As if the cosmos wanted to explain Black Americans’ frustration about the appropriation and simultaneous marginalization of their culture, the US Court rules it legal for employers to discriminate against people with dreadlocks during the same week that Marc Jacob puts colorful faux dreadlocks on a roster of primarily white runway models during New York Fashion Week.
On September 15, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit filed against Catastrophe Management Solutions by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Chasity Jones for discriminatory hiring practices. After Jones refused to cut off her dreadlocks to comply with the company’s policy that requires employees to be groomed “in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image,” Catastrophe Management Solutions withdrew their job offer to her. The court overturned the EEOC’s claim that "dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent” using a rebuttal that dreadlocks are not an immutable characteristic; therefore, bias against those who wear them does not constitute discrimination based on race.
Within the same week that the court’s ruling made headlines, Marc Jacobs defends his own acts of cultural appropriation by accusing Black women of being cultural appropriators.
Just as African-Americans are being taught another lesson on assimilating in order to gain opportunities for advancement in the United States, Jacobs defends his appropriation of Black culture by highlighting the ways in which Black women manipulate their hair. Neglecting the reality lived by Black women, as his white male privilege permits him to do, the high fashion designer could not recognize how assimilation by people of color is a mandated means of survival in this country nor could he see his role in the way popular culture uses minority groups’ assimilation to justify cultural appropriation.
Though using the justice system to systematically disadvantage African-Americans and adopting Black culture into mainstream culture without proper attribution or representation are age old phenomena in the United States, this set of incidents does present an opportunity to consider the perplexing situation faced by many minorities who work in media. Now more than ever everything from Black cultural slang to Black cinema is being adopted by mainstream media while those same cultural identities are being used as a basis to limit opportunities for African-Americans.
Minorities who work in the media landscape are being encouraged to pull from their backgrounds in their efforts to engage more consumers; yet African-Americans must still curb their Blackness in order to exist within those spaces. The Instagram pages of the Kardashians and lyrics of pop artists turned rappers like Miley Cyrus continually testify that it is okay to popularize blackness — unless you are Black. This reality that Black culture is permissible as long as it is ushered in by a non-Black subject and given a non-Black name so as not display too much Black pride and threaten the standard of White culture as the norm dates back throughout history; yet it makes way for a conversation that must be held today.
The minority media professionals who find that their marginalized culture is the hot topic while it is also not completely accepted are in a unique position as gatekeepers of the media. While #BlackTwitter and other more transparent publications are increasingly shedding light on these contradicting situations, still begs the question how can minorities who face these intersectionalities use their roles in their companies’ brainstorm meetings and newsrooms to mitigate this issue? Is it the minority media professional’s duty to call attention to the rampant appropriation and simultaneous marginalization of Black culture?
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