Monday, August 22, 2011


This is why I keep my last name off here for the most part: I'm about to rail away on my employer.

To be fair, my job here in the NOLA area at a corporate chain restaurant that serves decent Italian food has been good to me for the most part. I make decent money and have good relationships with my bosses and most of my co-workers. But this isn't about me. It's not any petty bitching about any sort of job dissatisfaction, or even about some sort of Marxist analysis of labor/capital relations, although I could just as easily go there if I wanted.

No, this is about what I consider to be a pretty clear cut case of racism, and it has me so infuriated that I don't know what to do. Except go to my blog and scream at the universe. So here I am.

A black guy I work with recently dyed his hair blond. He wore it well for a couple of days. It wasn't some trashy tacky something or other; it was pretty stylish, a high dollar professional job. He looked like something from a fashion magazine cover. When I walked into work last Wednesday or Thursday, I saw his new dye job and didn't think anything of it. I just said, "nice," as I walked by, and he thanked me for the compliment.

A couple of days later I started hearing that the company made him get rid of it, insisting that he cut it all off and dye the remaining roots black, his "natural" color. I asked my comrades why this happened and they told me about an obscure provision in the front-of-house dress code that forbids "unnatural" hair color: apparently, this rule, which was obviously intended to keep punk rockers and their ilk from strutting their rebellious attitudes by way of shocking pink, or green, or purple dye jobs, was interpreted to mean "unnatural" according to race. That is, at my restaurant, and presumably all others in the chain, a black man cannot dye his hair blond because the color is "unnatural" for black men.

Of course, this necessarily means that I, a white man, am totally free to dye my hair blond. Blond is "natural" for white people. So I get to have blond hair if I choose it. Or red. Or brown. Or black. But not black people; they can only have black hair because it is the only "natural" color that grows out of their heads.

You see the problem? My company has gotten into the business of telling the various races what hair color is appropriate for them. And it just so happens that white people get to have any "natural" hair color they want. Non-white people, well, fuck non-white people. You wear the hair you were born with.

I understand dress codes. Generally, especially in the schools, I don't like them. But in the business world, it is completely reasonable to tell employees what to wear. I mean, we're getting paid, after all, and the kind of image a business projects is important in terms of its success. I get it, and accept it, even if I prefer more freedom of individual expression in my ideal world. But I'm not bitching about dress codes here. Rather, I'm shocked and appalled that any American business would develop standards for its employees which are race specific, standards that allow white people more freedom than black people.

Really, I'm still having trouble believing that this has happened.

And it's not even some Southern dumb-shit latent racist cultural thing, either. When I finally got to talk to my buddy about the incident, he told me that it came down from one of the company's top executives, who had come down last week for a visit from the corporate headquarters in the Midwest. Apparently, this guy saw it and immediately told the general manager to do something about it.

I'm totally infuriated by this. I feel ethically bound to do something. But I have no idea what to do. Also, I fear for my job: waiting tables is low skilled stuff, or, at least, that's how it's perceived; people in this business who start making waves tend to be unceremoniously tossed out. My buddy, the one who is directly suffering this blatant discrimination, essentially has the same attitude--don't make waves. Before I found out this came down from the top I was considering an anonymous letter to the HR department, but now I think that would just be a dead end.

How can a company do something like this in 2011? Does the executive who creatively interpreted the "unnatural hair color" clause in this racist way even understand what he has done? What are my options?

I really don't want to just sit on my ass and say "That's just the way it is." I'm deeply disturbed.