Once again, the subject of hair professionalism is in the limelight, and, once again, "ethnic" women are getting the short end of the stick.
On her second day of work at Zara's Scarborough Town Centre location in Toronto, employee Cree Ballah, 20, was approached by not one, but two store managers about her hair. Ballah, who describes herself as bi-racial, was told that her box braids, pulled back into two ponytails, were simply not acceptable in the workplace.
"They took me outside of the store and they said, 'We're not trying to offend you, but we're going for a clean professional look with Zara and the hairstyle you have now is not the look for Zara,'" Ballah told CBC News.
Ballah was then made to publicly "fix" her hair in the middle of a busy mall, in full view of other Zara employees and customers, finally settling on a low bun. Feeling humiliated, Ballah began to cry.
“My hair type is linked to my race, so to me, I felt like it was direct discrimination against my ethnicity in the sense of what comes along with it,” Ballah said. “My hair type is out of my control, and I try to control it to the best of my ability, which wasn’t up to standard for Zara.”
While the company claims that it doesn't tolerate any kind of discrimination, Zara's response to Ballah was less than satisfactory. The fast fashion retailer told CBC News they had "engaged directly with the employee on this matter and respects the privacy of those discussions" and insisted the company is both diverse and multicultural. The company has no formal policy regarding employees' hairstyles; they simply expect them to appear "professional."
Ballah has since taken the fight to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and likely will not return to her position at Zara.
Ballah isn't the first—or unfortunately, the last—person to be discriminated against on the basis of her natural hair. In November, an 11-year-old girl was actually kicked off her competitive cheerleading squad because her hair was too curly. In 2014, the United States Army released a grooming policy limiting or banning traditionally black hairstyles like cornrows, braids, twists, and dreadlocks. Even celebrities aren't exempt.
"There is already a harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair," she wrote. "My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough. To me locs are a symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion's mane."