Nikita Richardson
April 11, 2016 1:48 pm
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It’s no secret that hair can be very political (just ask Amandla Stenberg and Kylie Jenner). That goes doubly so in the workplace, where certain hairstyles command a level of respect and praise compared to others—and sometimes those differences are drawn along racial lines.

That was the case for 20-year-old Cree Ballah, a soon-to-be-former employee of fast fashion retailer Zara. According to the salesgirl, she was taken aside by not one, but two managers at her job at a Toronto mall because her hairstyle—four box braids pulled into a low, stylish ponytail—was deemed inappropriate.

“We’re going for a clean professional look with Zara and the hairstyle you have now is not the look for Zara,” Ballah was told.

According to Ballah, the managers (who claimed that they weren’t trying to offend her), then preceded to lead her out of the store where they tried to “fix” her hair, an experience that left her not only upset, but humiliated.

“My hair type is also 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,” the 20-year-old told CBC News. “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.”

Cree Ballah isn’t the first black or mixed race woman to experience this kind of shaming. Last year, singer Zendaya was criticized by E! News host Giuliana Rancic for wearing dreadlocks on the Oscars red carpet. Rancic (in)famously said that the 19-year-old looked like she smelled like patchouli or weed.

And it wasn’t until fairly recently that the military eased its regulations on acceptable hairstyles for black, female soldiers, which for a time barred them from wearing long cornrows, dreadlocks, or twists. Add the continued segregation of black women’s hair products in the beauty aisle and it’s no wonder that some people remain woefully ignorant of the rules and traditions that dictate hair care for women of color.

For her part, Ballah is considering taking the matter to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and probably won’t be returning to Zara. 

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