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Explained: What UPS changing rules on staff appearance has to do with racial justice

With the changed rules at United Parcel Service, employees will be able to keep their natural Black hairstyles, including Afros and braids. 

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 15, 2020 12:33:50 pm
United Parcel Service, United Parcel Service new rules, Afro hairstyles, afro hair discrimination, Crown Act, racism, black lives matter, express explained, indian expressA study found black women are 50 per cent more likely to be sent home or to know of another black woman who has been sent home from the workplace because of her hair. (Photo: getty)

US-based shipping company United Parcel Service (UPS) may now allow its workers to keep their facial hair and is relaxing some guidelines dictating how employees are to maintain their appearance.

The move is not in isolation, but is part of several efforts made in the US to prevent racial discrimination over physical appearance, going beyond skin colour.

Why is this important?

With the changed rules, employees will be able to keep their natural Black hairstyles, including Afros and braids.

The changes in the UPS rules were first reported by The Wall Street Journal on November 10 and are based on the idea that just like skin colour, a person’s hair can also serve as basis for discrimination.

The US Congress has noted, “routinely, people of African descent are deprived of educational and employment opportunities because they are adorned with natural or protective hairstyles in which hair is tightly coiled or tightly curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, or Afros.”

What other such measures been taken in the US?

In 2018, the US Armed Forces rescinded their grooming policies that barred natural or protective hairstyles commonly worn by people of African descent, and described as “unkempt”.

Last year, California became the first state in the US to make discrimination over natural hair illegal. New York followed suit and now New Jersey has become the latest US state to pass such a legislation, called Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act.

CROWN aims to protect people of colour from being discriminated against for their natural hair, especially at the workplace.

The legislation takes into account discrimination because of “traits that are historically associated with a particular race, “based on hair texture and style”. It also takes into account the historical norms and societal norms that equated “blackness” and its associated physical traits, such as dark skin, kinky and curly hair “to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment”, the California version of the law states. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

What is the reason for undertaking such measures?

One of the reasons for such legislation is to separate “professionalism” from features and mannerisms, thereby getting rid of workplace grooming or dress code policies that would deter black people from applying.

A study conducted by Unilever-owned brand Dove concluded that black women were 80 per cent more likely to change their natural hair in order to meet social norms or expectations at work.

It also said that black women are 50 per cent more likely to be sent home or to know of another black woman who has been sent home from the workplace because of her hair.

As of July, the CROWN Act has been passed in six other states, including New York, New Jersey, Washington, Maryland, Virginia and Colorado.

In September this year, the US House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act, which “prohibits discrimination based on a person’s hair texture or hairstyle if that style or texture is commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.”

“Specifically, the bill prohibits this type of discrimination against those participating in federally assisted programs, housing programs, public accommodations, and employment. Persons shall not be deprived of equal rights under the law and shall not be subjected to prohibited practices based on their hair texture or style,” it states.

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