France Urged to Outlaw Hair Discrimination Against Afros and Braids
Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, April 28, 2023
France must introduce a law banning hair discrimination against natural afro hairstyles and braids, a lawmaker from Guadeloupe has argued as he prepares a cross-party bill to be presented to parliament in the autumn.
“Just as the Republic’s motto is ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’, this is about allowing everyone to be as they are and as they want to be, whether in it’s in the workplace or anywhere else,” Olivier Serva told France Info radio.
Serva, who left Macron’s centrist party, La République En Marche, and sits with a different centrist opposition grouping, said he was seeking calm “cross-party consensus”. In order to introduce a law on hair discrimination, he had approached all other parties in parliament except the far-right National Rally.
He said the law was about “fighting against any form of discrimination linked to hair texture, length, colour and style”.
Serva said the case of a black flight attendant for Air France who took his employers to an industrial tribunal because of discrimination over his braids had showed how France needed to tighten up legislation with a specific text on hair discrimination, and also increase awareness in the workplace and broader society.
Aboubakar Traoré, an Air France steward who had changed his hairstyle to braids worn tied back in a chignon, had been refused access to a flight because his hairstyle was said not to conform to the rules in the flight manual for male staff. After a legal battle lasting more than a decade, France’s highest appeals court found in Traoré’s favour in November last year, ruling that the company authorised female staff to wear braids and so could not ban the hairstyle from male staff.
Serva said Traoré’s long legal case showed that there was a gap in the law and specific legislation should focus on hair discrimination.
He said black women were taking health risks to straighten their hair with chemicals because of discrimination in French society and in the workplace. He said the law would ban any form of hair discrimination, including towards women and men with afro hairstyles or braids, as well as stereotyping against bald men or women with blond hair.
Serva said that because France did not count data based on ethnicity, there were no studies on the extent of hair discrimination against black people in France, but he said it would be similar to the US or UK. He cited a study funded by Dove and LinkedIn that found that two-thirds of black women in the US had felt obliged to change their hair for a job interview.
When Macron’s former adviser Sibeth Ndiaye became spokesperson for the French government during Macron’s first term in office, her natural afro hairstyle was targeted in racist commentary on social networks.
Joëlle Dago-Serry, a French career coach and TV commentator, told a chatshow on RMC radio: “Of course there is discrimination … my mother first straightened my hair when I was seven or eight … I’m of the generation where our hair was very much straightened using dangerous products in order to pass the barrier of a job interview, or to move up in a career.
“Natural afro hair is seen as not styled, it’s not understood or accepted, comments are made about it. Behind the word discrimination are the real stories of people who have the right qualifications and skills but don’t get the job because they don’t have the so-called ‘right’ hair.”
The proposed bill would have to be approved by the leader of the French parliament in order to be put on the parliamentary agenda in October.
Last year, the US House of Representatives passed a bill banning race-based discrimination on hair, specifically textures or styles associated with a particular race or national origin such as dreadlocks, afros and braids. The bill was known as the Crown Act, standing for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.
In 2019, California because the first US state to ban discrimination against natural hair.