Race, Discriminatory Grooming, and Intersectionality in Employment Practices: A Brief Observation by T. Hasan Johnson, Ph.D.

Doing some research and thought I’d share a random bit of information. At a recent lecture I attended, a Black Feminist remarked that only Black women suffered workplace discrimination due to hair. In the name of intersectionality, she argued that because they were Black and women, that no other demographic lost their jobs due to this unique issue—including Black men—and thus Black women were uniquely oppressed.

However, Black men’s unemployment rates are usually 7.1 to Black women’s 6.4 (2016) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is plausible that such discriminatory workplace policies on grooming can occasionally be at fault. As this 1993 New York Times article outlines,
“Black men, who are by far the most frequent sufferers of the skin ailment, pseudofolliculitis barbae” (or PFB), “PFB is caused when tightly curled beard hairs, sharpened by shaving, curve back and re-enter the skin, producing inflammation, bumps and infections. Although estimates vary, medical authorities say that the ailment afflicts perhaps half of the black men who shave and that about half of all those afflicted have conditions serious enough that they should not shave at all.”
Although a small number of Black women suffer from PFB, it is mainly a Black male condition. So when private companies, police departments, the military,  or city/state jobs demand that Black men shave off facial hair it can have an adverse effect on some men, leading to loss of employment if they refuse to comply for health reasons. 
There have still been contemporary cases of grooming discrimination against Black men as recently as 2016, as a Black male high school valedictorian was banned from his graduation because he grew facial hair. In fact, some Black men have tried to file lawsuits to address this since at least the 1970s, as the article linked above details. Intersectionality would highlight this if it did not have an a priori investment in highlighting only Black women’s oppression. Such misandry supports ignoring Black men’s experiences and empirical realities.
Also, in contrast to the lecture I heard, Black men are also discriminated against due to the same issues Black women suffer from in regard to hair such as wearing locs, long hair, braids, etc. That said, ignoring Black men’s discriminatory employment issues to prove intersectionality’s efficacy for Black women is usually not constructive or beneficial, and it creates a competitive space as Black men are dismissed as being divisive or sexist if they respond (as I have) or become white background noise if they remain silent. I argue that Black men are disposable in that their suffering can be ignored when convenient or useful for other demographics’ political gains. In this, we must develop a vocabulary for Black males of all ages, using empirical data to prevent our discussions from devolving into myth, personal narratives, social trends, hashtags, or randomly changing feelings. In essence, we must challenge misandry from other men, from women, and from the State.
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