary, Alberta came from school with his hair cut after another student bullied him and then cut out his braid. In both cultures, braids hold significant ties to the past before colonization and have important culture meaning.