In 2018, Brittany Noble — an award-winning news anchor at WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi — was fired after registering multiple complaints of racial discrimination against her employer. One of those complaints was about how her bosses told her that her natural hair was “unprofessional.”
In a post for Medium, Noble chronicled her experience asking her boss about wearing her natural hair on TV. Her boss compared that to “throwing on a baseball cap,” and asked why her hair “doesn’t lay flat.”
“After having my son, I asked my news director if I could stop straightening my hair. A month after giving me the green light I was pulled back into his office. I was told “My natural hair is unprofessional and the equivalent to him throwing on a baseball cap to go to the grocery store. He said “Mississippi viewers needed to see a beauty queen.” He even asked, “why my hair doesn’t lay flat.” When I asked him how I should address the change on social media he told me to write “I was told to change my hair back to the way it was because that’s what looks best.”
She later described the experience of being discriminated against because of her hair in an Instagram post, clarifying that the discrimination began in 2017, and ultimately ended with her termination in 2018.
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For all of you following my EEOC case against WJTV & Nexstar here is an update. In 2017 I filed a formal complaint after my boss told me “my natural hair was unprofessional, the equivalent to him wearing a baseball hat to go to the grocery store: viewers needed to see a beauty queen.” I wasn’t included in station promos while pregnant and postpartum.🤰🏾If you know me, you know my main concern is reporting but a number of my investigations about race were shut down. My boss would say my story pitches and tweets weren’t “for all people.” After enduring a two month long investigation (while positively representing the station on tv each day) my boss was fired and replaced by another man with the same systematic behavior. Btw it was only after filing the complaint that WJTV finally offered me a storage closet to pump milk for my son 6 hours into my shift during normal business hours. 🤱🏾 I finally reached out to the EEOC in April of 2018 for help. The next month I was terminated while using my accrued sick time to care for my dying grandfather. I began working with Antonio Jones a federal investigator with the EEOC. He would ask questions like “how many white employees have to wear wigs in order to do their jobs?” Suddenly I got an email that Jones would be gone for 2 months. It has come to my attention that my federal investigator had to file his own lawsuit against the EEOC. His case documents allege he made “formal complaints regarding the district director and local director. Both of these directors improperly and illegally closed cases to help out certain employers whereas this reflected receiving kickbacks.” I turned in everything I had to the state hoping they would fight for me. To think the state could actually be working with the corporations and not for the people is beyond disheartening. I would reach out to the EEOC for more information but they are closed due to the government shutdown. 🤦🏾♀️ It is my understanding that my investigator has been protesting himself (SWIPE) He is an army veteran who was injured in Iraq. While on sick leave- due to his disability- his cases including mine were taken away and he was reassigned to another state. 🤷🏾♀️
While Mississippi may be a long way away from codifying any ban on hair discrimination into the state’s legal system, California will likely be the first state to do so. A bill that passed the Senate in April, and which unanimously passed the Assembly, would adopt a law that makes it illegal for employers to engage in “hair discrimination,” in which black workers are fired for wearing their hair in its natural state in the workplace. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) is expected to sign the bill into law.
Currently, it’s illegal to fire a worker because of their race. However, it could be easily argued that firing someone for wearing their natural hair is akin to firing someone due to race, as people with melanin tend to have hair that doesn’t lay flat.
“Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional,” the bill reads.
Should Gov. Newsom sign the bill, California would be the first state to adopt such a practice at the statewide level. However, New York City adopted similar protections for natural hair in legal guidance issued earlier this year.
“Policies that limit the ability to wear natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people aren’t about ‘neatness’ or ‘professionalism;’ they are about limiting the way Black people move through workplaces, public spaces and other settings,” New York City human rights commissioner Carmelyn P. Malalais stated.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.