By Ryan Velez
One unique struggle that African-Americans in the workplace have had over the years stems from their hair. For years, many African-American hairstyles have been deemed inappropriate for the professional world, forcing procedures to alter the texture for women or a very limited set of haircuts for men. Workplace protections, in theory, are trying to open up the options for Black people, but many situations fall through the cracks. Essence reports that a Banana Republic employee took to social media after a manager demanded she remove her box braids.
The incident first caught public attention via a Facebook post. Destiny Tompkins complained that her manager at the Westchester, NY branch took her aside to criticize her for the protective hair style following a complaint from the District Manager. At the time, Tompkins had been working for the store for about a month.
“I came in and he questioned me about the dress code and immediately, I thought there was something wrong with my outfit but he sat me down and questioned my hair instead,” she wrote. “He told me that my braids were not Banana Republic appropriate and that they were too “urban” and “unkempt” for their image. He said that if I didn’t take them out then he couldn’t schedule me for shifts until I did.”
Thompkins, a college sophomore, tried to explain that the purpose of the hair style was for protection, and even tried to bring her mother in to intervene, but the manager held fast. In an article for the New York Daily News, she mentioned that the incident left her so “uncomfortable” that she ended up walking out before her shift ended.
“I have never been so humiliated and degraded in my life by a white person.”
“Box braids are not a matter of unprofessionalism, they are protective styles Black women have used for their hair and to be discriminated against because of it is truly disgusting and unacceptable,” she wrote. “There’s no reason why a white person should feel allowed to tell me that I can’t wear my hair the way that I want bc it’s too black for their store image. #boycottbanana Banana Republic.”
A spokesperson for Banana Republic said that “as a company, we have zero tolerance for discrimination. We take this matter very seriously and we are actively conducting an investigation. We are committed to upholding an inclusive environment where our customers and our employees feel respected.“ No actions regarding the manager have been mentioned publicly as of yet.