In the wake of a spring controversy over Six Flags refusing two women employment because of their hair , a group known as Friends for Hair Freedom have started an online petition and are planning a boycott of the amusement park.

“We’re just advocating for individuals who’ve been discriminated against in the workplace based on their hair texture,” said Renee Profit, co-founder of Friends for Hair Freedom. “We’ve been advocating for people primarily at the Largo (Md.) location, but policies are corporate.”

The group believes Six Flags policy disproportionately targets African Americans. They believe it’s discriminatory and that’s why they’ve begun to take political action. They say in this economy, it’s a shame people aren’t able to work just because of their hair texture.

“The biggest thing for me is there are so many people without jobs and you can go to Six Flags or send your children there with natural hair, but you turn around and can’t get hired,” said Marci Walker, co-founder of Friends for Hair Freedom. “It’s natural hair. It’s the way it naturally grows out of our heads. I don’t see that we should have to change this in order to get a job.”

The controversy first gained attention when two women, Janet Bello and Jackie Sherrill spoke out about being denied employment because of locked hair. Bello said a manager told her she’d be allowed to work there as long as she was willing to change her hair.

“I asked, ‘What do you mean by that? How can I change my hair if this is the way God created me,’” Bello said. “That’s when he told me I could cut it off or get a perm and make it straight.”

For Sherrill, the issue was even more upsetting because she worked at the park last year. The retired teacher received an invitation to work at the park this summer, but when a supervisor saw her hair, she was told she needed to change her hair. “At first I was offended. I felt like they were targeting a particular race of people,” Sherrill said. “So many of the kids I worked with last year had my hairstyle or something similar.”

She was given the handbook from last year and told that the company is strictly enforcing company rules. She contacted the ACLU when the incident happened and now the group has agreed to take file a lawsuit on her behalf.

“Even if these policies are not illegal, I think they are quite clearly racially offensive and should not be adopted,” said David Rocah, an attorney with the Maryland ACLU. “I think there is something grossly offensive by saying that locked hair is inherently unprofessional. There are lots of very professional African Americans in Maryland and around the country who wear their hair locked for a number of reasons.”

Six Flags did not respond to the AFRO’s request for a specific comment but spokeswoman Julia L. Filz said, “Because we wish to present to our guests at all parks a consistent appearance, Six Flags requires that hairstyles for all of our team members and management do not include variations in hair color, dreadlocks, tails or partially shaved heads. Other requirements of our grooming code include standard uniforms for front-line team members and no visible tattoos.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO